10 June 2004

The Roots of Torture

Today there is no telling where the scandal will bottom out. But it is growing harder for top Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld himself, to absolve themselves of all responsibility. Evidence is growing that the Pentagon has not been forthright on exactly when it was first warned of the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib. U.S. officials continued to say they didn't know until mid-January. But Red Cross officials had alerted the U.S. military command in Baghdad at the start of November. The Red Cross warned explicitly of MPs' conducting 'acts of humiliation such as [detainees'] being made to stand naked ... with women's underwear over the head, while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position.' Karpinski recounts that the military-intel officials there regarded this criticism as funny. She says: 'The MI officers said, 'We warned the [commanding officer] about giving those detainees the Victoria's Secret catalog, but he wouldn't listen'.' The Coalition commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, and his Iraq command didn't begin an investigation until two months later, when it was clear the pictures were about to leak.

Now more charges are coming. Intelligence officials have confirmed that the CIA inspector general is conducting an investigation into the death of at least one person at Abu Ghraib who had been subject to questioning by CIA interrogators. The Justice Department is likely to open full-scale criminal investigations into this CIA-related death and two other CIA interrogation-related fatalities.

As his other reasons for war have fallen away, President Bush has justified his ouster of Saddam Hussein by saying he's a 'torturer and murderer.' Now the American forces arrayed against the terrorists are being tarred with the same epithet. That's unfair: what Saddam did at Abu Ghraib during his regime was more horrible, and on a much vaster scale, than anything seen in those images on Capitol Hill. But if America is going to live up to its promise to bring justice and democracy to Iraq, it needs to get to the bottom of what happened at Abu Ghraib.

See also The road to Abu Ghraib by Human Rights Watch which lays out in some detail the steps by which George II let himself be persuaded that he is James II. What's left? The Saddam is worse defence. The Nuremberg defence. That really is not much of a shining city on the hill.

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