May 07, 2004

The Fish Rots From the Head

Kevin Drum asks:

The Washington Monthly: BROKEN PROCESS OR OFFICIAL POLICY?....Apparently everyone's been trying to warn Bush and Rumsfeld about possible abuse of prisoners in Iraq for months now. And not just the usual bleeding hearts:

  • David Kay: "I was there and I kept saying the interrogation process is broken. The prison process is broken. And no one wanted to deal with it. It was too, too distasteful. This is a known problem, and the military refuses to deal with it."

  • Paul Bremer: "Bremer repeatedly raised the issue of prison conditions as early as last fall — both in one-on-one meetings with Rumsfeld and other administration leaders, and in group meetings with the president's inner circle on national security. Officials described Bremer as 'kicking and screaming' about the need to release thousands of uncharged prisoners and improve conditions for those who remained."

  • Colin Powell: "According to eye witnesses to debate at the highest levels of the Administration...whenever Powell or [Richard] Armitage sought to question prisoner treatment issues, they were forced to endure what our source characterizes as 'around the table, coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners....'"

Well, maybe these folks really did try to get everyone to pay attention to this issue or maybe they're just covering their own asses after the fact. Who knows?

But I think it misses the point anyway. Everyone is desperately trying to dismiss Abu Ghraib as an "aberration," nothing more than a "broken process" and a few rogue soldiers who are now being taken care of by the military justice system. But it just ain't so.

This kind of thing doesn't just happen. It happens because people order it to happen. So who gave the orders?

CIA or military intelligence, apparently. And probably someone pretty high up the chain of command. Is anyone trying to find out who?

Josh Marshall has a guess here. But shouldn't we knock off the charade of court martialing a few noncoms and reprimanding a couple of colonels and thinking this is over? This wasn't just a few bad apples, it was official policy. Who knew about it?

It seems pretty clear who knew about it: If Chief-of-Staff Myers had not (as of last week) found the time to read the Taguba Report, it was because he either knew about it and liked it, knew about it and didn't want to take a stand against it, or didn't want to know about it. If Maj. Gen. Taguba's recommendations had not all been implemented, it is because Gen. Abizaid and Lt. Gen. Sanchez did not want to implement them. The brushoff that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Card, and Rice gave Powell and Armitage says the same thing: they either knew about it and liked it, knew about it and didn't want to take a stand against it, or didn't want to know about it. And George W. Bush? The most likely scenario is that he was in "don't ask, don't tell" mode.

Posted by DeLong at May 7, 2004 10:30 AM | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Is it just me, or are we actually following a script?

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: You want answers?

Lt. Daniel Kaffee: I think I'm entitled.

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: You want answers?!

Lt. Daniel Kaffee: I want the truth!

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: You can't handle the truth!

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and curse the Marines; you have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives and that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.
You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use then as the backbone of a life trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said "thank you," and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Lt. Daniel Kaffee: Did you order the code red?

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: I did the job I had to do.

Lt. Daniel Kaffee: Did you order the code red?!

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: You're God damn right I did!

(A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise; Jack Nicholson)

Posted by: Patrick Allen on May 7, 2004 11:02 AM


The official policy was given out by Bush - axis of evil - these are evil man - these are the bad guys etc. The US electorate conjurned. The army did what the president a mayority asked for.

Posted by: Bernhard on May 7, 2004 12:14 PM



Joe Conason, in a just-released Salon post, has a much more plausible (than Boykin) duo of offenders, and he backs it up with an attributed interview with a party to the goings on.

Posted by: Nash on May 7, 2004 12:19 PM


Donald Rumsfeld Should:

Resign His Job Keep His job
All 20 percent 69 percent
Democrats 30 percent 58 percent
Independents 17 percent 73 percent
Republicans 11 percent 82 percent

from ABC News


Posted by: Adrian Spidle on May 7, 2004 12:48 PM


Was Allen's post with dialog from "A Few Good Men" a joke? I hope so. That kind of line of thinking is appearing in certain quarters and it is totally bogus.

The US could have planned for and allocated the resources so that we would not have risked such a desperate situation, but they did not. And this was done against the advice of many military and civilian experts who had extensive experience in this area. We could have planned to send enough and the right kind of troops to keep order post-conflict but we didn't. We could have had an orderly and careful process to de-Baath the army and civil service to help keep order there, but we didn't. We could have at least *attempted* to prevent destruction of civil infrastructure (including hospitals, not just museums) but we didn't (except for oil ministry). We could have set up a process so that we could get the number of innocent ordinary Iraqis being held in detention with no due process at all for months on end below, like 60%, but we didn't. We could have some kind of process, any kind, due or otherwise, for the detainees, innocent or suspect, or obvioulsy guilty, but we did not. We could have planned to use professional military intellegence personnel to gather information, rather than these bizarre civilian contractors -exactly where would a civilian contractor get the expertise to conduct classified intelligence operations? Is there an industry with a history there that we don't know about? Why were these firms used, and how were their qualificatons verified and performance monitered, how were standards maintained. Or was callous use of personnel who were beyond the reach of ordinary law the whole idea?

Now a leaked ICRC report says there is evidence that guards were randomly shooting unarmed prisoners from watchtowers (see news in Yahoo today -I don't have time to link it). What desperate situation justified that desperate measure?

In any case, I assume that post is a joke, because in this case, the Jessep line is a joke. It is the double parricide pleading mercy because he is an orphan joke.

The defenders of the US administration are saying completely ridiculous things. They are even trying out the "international organizations are useless and somehow it is their fault" line, to hilarious and disgusting effect. I read some wingnut whine about the ICRC -"They knew, and if it was so bad, why didn't they publicize it?" This conveniently forgets the fact that the confidentiality is what guarantees the ICRC's effectiveness in carrying out its role in implementing the Geneva conventions. It forgets the fact that they were reporting this stuff to our own government, confidentially, since last fall. And nothing was done.

The Jessep line does not fly at all for this case. It is a pig with wings burrowing itself ever deeper into its own filth. And that is an insult to real pigs, it is only meant to refer to metaphorical pigs.

Bush is responsible for this, morally, if not legally. He and everyone in the chain of command below him should step down, right now. Conservatives should start thinking who they might support in his place.

Posted by: jml on May 7, 2004 12:59 PM


On the quote from A Few Good Men - By that reckoning, guess Saddam and OBL are a few good men too - they did/are doing what it takes to fend off, the Great White Satanic marauders that have come to rape their land, and loot their oil, under the guise of freeing their women from the strictures of the mullahs. If I were an Iraqi woman, I would be happy to be in a burkha in perpetuity if I could be spared the agony of seeing a husband or son in the humiliating pictures we have seen. Being a woman in America today my fear is even worse, that my husband or son may be programmed through just such quotations as above, into a paranoia that will condone, approve, or motivate them to participate in just the kind of sadism we are hearing about.
Ultimately it is up to us to choose the narrative by which our children and grandchildren will live by - we have already set them up a path that will be extremely hard to make a U-turn on.
So please stop the justifications couched as philosiphising - I am TOTALLY incapable of hearing that crap anymore.
Let's begin by liberating ourselves before we go to one single square foot of another man's land.

Posted by: GlassyRoseinRosyGlasses on May 7, 2004 01:00 PM


You know, the only thing is, it looks like it was intended.

It could have been stopped. If command emphasis at any level above the guards had demanded fair treatment, I can assure the guards would have followed the line. Whether it was the company 1SG, the battalion commander, the Division HQ commander, just about anyone could have and many had command responsibility, at some level, to ensure their soldiers were behaving properly.

There appears to be more the result of a 'policy', written or not. And policies to not start at the bottom. There is something wrong here, and it appears to be the usual culprits. Various people working their own agenda, people becoming corrupted through power, and no leadership emphasis on mission and the good health of their soldiers.

It's a cultural problem.

Posted by: rick pietz on May 7, 2004 01:06 PM


My (perhaps too obtuse) point in posting the excerpt from A Few Good Men was this:

Two of Brad's potential explanations are covered by the dialog: "The knew about it and liked it" (Col. Jessup's position), or "they didn't want to know about it" (what Col. Jessup believes should be the position taken by those of us not 'standing on the wall.'

I think both are reprehensible.

Posted by: Patrick Allen on May 7, 2004 01:27 PM


It has been clear for some time that nobody in the Bush administration feels they ought to be held accountable for anything. They have a lot to go on. By and large, they haven't been.

The Democrats haven't had the power because they were so obviously scared of fighting that their voter turnout was lame in 2002. No majority means no investigations.

However now the media has now found out they can make money selling content not favorable to Bush. So that's what they will do and is our only salvation. Quite frankly, the neocons are acting stunned by the very idea.

Posted by: Alan on May 7, 2004 01:31 PM


of course President condoned, approved, and encouraged this sort of treatment of prisoners, just as he has done with respect to many other issues. It is not necessary to imagine him applying substantial ratiocination to any issue in order to hold him responsible in every concrete way. Intellectual arrogance perhaps can cloud anyone's judgment about President, since he is so inarticulate. But even inarticulate people can make decisions and should be held responsible for them. After all, do you think prisons are filled with Socratic dialogue and cosmological speculation?

Posted by: rod on May 7, 2004 01:33 PM



just some comments from Rumsfield Testimony today:

He was asked how each theater of operation was deemed:
according to Rumsfield, and I paraphrase:

Al qaeda does is not affected by Geneva Convention (because his reasoning is it is a unconventional war, and therefore Al qaeda can be treated however because they do not apply to geneva convention.
Then he was asked and said the Taliban and Afghanistan and that invasion was under geneva convention as a normal war.
As is Iraq, he said, under geneva convetion...
only Al qaeda is not under geneva convention

If Afghan detainees (Taliban or mercenary) are under geneva convention; then why are they kept under endless house arrest in Quantanamo, and they were kept from Red Cross for months

somebody explain to me how this catch-22 works, where the rules are made up as they go along.

also, there have been many suicides in Quantamo, by prisoners----has that been explained, maybe they showed them the photo's as "this will be you tomorrow, have fun sleeping"

Rummy's foot must taste bad, but he does not even know it is in his mouth

also, the Swiss Red Cross gave the US military reports about abuse in Iraq of prisoners- 4 months ago, yet the senators ask all ther wrong question. Like, if there is no cover-up, why was not congress alerted to red cross report

Why does the Red Cross give reports only to military, why not give them to Congress and news agencies, maybe congress should enact a law that red cross have to submit simulataneous reports to not just the military
Are red cross reports top secret?

Posted by: Dave S on May 7, 2004 01:34 PM


Nice try, attempting to shift the blame to CIA.

Let's not let Rummy and Meyers get away with this, please.

Posted by: Jim Harris on May 7, 2004 01:36 PM


On Red Cross secrecy:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) based in Geneva is not the same thing as the domestic Swiss Red Cross, which would be in charge of domestic Swiss disaster relief. The ICRC
has an official role defined by the Geneva Conventions to monitor and report on violation of the Conventions in a wide range of armed conflicts (standared war between states, civil wars, ill-defined state-non-state conflicts). In order to be considered neutral and to obtain access to people controlled by all sides in these conflicts the ICRC investigations and reports are strictly confidential and reported only to the authority in control of the persons in question.

So this is matter of enforcement of international law governed by international treaties.

Personally, if I ever am so unfortunate as to need a visit by the ICRC, I would perfer the visit with confidentiality, rather than run a great risk of no visit at all.

Posted by: jml on May 7, 2004 01:49 PM


The buck stops only with the President. What happened to "strong leadership in times of change"? I guess it became "pass the buck and hide behind a cultivated image of ignorance during times of government lawlessness." It's time for the Dems to point out the hypocrisy of right-wing moralizing over Clinton's sexual pecadillo, in light of their kid-gloves treatment of this White House whose crimes bring lasting shame to our entire nation. Where is the mainstream media on this inconsistency? Too busy asking Kerry about 30-year-old statements about his war medals....I mean ribbons..I mean...doh!!!!!

Posted by: MidnightRider on May 7, 2004 01:52 PM


By they way, before I forget, the Geneva Conventions do cover many types of ill-defined state/non-state conflicts -a much broder range of conflicts beyond traditional war between sovereign states. So the argument that Al Qaeda persnell are not covered is not a slam-dunk obvious case at all. If I remember correctly, if a sovereign state is or has been controlling the forces (which apparently is the theory under which the US admin has been operating in Iraq) then the Geneva Conventions do apply. And I think they also apply if a government has identified an a specific organization controlling combatants, a soveriegn state or not, that is a belligerent. We seem to have done that -we have declared some kind of war (an extra-legal and extra-constitioinal war, but a war nevertheless on the Presidents say so) on them.

So we should skeptical of the idea that they do not apply. You can get on the ICRC website and read all the protocols, and try to figure it our for yourself, I guess. I took a class on this once, but I am rusty.

Posted by: jml on May 7, 2004 02:04 PM


Runsfeld is showing his sophisticated knowledge of Arabia. Offering compensation to the victims is a 21st century analog to offering a few goats and a daughter.

Adrian of Arabia

Posted by: Adrian Spidle on May 7, 2004 02:05 PM


When Adrian and his friends get done with "tort reform", the whole idea of ever compensating victims for anything will be shown to be the barbarous tribal practice that we all know it is. Let the suckers solve their own problems instead of running whining to the law all the time like little babies.

The Turk gonna getcha Adrian! He'll be hiding in your closet waiting for you tonight!

Posted by: Zizka on May 7, 2004 03:24 PM


That ABC News poll:

What scares me is the likelihood that when this episode plays out, it'll become apparent that the majority of the American electorate is vicious enough to rationalize what has happened in our Iraqi prisons. Hell, the other night I was arguing with two friends who were contending it was no big deal-- and they were Dean supporters!

Abu Ghraib may be a PR disaster with regard to our relations with the rest of the world, but it'll end up becoming a major victory in the American right's kulturkampf.

Posted by: Tom Marney on May 7, 2004 04:42 PM


We're all being given a choice here. We either support the troops, or we blame the troops. The Bush people are blaming the troops.

Posted by: Dave Johnson on May 7, 2004 05:26 PM


What I want to know is who is looking at Afghanistan and Guantanamo? Does anyone really doubt that the same things are happening there?

Posted by: PaulB on May 7, 2004 06:33 PM


Well, no one has blamed Clinton yet, and it's what, four or five days?

Posted by: Eli Rabett on May 7, 2004 06:57 PM


Eli: Actually I did see a report of a wingnut pundit blaming Clinton yesterday. He argued that it was really Clinton's military doing this.

Typical wingnut. According to him Bush's military won the invastion but Clinton's did the torture.

Posted by: Dem on May 7, 2004 07:02 PM


No one has blamed Clinton yet? LOL. NPR had a Washington Times Mooney on this morning to inform us that Clinton had cut back and weakened the military so there were not enough trained troops for Iraq and since the problem was due to not enough trained troops it was Clinton's fault.

Posted by: bakho on May 7, 2004 08:23 PM


Dave Johnson writes "We're all being given a choice here. We either support the troops, or we blame the troops. The Bush people are blaming the troops."

And I cringe.
No. The choice is support the administration or blame the administration. The troops are not to blame for this debacle. Of course the Bush people would blame those ("few, non-representative, un-American,...") troops!
From his own testimony, Rumsfled is the first on my list to blame. And Mr Bush, in ignorance or compliance is next.

Posted by: calmo on May 7, 2004 08:56 PM


Adrian Spidle writes:

> Donald Rumsfeld Should:
> Resign His Job Keep His job
> All 20 percent 69 percent
> Democrats 30 percent 58 percent
> Independents 17 percent 73 percent
> Republicans 11 percent 82 percent
> from ABC News

A few points. First of all, here is the link (given by somebody else, yes, but this is easy to follow):

Second, the story mentions that people's opinions on this vary *a lot* depending on how likely they think the incidents were "isolated". Since this poll was taken, there is less and less evidence that this was the case. Third, and contrary to some opinion I've seen on the right, only 7% of those polled did not express at least "concern" about this matter. 25% of those polled were "angry" about it, and you were more likely to give this response if you claimed to be following the story closely.

Third, I would take a poll like this a bit more seriously as a gauge of informed public opinion if we had access to some useful control question data. So a question on this topic should be introduced by:

Q. Who currently is the Secretary of Defense?

If the person polled gets this wrong, then why on earth should I care about his or her opinion on the matter? And I know you think I'm being facetious or kidding, but I am most emphatically not. For elections, we only take seriously the polls that make some effort to identify "likely voters". For polls on policy, why don't we require any evidence of factual knowledge?

Fourth, and I think most importantly, SINCE FREAKING WHEN is this or any administration supposed to assign responsibility for this and all of the other screw-ups in the Iraq occupation based on the result of polling data? If a majority of Americans decided it was okay to violate the Geneva Convention openly, would that make it okay? If a majority agreed that we should ignore the opinions expressed by our friends or allies when they have a stake in our future credibility, is this a good idea?

And, again, these questions to you are serious. Clearly, many Republicans do not believe that the majority should rule on issues like these. Or even in presidential elections, but that's a different issue...

Posted by: Jonathan King on May 7, 2004 10:00 PM


Couldn't resist - had to go out and see how the whackos at WorldNutDaily are reacting. Not surprisingly, I'm afraid (with only 162 votes so far):

After hearing Rumsfeld's explanation of the abuse scandal, do you think he should go?

No, he's the best person for the job 33.33% (54)

No, he's not to blame 22.22% (36)

No, it would give comfort to our enemies 22.22% (36)

No 14.20% (23)

Yes, he should be fired by Bush 3.70% (6)

Yes, it would be best for the nation and the war effort 1.85% (3)

Yes 1.23% (2)

Yes, he should resign 0.62% (1)

Yes, it would restore America's stature in the eyes of the world community 0.62% (1)

No, but he should be publicly reprimanded by the president 0.00% (0)

So at the moment, 55% of WND's readers think there's nothing worth bothering about here, and exactly a third say to Rumsfeld, "keep up the good work, Mister."


Posted by: William in Beijing on May 7, 2004 11:03 PM


I do hope Adrian was being sarcastic above.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on May 7, 2004 11:25 PM


Before anyone pounces, I'm being generous in assuming that the "No, he's not to blame" and non-qualified "No" votes are people who may actually think this is all very bad news, but want to absolve Rumsfeld. OTOH, some non-qualified "No" votes at *this* site may be folks who think we should have carpet-bombed Baghdad and sold Basra natives into slavery.

Posted by: William in Beijing on May 7, 2004 11:30 PM


"*this* site" meaning WorldNetDaily's poll site, not Brad's weblog.

Posted by: William in Beijing on May 7, 2004 11:33 PM


What's really gonna get ugly is when gasoline prices miraculously drop a few weeks before the elections. Does anybody actually believe that Americans at large won't be a lot more tolerant of the thousand dead soldiers and other issues associated with the war if the price of a tank of gas goes down? And next it'll be, "Gee, torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners makes gas prices go down. Let's do it some more!"

A quick question: can any of you think of another occasion when GW Bush has EVER apologized for anything? No, but that's part of the insidious effects of Abu Ghraib on the American conciousness. By apologizing, Bush not only salvages a tiny shred of moral legitimacy for himself, he also places himself on a slightly higher plane that those Americans who think raping Iraqi prisoners is a great idea. By "slightly," I mean high enough for ethically-challenged Americans to look up to with admiration but not high enough to attract disdain for preachiness or lack of machismo. It's fucking perfect, as usual.

Posted by: Tom Marney on May 8, 2004 03:18 AM


Surely you jest that the emotional relief we desperately need will be provided, not by seeing justice done here, but by a fall in the price of gasoline? I have a much higher estimate of the " American at large" and so should you.
The NPR coverage of Bush's apology to the "Arab" networks made it clear (to me and hopefully "Americans at large") why this speech was garbage.
One cannot issue an apology to the victim if one has not stopped beating the victim. This is only more torture. There may be a few of us that don't see this ("ethically challenged?"). They are the few and may need constant supervision. They should not be in positions of power. I mean Mr. Rumsfeld.

Posted by: calmo on May 8, 2004 10:47 AM


Here's the good news, from the Rasmussen Tracking Poll,, after Bush spent his $25 million on TV, but before the Kerry counter-blitz just starting:

Kerry 46% Bush 44%

Election 2004 Presidential Ballot
Bush 44%
Kerry 46%
Other 5%
Not Sure 5%

Rasmussen Reports Home

Saturday May 08, 2004--The latest Rasmussen Reports Presidential Tracking Poll shows Senator John F. Kerry with 46% of the vote and President George W. Bush earning 44%.

A survey completed Wednesday and Thursday found that 48% of Americans believe the Iraqi prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib represents an isolated event. However 29% believe such practices are fairly widespread. At the same time, public preference for Bush over Kerry on national defense issues has fallen to its lowest level of the year.

* * *

I think there's hope for the American people as a whole, though the Republican Party as a whole is definitely cause for the world's concern.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on May 8, 2004 10:52 AM


Post a comment