May 07, 2004

Words Fail

Ogged of Unfogged writes:

Unfogged: Oh my Lord.

U.S. military officials told NBC News that the unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and “acting inappropriately with a dead body.” The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.

This will define America for generations. (Note, please, that they "have sex" with the woman, but "rape" the boy.)

Do you really think it's alarmist to point out that Americans can be put away indefinitely on nothing more than one man's whim; that we have a collection of legal black holes: at Guantanamo, on ships around the world, in Iraq; that our soldiers blithely torture detainees; and that fully half the country still thinks the President is doing a good job? Do you wonder how totalitarian regimes come about? This is how: with the consent of the governed.

Look, I, and my friends and family, all live in urban areas, assuming our share of the risk of terrorist attacks. If this is being protected, I'll take my chances. I don't want to live like this, and I don't want these things done in my name. What happened to death before dishonor? Or is it already too late for that?

I don't think I can bear to write about this anymore. But, somehow, Teresa Nielsen Hayden still can:

Making Light: User base persistence: Josh Marshall writes:

This article in tomorrow’s Guardian suggests that some of these sexual humiliation methods apparently practiced at Abu Ghraib are taught to various special forces and military intelligence troops in the US and the UK, both to use them and also to prepare themselves to withstand them.

What the Guardian suggests is in fact correct.

No, I’m not going to explain how I know that.

Back to Josh Marshall:

What’s now happening in Iraq is that the same methods are being passed down to untrained and unsupervised reservists; and the whole situation spirals out of control.

I’m not sure this is the whole story. But it has a ring of truth to me, mixing, as it does, ugliness with disorganization and a spiralling cycle of unaccountability.

[He quotes from the Guardian]
The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.

The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.

One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: “It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn’t know what they were doing.”

He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in these techniques, which were taught at the joint services interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former US base at Chicksands …

Many British and US special forces soldiers learn about the degradation techniques because they are subjected to them to help them resist if captured. They include soldiers from the SAS, SBS, most air pilots, paratroopers and members of pathfinder platoons …

“The crucial difference from Iraq is that frontline soldiers who are made to experience R2I techniques themselves develop empathy. They realise the suffering they are causing. But people who haven’t undergone this don’t realise what they are doing to people. It’s a shambles in Iraq”.

As I said when I first wrote about this, those photos from Abu Ghair didn’t look to me like the kind of thing a bunch of novices would come up with on their own.

We delude ourselves when we give permission to commit evil acts to what we tell ourselves is a limited group of specialists.

There’s going to be some unavoidable human evil in any large undertaking. We can prepare for it, and do what we can about it when it happens, but nothing we do can wholly eliminate it. Still, in its state of nature it’s going to be limited... only a fraction of the population will think up and carry out evil actions on their own steam... what they initially come up with probably won’t work very well....

This level of everyday enforcement is hugely important... only a small percentage of people will do evil on their own, a much larger middle group will do so if they see others committing evil acts unchecked... the difference between four or five drunk, irresponsible louts jumping some defenseless person... and the complex learned social behaviors of American lynch mobs during the first half of the twentieth century....

We delude ourselves when we think we can keep a little pet evil set aside, telling ourselves it’ll only be used on Bad Guys. Whomever that turns out to be. Not that we’ve been thinking about that question real hard.

And now, a list: The Nine Ways of Being an Accessory to Another’s Sin.

1. By counsel.
2. By command.
3. By consent.
4. By provocation.
5. By praise or flattery.
6. By concealment.
7. By partaking.
8. By silence.
9. By defense of the ill done.

Anybody feel like keeping score?

Posted by DeLong at May 7, 2004 11:25 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

ďThe crucial difference from Iraq is that frontline soldiers who are made to experience R2I techniques themselves develop empathy. They realise the suffering they are causing. But people who havenít undergone this donít realise what they are doing to people. Itís a shambles in IraqĒ.

And as you poke his eye out you ask "Does it hurt? How do you feel about it?"

Posted by: a on May 7, 2004 11:57 PM

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It Seems that PFC Lynndie England has been placed in detention. How about the other soldiers involved? Or the contractors? Or those who told her, showed her what to do? PFC England is getting a lot of attention, probably because she is a woman. She is getting more press than all the other perps put together, it seems. Double standards raise their ugly heads once again.

Note that I am *not* saying she should not be punished. But the Military is by definition a very hierarchial outfit. Her punishment should be light compared to those who directed her actions, and a slap on the wrist compared to that meted out to those who were superior in turn.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 8, 2004 12:14 AM

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looking for words, Brad ? Try these: abolish the death penalty.

Posted by: Hans Rudolf Suter on May 8, 2004 02:24 AM

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Ogged's words bear repeating:

"If this is being protected, I'll take my chances."

I don't believe in the Devil, but if he exists I presume he's busy now trying to make sure his minor masterpiece at Abu Ghraib remains standing, and I imagine one of his devices would be to whisper, in as many ears as possible,

"Remember: the more Arabs we torture, the greater your life expectancy!"

He probably wouldn't be that blunt and explicit, naturally; he could just rely on his usual tool of insinuation, as in "there's a war on, and you can't use kid gloves" or "whose rights are you worried about: terrorists or Americans?"; or he could draw a cartoon picturing another 9/11 as the natural consequence of softhearted concern for prisoners' human rights. But the implied contract would still be there in all its obscenity: the more Arabs we torture, the greater our life expectancy.

We've all seen the quotation from Benjamin Franklin, that "they who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." What do they deserve who would give away the human rights and human dignity of other people, in exchange for a fool's promise of security?

Posted by: Jeffrey Kramer on May 8, 2004 03:42 AM

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Don't you think that part of the responsibility for this does lie at the highest levels, that is, with Bush and Cheney, who have never actively sought to disabuse Americans of the idea that Iraq and 911 were linked? I have heard and read accounts by soldiers in Iraq claiming they are avenging 911, and surely that mentality would foster the sort of atmosphere in which torture of Iraquis would seem warranted. Bush pays lip service to the ideas of democracy in the Arab world, and of Muslims being our friends, but his "body language", to use a favorite expression, does not give that impression.

Posted by: Minty on May 8, 2004 04:38 AM

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And remember, those who had enough brains to hold their ears apart **would not** have allowed videotaping. Note that some of the allegations involved 'ghost prisoners', who weren't on the books, and were moved around to avoid the Red Cross from finding them. It'd be child's play to have some unofficial prison transfers, in which the prisoners were 'transferred' 50 miles out into the desert, and machinegunned into a gully.

Posted by: Barry on May 8, 2004 04:47 AM

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A picutre is emerging of Gen Miller being sent to Iraq from Guantanamo expressly for the purpose of increase the application of CIA-based coercive treatment (isolation, disorientation, many other techniques to psychologically impair the prisoner) and that the persons recruited to perform this work -- reservists -- were not adequately trained, and went overboard. Thus Miller's return now if to make sure these techniques are not abandoned, simply applied correctly.

How they can do that in Iraq without leaking is going to be interesting to find out.


Posted by: Thoreau on May 8, 2004 04:59 AM

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"this will define America for generations."

Please, spare me the hysteria. Did My Lai define America for generations? More like months, at best. The bravest and best thing our current Democratic candidate for President did in his life - his moderate and well-reasoned insistence that war crimes in Vietnam were systematic and the result of American policy not "evil" exceptions - is now something that he has to flee from as potentially destroying his presidential chances, and that at exactly the point in time when a well-reasoned and moderate case can and is finally being made that our war on terror has led to systematic abuses and war crimes.

And Unfogged thinks this will define America for generations. Even if he is only talking about America abroad, this is fatuous navel-gazing. People abroad are concerned with the real ongoing consequences of American policy, not this extraordinarily unpleasant tempest in a teapot. If we behave decently, humbly and lawfully - as we sometimes do - this will be forgotten; if we continue to behave arrogantly, imperialistically and incompetently, it will endure.

Posted by: angry moderate on May 8, 2004 06:19 AM

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"Look, I, and my friends and family, all live in urban areas, assuming our share of the risk of terrorist attacks."

Only a fool would say that our risk of terrorist attack has gone down under Bush at this point. It's sad that the roughly half of the country who support Bush and his criminal administration needlessly endanger the rest of us. I am assuming that the terrorists are smart enough to know that if they do something here in the US before the election they will tip the scales in favor of Bush so they are holding off because they want him gone. BUT, if Bush *does* get re-elected, given what has come to light at Abu Ghraib, and the enmity that has accrued to all Americans thanks to Bush, we will be in a great deal of danger indeed.

Posted by: Dubblblind on May 8, 2004 06:34 AM

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This is the most profound and scary thought:
"Do you wonder how totalitarian regimes come about?"
Answer: One dittohead at a time "Please, spare me the hysteria."

Posted by: me on May 8, 2004 06:39 AM

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Actually, totalitarian regimes most frequently occur when prolonged warfare has destroyed civil society and left it vulnerable to usurpation by fanatical ideologues who, under normal circumstances, would be marginalized. See: Russia (1917), China (1949), Cambodia (1975), Afghanistan (1996). One hopes our foolish adventure in Iraq will not add yet another barbaric regime to the list. Although I don't think we have a large enough sample to generalize yet, what I don't think is particularly effective in stopping the drift to totalitarianism is hypocritical, hysterical,and very short-term bouts of Oprahesque self-criticism when one is for a moment put face-to-face with the logical consequences on one's actions. I give it a couple of weeks until the backlash against undermining the morale of our troops takes over...

Posted by: angry moderate on May 8, 2004 07:20 AM

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"I am assuming that the terrorists are smart enough to know that if they do something here in the US before the election they will tip the scales in favor of Bush so they are holding off because they want him gone. BUT, if Bush *does* get re-elected, given what has come to light at Abu Ghraib, and the enmity that has accrued to all Americans thanks to Bush, we will be in a great deal of danger indeed."

Posted by Dubblblind at May 8, 2004 06:34

If I were Bin Laden, or any terrorist leader with even medium-term thinking, I'd want to strike at the US before the elect, *in order to* re-elect Bush.

An incompetant leader of one's enemies is a blessing.

Posted by: Barry on May 8, 2004 07:48 AM

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War is slaughter of one group by another group. Some fraction of opposing(?) groups are captured. Is it not inevitable that another, smaller fraction of prisoners are thus slaughtered? War is not Justice, War is Hell. Evil things inevitably occur in Hell.

Posted by: don majors on May 8, 2004 07:54 AM

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"Evil things inevitably occur in Hell."

And if we do not want to be on the side of evil ourselves, we must first try to avoid unleashing this hell unless there is truly no better alternative; second, try to ensure, through our policies and command environment, that as little evil is done as possible; and third, never excuse or condone it when it happens. The Bush administration has failed on all three counts. For this reason the abuses at Abu Ghraib are not among the inevitable evil things; they are among the evil things that we could have and should have avoided.

Posted by: hilzoy on May 8, 2004 08:02 AM

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Personally, I am amazed that they haven't been able to find a line yet that says this is all Clinton's fault.

That they haven't yet suggests they are really stressed over this -- so much that they forgot about Old Reliable for now.

Posted by: Alan on May 8, 2004 08:03 AM

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Moderate...while you're right that totalitarian regimes most frequently rise out of post-war rubble, I think you're missing the larger point, which is that, though we're not in danger of becoming totalitarian, we ARE displaying far too many of the characteristics of such a regime -- the fact that folks actually use the argument that 'Saddam would have been worse' means that we've moved from the rhetoric of liberty to a rhetoric of lesser evils...& that we've been prepared, as a populace, to accept the realistic, pragmatic use of previously indefensible action to attain our means. We're not totalitarian. In a way we're worse...we have democratically-elected officials who are sanctioning these activities...meaning, as a voting body, we've CHOSEN leaders who behave this way.

Posted by: tremolo on May 8, 2004 08:04 AM

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Also I don't think a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil before the election will help Bush. It might have at one point, but that point has passed.

Now, all a terrorist attack would do would be to ultra-highlight all the things the administration did NOT to prepare do after 9/11. More and more Republicans who cannot bring themselves to vote for Kerry will just stay home instead of going to vote.

Posted by: Alan on May 8, 2004 08:06 AM

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Don majors -- fine, but a Abu Ghraib tapes pretty much destroy the most recent justification of our was (justification #3 or #4, "Free the Iraqis"). It also has a terrible effect on our attempts to find allies and even neutrals among the world's billion Muslims. So it makes everything a lot, lot worse.

In other words, what just happened was a disaster, practically speaking. But it's being defended by people whose only political thought is to disagree with Democrats and liberals about everything. Seemingly there are plenty of Americans so committed to a "tough" foreign policy is that anything tough makes them happy, even if it fails disastrously and makes it more difficult to attain American goals. If you listen to Limbaugh or read the warbloggers, sometimes it seems that they don't care about international affairs at all. They just want a lot of shit blowing up as a kind of personal therapy for their pitiful psyches.

Bush's electoral strategy is aimed at the uninformed gut thinkers in the peanut gallery, and seemingly his military strategy panders to their psychic needs.

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned -- I think that a lot of the trouble that's been bubbling up for Bush recently comes from insiders in the military and the intelligence services who have given up on him. Wesley Clark, Richard Clarke, and Joe Wilson (? Mr Plame I mean) are three examples, but there have also been a lot of anonymous whistleblowers.

Intelligence services interfering in elections isn't usually a good thing (1968, 1980) but apparently that's the way the game is played and I'll take it.

Posted by: Zizka on May 8, 2004 08:16 AM

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By Ratification. If one accepts the benefits of the evil of another, he or she has ratified the conduct.

Posted by: Dwight Meredith on May 8, 2004 08:25 AM

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Can we add willful ignorance to the list?

Posted by: tremolo on May 8, 2004 08:28 AM

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Angry Moderate is both correct and incorrect.

1. This will indeed define America in the world's eyes, and is already doing so

2. The Democrats must tread very carefully with this. The resentment will be enormous within the military and Pentagon if this turns into a witch-hunt. If you watch the House Armed Services Committee testimonty -- and most of these folks have bases in their districts -- it becomes clear that there will be a backlash if Democrats overplay their hand.

3. Brad, Tony Carpaccio of Defense Week thinks Myers (the lawyer) and a network of civilian defense attorneys are feeding Hirsh.

Posted by: asdf on May 8, 2004 08:29 AM

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I think this is hardly surprising. Not because American troops are particularly amoral, but because Bush (who represents oligarchy, not democracy) using war to bring democracy to a 3rd world country was a mission doomed to corruption.

The Bush administration is acting out in Iraq who they are. Actions demonstrate and express character, values, purposes. The true nature of this Administration is revealed not only in the exact abuses, but the fact that these abuses were reported on, warned about, complained about, from the very start, with explicit cautions on what the effect would be if the public was made aware. This Administration ignored these warnings.

Who warned:
The Red Cross (in something like 30 reports).
Bremer, repeatedly.
Powell & Armitrage.

Posted by: camille roy on May 8, 2004 08:46 AM

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Tremolo - Let me be clearer. I think the torture in Abu Ghraib is the logical and entirely predictable consequence of setting up a world-wide GULag archipelago that is explicitly placed beyond the rule of law and beyond glasnost', of declaring "the gloves are off" in a vaguely defined, but not metaphoric, war on terror, and then following that up with a war on a country that was systematically misrepresented as allied with, and indeed constituitive of, the forces that attacked America on 9/11. Furthermore, I think that the root cause of this behavior is an increasingly pathologic American nationalism, based upon the premise that America is the greatest country in the world and that the rules that bind other countries do not bind us. Moreover, I think that while this nationalism is most virulent on the right, it is broadly shared by American public opinion across the political spectrum, and it was this nationalism that made possible substantial liberal assent for the war on terror and Iraq. As a political moderate (albeit a currently angry one), I have found that liberal intellectual cowardice most offensive (see Michael Ignatieff, Jacob Weisberg, Paul Berman, David Remnick, Thomas Friedman etc.). That is why I have reacted with cynicism to the gnashing of teeth and rending of hair - and pointing of fingers elsewhere - from liberals when the obvious consequences of policies they acquiesced in, however 'reluctantly'. And hence also, my skepticism that this is anything more than a little Oprahesque emotionsfest and that it will have little consequence on policy or practice. Perhaps I am wrong here and there will be some substantive reflection, but let me express my strongest doubts. I also think that we overestimate the consequences for public opinion abroad of things that really bother us (and others) - like being revealed as torturers - as compared to the consequences for public opinion abroad of huge things like invading another country against the almost unanimous advice of world popular opinion and without planning for what we would do once we occupied the country, something that doesn't bother us (except when troops start getting killed) but most assuredly does bother the rest of the world. In other words, I'm opposed to Oprahizing foreign public opinion, though perhaps our soft power has already done that.

Posted by: angry moderate on May 8, 2004 09:16 AM

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zizka: I agree that we are in a real mess. The *war* was a strategic mistake. I look forward to June 30; a scheduled military disengagement; our withdrawal in the midst of a negotiated peaceful "armistice".

Pre-emptive action has failed us. We are mired/stalemated in an unwinable conflict. It's time for our pullback to the USA. Surely it's obvious that our attempts at negotiations, war plans, and logistic requirements don't support our continued presence. We need help, but I don't see allies coming to our aid. Sometimes it's best to recognize the mistake and take *appropriate action* to salvage the residuals.

Posted by: don majors on May 8, 2004 09:21 AM

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angry moderate: "Actually, totalitarian regimes most frequently occur when prolonged warfare has destroyed civil society and left it vulnerable to usurpation by fanatical ideologues ..."

Civil society can be destroyed or just heavily impaired by means other than warfare. And what is "civil society" to begin with? It is a system of rules, institutions, and "checks and balances" that define the way society's members interact, creates accountability, and social cohesion.

To give you some examples what could impair it:

* concentrating media under corporate control (reducing exchange of information and accountability)
* economic/financial regimes that divide people into economic classes (reducing social cohesion)
* low-density suburban sprawl and separate business/residential zoning, leading to automobile-focused societies and more isolation (also reducing social cohesion)

All those can be observed in the US, and increasingly in Europe and perhaps in China as well (not quite sure about the latter).

Just a thought. What do you think?

Posted by: cm on May 8, 2004 09:33 AM

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There were no wmd in Iraq. We can't get the oil out of the ground in reasonable amounts. We can't rebuild the economy. We are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the desert ground. We suffer hundreds of casualties a month. We are running a Gulag in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, including re-creating Saddam's rape rooms in the same buildings he used. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 but the "American rape of Iraq" will be the rallying cry for terrorism against us around the world for years to come. The mainstream media sonorously announce that the American willingness to examine these wrongdoings proves the validity of our democracy, but the Congress only holds a show trial, since the truth doesn't come out and the chief perpetrators are neither identified nor punished. Why then are we in Iraq and what is the advantage to the United States of re-electing George Bush?

Posted by: rod on May 8, 2004 09:37 AM

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There were no wmd in Iraq. We can't get the oil out of the ground in reasonable amounts. We can't rebuild the economy. We are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the desert ground. We suffer hundreds of casualties a month. We are running a Gulag in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, including re-creating Saddam's rape rooms in the same buildings he used. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 but the "American rape of Iraq" will be the rallying cry for terrorism against us around the world for years to come. The mainstream media sonorously announce that the American willingness to examine these wrongdoings proves the validity of our democracy, but the Congress only holds a show trial, since the truth doesn't come out and the chief perpetrators are neither identified nor punished. Why then are we in Iraq and what is the advantage to the United States of re-electing George Bush?

Posted by: rod on May 8, 2004 09:38 AM

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For a picture of Paul Wolfowitz touring Abu Ghraib in late 03/early 04, go to page 6 of http://www.utahsheriffs.org/pdf/USA%20Newsletter%20Mar04.pdf [requires Abobe's reader]

The picture reminded me of US officials touring internment facilities after WWII...only now we the operators.

Posted by: infoshaman on May 8, 2004 09:41 AM

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We don't disagree on any of the above, AM. Without a doubt there's much gnashing of teeth over the small-scale (even though they're wholly synecdochic...sort-of a fractal replication of the broader misplaced 'ideals' of the administration) at the expense of the larger issues of empire. Are we arrogant as a nation? Sure. MY focus on the events in Abu Ghraib is only in the hope that in blowing-up & breaking down these atrocities we can see how the whole system, including the invasion, is bankrupt. And, while you may be right that our legacy abroad will be based on larger issues of empire & invasion, I wouldn't overlook the power of metaphor -- we (in the broadest sense) have a tendency to try to wrestle unwieldy abstractions (terror, imperialism) into single acts of lasting resonance....& what we've done is offer the rest of a world a new, brutal image of unrestrained American power -- perhaps it's that vivid afterimage of American occupation that people refer to when they talk about what America must now 'overcome' geopolitically.

Which isn't to down-play the human rights issues involved but rather to say that the repercussions of Abu Ghraib are multifold & will be long-lasting.

In the end, we disagree very little, I think...perhaps only in what we choose to be the lightning rod for our anger.

Posted by: tremolo on May 8, 2004 09:49 AM

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"The full battery of methods includes hooding, sleep deprivation, time disorientation and depriving prisoners not only of dignity, but of fundamental human needs, such as warmth, water and food."

And that's largely what was done, and it is legitimate treatment of illegal combatants (who are also eligible to be stood in front of a wall and shot). If you can't face up to this elementary reality of war, then you are a child.

If, as seems likely, SOME American MPs stepped beyond the line of what is acceptable conduct in disorienting or unnerving these (mostly) extremely (some of them reportedly raped their fellow detainees)bad people whose role in life is to kill, then we will court martial them and punish them if convicted.

However, to spend numerous hours lamenting every element of our efforts in Iraq betrays a deeply troubling attitude toward America. And it's been prevalent among the political left for over 3 decades now. Going back to the likes of John Kerry, Jand Fonda, and such outrageous lies as the Winter Soldier Investigations. There's a major problem in this country, not with military interrogators, but with those who "can't root for America".

Posted by: Patrick r. Sullivan on May 8, 2004 10:04 AM

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Uh, Patrick, the "illegal combatants" in Iraq are mostly American. Pre-emptive war is illegal.

Attacking an invading army is normally considered an act of patriotism.

Get yourself under control, Patrick. Pay attention to the ordinary truths of life.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on May 8, 2004 10:23 AM

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Notice how the "Kerry lied about Vietnam; soldiers don't do such things; Kerry slandered vets" line of argument seems to have died out?

Posted by: Jon H on May 8, 2004 10:34 AM

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Alan wrote: "Personally, I am amazed that they haven't been able to find a line yet that says this is all Clinton's fault."

They have, Alan. I've forgotten where I saw it, but one of the usual suspects on the right said that this was a direct result of Clinton's downsizing of the military.

Posted by: PaulB on May 8, 2004 10:42 AM

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"..legitimate treatment of illegal combatants(who are also eligible to be stood in front of a wall and shot). ...these (mostly) extremely (some of them reportedly raped their fellow detainees)bad people whose role in life is to kill.."

most of the "security inmates" are only *suspected* of posing a threat of the coalition, many of them may well be (and many, in fact, turned out to be) just innocent civilians. Not exactly a success strategy in the "war for minds and hearts" and definitely not in line with universal human right principles - even in wartime.

"SOME American MPs stepped beyond the line of what is acceptable conduct..."

In the logic of Guantanamo Bay and "guilty until proven innocent", there is no such clear line any more. Hence, what those MPs did can't be shrugged off as an isolated incident. That's why sacrificing a pawn by charging those MPs won't be enough to satisfy public opinion, at least not outside the US. And in the current situation, the US should care.

Posted by: konrad on May 8, 2004 11:15 AM

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Much of this discussion is too Americocentric. Your volition, intention, and purposeful action(or your lethal negligence) are not the only variables with serious impact. Look at all the surprising events in Iraq, starting with the amazing revival of Saddam's army and generals in order to calm down Fallujah! The poor warbloggers still have not figured out how the alleged "foreign terrorists" have been transformed into "fighters" protected by "remnants" of the old regime. Oh, the incoherence of it all!
What will be the next surprising events that come from non-American volition?

Posted by: gb on May 8, 2004 11:53 AM

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Patrick R. Sullivan: I hope you and we never see the day when some envious or grudging neighbor or competitor tips you off to the next "Commission for the Investigation of Unamerican and Illegal Conduct" (or the local investigator is short of not meeting the weekly arrest quota when you cross his way), and you are carted off to some "fact-finding" hearing where the proper physical and psychological conditions are set. Because this is what it is. That such things tend to happen more in war than in peace is not the underlying cause.

Posted by: cm on May 8, 2004 12:37 PM

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May I thank appalled moderate for putting down his thoughts, that I share 100%, concisely and eloquently.

Posted by: BP on May 8, 2004 12:39 PM

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I believe the suggestion that R2I training moderates interrogation behavior because it creates empathy is off the mark. Because I have two nieces and a nephew in a scool district where violent hazing has made national news twice in the past year, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how group behavior can spiral out of control. If you think about your own first- or second-hand experience, you may be able to think about the kind of hazing that often occurs on athletic teams, clubs, fraternities, even the Boy Scouts, and most significantly within most American middle schools and high schools. Most of this is fairly mild, but quite regularly, it spirals out of control into serious abuse(not always of the physical kind). Having power over others, especially if it can be wielded in secret, is extremely intoxicating, for most human beings.
Why do you think there are so many pictures floating around? One answer is that they were useful for intimidating other detainees. The other answer is that they were trophies and mementoes. I'm afraid that for some of the perpetrators terrorizing and humiliating prisoners may have been an emotional highlight of their lives. I'm pretty optimistic about the long run potential of human beings, but that's in spite of sad and discouraging facts like this.
There is also, I think, another difficulty, with the argument that this is such a slippery slope that any movement in this direction is morally the equivalent of Uday, Kusay, or Idi Amin. If you believe that anything beyond inquiring politely if the prisoner has anything to say is absolutely immoral, I don't think you are open to any part of the following discussion. But you may be opposed on other grounds. You may believe that the problem with isolation, sleep deprivation and "moderate physical pressure" [I must admit that I still cringe at this euphemism for things like a beating that doesn't use sticks and avoids repeated blows to the head, internal organs or sexual organs.] -- must be absolutely forbidden because they inevitably escalate to things which are much worse. I believe that position is factually inaccurate. For the last 60 years or so, these behaviors have been the standard treatment in a very great part of the world for spies [only those without diplomatic cover, of course], sabateurs, and people we might call foreign terrorists. I am not asserting that the countries who used these methods never exceeded them; surely they did, some times egregiously, but most of the time they were disciplined and consistent with their training. On the prevailing practices (described "optimistically") about 20 years ago, see the early chapters of John Le Carre's 'The Little Drummer Girl.' For an instance of how professional standards are maintined even in the face of great provocation, see the last two episodes of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' also by Carre, or, even better, read the book.
After years of reflecting on this issue, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there are some occasions where such methods are justified, but only if there are careful safeguards and very discriminating targetting. The appropriate targets would be spies and sabateurs: precisely those individuals to whom the Geneva Coinventions have never applied. These are those who when apprehended and identified as such are subject to summary execution under the laws of war. I further think this would include terrorists who have leadership positions and are likely to have considerable useful knowledge. Out of the tens of thousands of detainees around the world who are or have been under US contol, these would number, I believe, in the very low three-digits.
For those who were merely low-level conspiritors, the moral hazard would outweigh the real value of any information gain. For others, those who were merely in the wrong place with the wrong attitude and those who merely provided minor material support to terrorist operations, there are well established international treaty obligations to which the US has obligated itself. Definitions and procedures are spelled out in a US Army Field Manual. Phil Carter has a link in his blog INTEL DUMP this past Wednesday to the Manual.
To get back to Josh Marshall's description of R2I training, I would hope that the comparatively elite troops who got this training were carefully instructed on how to maintain emotional control and how to monitor each other and especially one's subordinates for indications that control is slipping. I hope this was the case, but I fear it was not.
The British contingent in Iraq seems to be having almost as much problem with interrogation as US forces. Some might say that this is a continuation of their experience in Northern Ireland: usually cool and professional out on the streets and brutal and thuggish both in interrogation and in coverup. I suspect, however, that it's also a symptom of Tony Blair having lent his soul to GWB [with no prospect at all of ever getting it back in usuable condition].
I thik that the present US administration bears a huge responsibility for causing and protecting a large number of crimes against humanity that cannot be rationalized away. They and their apologists have consistently demagogued this issue by claiming "9/11 has changed EVERYTHING" and that the generations-long struggle against terrorism is in itself a "war." In fact very little has changed except that a lot of people are scared enough to turn off the critical part of their intelligence, and the shrillest part of the Bush base is emboldened to advocate actions which would have gotten them ostracized in most of America before, say, 1980.
As bad as the rhetorical excesses are, the organizational side is more appalling. The use of "civilian" contractors for translation, interrogation, torure, and instruction in torture was very deliberate. There is a carefully nurtured lack of accountability. The contract employees will not, as a practical matter, face any legal liability. There is an abundant pool of National Guard and reserve troops to take the rap. Even for them, it is likely that most who behaved reprehensibly will get off scot free, at least if they worked outside Abu Graibh, and, make no mistake, there are dozens of prisons worldwide under US control where shameful things have been going on.
Some of what the world has learned about this week cannot be condoned for use against anyone at any time. Some of it, while shocking for the unprepared, has really been common practice for decade FOR A FEW INDIVIDUALS WHO KNOWING ASSUMED THE RISK. What is insane the brutal, indiscriminate extension of these techniques to anyone who falls into our lap, even when the overwhelming majority of them are persons to whom we have a formal legal and moral obligation to provide protection and care (especially while detaining them).
Al Quida's best friends in the world are the 'Vulcans,' (who would make a Cardassian blush).

Posted by: MJB on May 8, 2004 02:37 PM

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No, Brad... WE "have sex"; THEY "rape".

Posted by: Dave L on May 8, 2004 02:37 PM

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Patrick: It's not a case of rooting for America. It's a case of being smarter. Of not making another bad decision ala LBJ. Both LBJ and GWB decisions were based on *conjecture*. The remedy for mistake is to try to return to positions the parties held before the mistake -- but after the conjecture.

I supported both initial decisions. They lost my support when they both wouldn't recognize the error in the fundamental basis for their decision ... big mistakes backed by *bogus* info/intel. The mistake is not the current Abu Ghraib situation. The mistake is the war after Saddam's capture. His capture should have signalled our victory. Obviously it did not. We were ambushed by succeeding events. A new phase began which we are not prepared to contest to victory (IMMHO) because the tactics we could use would result in massive civilian deaths and unparalleled destruction -- bombing Iraq back into the stone age.

Time to declare victory, hold elections, pull out. Next, fund the training of Arabic speaking diplomats, agents and assasins. Fund moles and cells working in our interest.

Rooting for America does not change outcomes no matter how well we root. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you draw in spite of the effort.

Posted by: don majors on May 8, 2004 02:45 PM

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Lets turn this situation around. What would we do if these acts were committed against our soldiers/citizens?

That's really the question we, americans, should be asking ourselves. We can blame the un-trained troops or isolated few but we can't escape our ultimate responsibility. After 9/11, our goverment received blanket authority from us to do whatever to stop further attacks on our land and this is the results of that ill-advised policy.

Posted by: anno on May 8, 2004 03:01 PM

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Minty - "Don't you think that part of the responsibility for this does lie at the highest levels, that is, with Bush and Cheney, who have never actively sought to disabuse Americans of the idea that Iraq and 911 were linked?"

Yep.

Connect the Dots.

1. Terrorists are subhumans.
2. Our enemies are terrorists (subhuman).
3. Our enemy prisoners get treated like subhumans.

... see "Cause and Effect" at http://undelay.org ...

Posted by: undelay on May 8, 2004 03:08 PM

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I suppose that the Iraqi "rape rooms" have been given new signage under US occupation, calling them "intimate lovemaking rooms".

Posted by: Jon H on May 8, 2004 03:11 PM

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This link:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4928006/

Leads to an article about Spec. Sabrina D. harman, one of the soldiers under charges in this matter. Thistow paragraphs are of particular interest and quite damning to these kids' superiors:

"Harman, an assistant manager at a Papa John's Pizza in Fairfax County before being sent to Iraq, said the company received additional training at Fort Lee, but it was for "combat support, not I/R," the military term for internment and resettlement. She said she was never schooled in the Geneva Conventions' rules on prisoner treatment."

""The Geneva Convention was never posted, and none of us remember taking a class to review it," Harman said. "The first time reading it was two months after being charged. I read the entire thing highlighting everything the prison is in violation of. There's a lot.""

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 8, 2004 03:16 PM

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cm;

Going back to Hannah Arendt's book on totalitarianism, she lays special emphasis on the notion that the "nature" of a totalitarian state is to render politics impossible. By this, she does not mean simply the empirical facts about the widespread use of repressive violence to root out and eliminate any opposition and the persecution of whole groups of people by virtue of their classification as enemies of the state and as outside the membership group of the state. Her point is that such a state is in its "essence" anti-political, in the peculiar sense she gives to the notion of the political, as concerned with speech and action arising from the encounter with others in the public sphere of civil society, as the source of the legitimation of collective action. As such, a totalitarian state is hollow at its core and incapable of actually achieving anything political, a paradox of the powerlessness of such absolute power. (She based her book primarily on thinking about Nazi Germany, with any consideration of the Soviet bloc, secondary and an afterthought.) What strikes me about the Bush administration is not that they wield a repressive apparatus on the par with fascists, which would be a gross exageration, but rather how hollow their conceptions are at their core, how much they partake of an anti-political mindset, in the sense sketched above, whereby they do not have the slightest appreciation of the nature of political legitimacy, outside the manipulations of their propoganda apparatus.

Posted by: john c. halasz on May 8, 2004 06:39 PM

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"the manipulations of their propoganda apparatus"

Equivalently: the systematic, purposeful intimidation of semantic critique of political discourse -- leading to its intentional eleimination. True, the process of this destruction in the United States began perhaps in the late 1960's. But it is only in the Bush administration that it has become an element of state policy. This seems so paradoxical since the right lays claim to "objectivity" as it attacks relativism and the fads of modernity. But as part of this systematic attack on political discourse we have the flooding of the media of political dialogue with logical fallacies: bogus analogies, naive question framing and phony historical theories all pushed by fashion celebrities such as Kissinger, Bernard Lewis and disgruntled idiots such as Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks.

Posted by: CSTAR on May 8, 2004 09:59 PM

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It's truly amazing.

The chest-thumping Patrick Sullivan writes "If you can't face up to this elementary reality of war, then you are a child."

But the same Patrick Sullivan was dismayed by the fact that an army might shoot deserters, calling it a war crime: "Here's a little light on what a war crime might be:"

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2003_archives/001241.html

Posted by: Ben Vollmayr-Lee on May 8, 2004 10:09 PM

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I thought the pictures were hilarious. With the leash, already! BWAHAHAHAHA! Stacked up naked! ROFLMAO! If you let go, you'll be electrocuted! HAHAHAHA!! I can't breath! But, hey, they're heroes for the resistance -- stacked up in a naked fag stack!! Maybe they'll just hit us with their purses from now on. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Hey, Achmed, how much honor can you take?!

Posted by: BiteMe on May 8, 2004 10:43 PM

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QED or as Bourbaki would say C.Q.F.D.

Posted by: CSTAR on May 8, 2004 10:53 PM

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"War is slaughter of one group by another group. Some fraction of opposing(?) groups are captured. Is it not inevitable that another, smaller fraction of prisoners are thus slaughtered? War is not Justice, War is Hell. Evil things inevitably occur in Hell. "


I agree, the major combat operations that were occuring at the prison at the time precluded U.S forces from in all cases taking as much care for the prisoners as might be wished.

As often happens in major combat they were at times forced by desperate circumstances to strip their opponents naked, have them simulate homoerotic acts with each other, drag them by a leash (I believe Sun Tzu recommends this tactic so you see, what about other people who do evil things, doncha care about them huh!?) and in some situations where appropriate saddling and riding aged women combattants around while calling them donkeys and raping various combattants possessed of lethal underage skills.

It should be noted that not only is this all justified by the fact that war is hell, but also by the fact that many of these combattants were illegal combattants as can be observed by their not having any weapons and being totally defenseless at the time, a type of combattant sometimes referred to by the phrase non-combattant. For god's sakes our troops were fighting for their lives!

next please.

Posted by: bryan on May 9, 2004 12:18 AM

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"If you can't face up to this elementary reality of war, then you are a child."
well i wouldn't want to be one of those, might get raped y'know.

Posted by: bryan on May 9, 2004 12:20 AM

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Hmm... I suspect that the "Patrick r. Sullivan" is an impersonator of the usual person who posts here under that handle. Not sure, but doesn't seem verbose or off-topic enough to be him. I'd think that the real PRS would be talking about Kerry by now.

In other news, I think that Ursula Vernon says with much more grace what all of us are thinking: "I am not the kind of person who commits war crimes, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most war crimes are, in fact, committed by the sort of person who doesn't commit war crimes, life being the way it is and combat zones having notoriously debilitating effects on the human psyche.

However, if I am ever in a situation where I AM committing war crimes, I am sure as hell not going to take photos.

Bad enough that we have people doing this monstrous thing, but god, do they have to be so STUPID? Jesus, did they think there was a "Geneva's Funniest Human Rights Violations" show that they could submit them to? Who the hell videotapes themselves doin' that kind of crap? What the hell, man?"

Posted by: Julian Elson on May 9, 2004 01:13 AM

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Every person with access to the Internet can read General Taguba of the U.S. Army concluding, after bitter and painstaking investigation, that an absolute majority of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism or even armed resistance. Naturally, this is Patrick's cue to ask how come the liberals are in such a tizzy about a few Al Qaeda terrorists getting knocked around a little.

Every person with access to a television, a newspaper, or the Internet can read the Army's own admission of rape, felony assault, and homicide taking place under its watch, and every person still in possession of even a shriveled vestige of moral sanity has been revolted by the psychosexual sadism on display in the photographs from Abu Ghraib. This causes Patrick to rise indignantly to his feet and demand to know why the traitorous liberals are so worked up over a few people having hoods placed over their heads.

The single article of faith in Patrick's moral and religious code, and the entirety of his epistemology, apparently consists of this commandment: look to see what the liberals say, and then go ye and do the opposite.

Posted by: Jeffrey Kramer on May 9, 2004 03:12 AM

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I beg everyone's pardon: homicides have not been confirmed by the report, they've only been alleged.

Posted by: Jeffrey Kramer on May 9, 2004 04:02 AM

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Brad, Tony Carpaccio of Defense Week thinks Myers (the lawyer) and a network of civilian defense attorneys are feeding Hirsh. And Col. Hackworth started it all after 17 Congresspeople ignored this.

Feith relaxed the rules to encourage this behavior and people that specialize in this behavior were sent from Guantanimo to Iraq.

I believe is was JFK that took responsibility and said don't cross the CIA. Bush is toast.

Posted by: me on May 9, 2004 05:26 AM

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"Hmm... I suspect that the "Patrick r. Sullivan" is an impersonator of the usual person who posts here under that handle. Not sure, but doesn't seem verbose or off-topic enough to be him. I'd think that the real PRS would be talking about Kerry by now."

And there wasn't the usual authoritative looking but BS quote.


Posted by: Barry on May 9, 2004 06:37 AM

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I just hope it is British intelligence, and not Israeli, that is involved here.

Posted by: Bob H on May 9, 2004 07:25 AM

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A Fable.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on May 9, 2004 07:51 AM

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"And that's largely what was done, and it is legitimate treatment of illegal combatants (who are also eligible to be stood in front of a wall and shot). If you can't face up to this elementary reality of war, then you are a child."

You sir, are making excuses for war crimes.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on May 9, 2004 07:53 AM

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Not Godwin Complant:

Definition of War Crime of Toture:

Article 8 (2) (a) (ii)-1

War crime of torture

Elements

The perpetrator inflicted severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon one or more persons.

The perpetrator inflicted the pain or suffering for such purposes as: obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

Such person or persons were protected under one or more of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

The perpetrator was aware of the factual circumstances that established that protected status.

The conduct took place in the context of and was associated with an international armed conflict.

The perpetrator was aware of factual circumstances that established the existence of an armed conflict.


Posted by: Stirling Newberry on May 9, 2004 08:21 AM

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Julian writes " I am sure as hell not going to take photos.

Bad enough that we have people doing this monstrous thing, but god, do they have to be so STUPID?..."

The 'STUPID' bit tripped me up.

But the photos/videos have a deterrent effect, no?
Without them, the atrocities may never have come to light. Without them the military investigation would not have gotten the attention it deserved. As bakho pointed out in another thread here, the technology actually served us well here providing us with more powerful evidence than we had in Viet Nam for instance.
The message may be (IS) distasteful, but let's not shoot the messenger just to preserve our ignorance.

Posted by: calmo on May 9, 2004 08:56 AM

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http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/09/international/middleeast/09DIPL.html?hp=&pagewanted=all&position=:
Iraqi officials who have been in close contact with Washington say the parties that will have to be represented in the caretaker government include the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which has close ties to Iran, and Dawa, another influential Shiite group. The Communist Party is also likely to be represented, they said.

US creates Iraq's goverment that includes Islamic Fundamentalists and Communists. That's what US troops fought and died for?

Posted by: bubba on May 9, 2004 09:11 AM

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john c. halasz: totalitarianism

Thanks for pointing out what I failed to point out. One hallmark of totalitarian societies/regimes, that you call being apolitical, is the creeping disengagement of the population first from the political process, and later from the value-creation process, as political failures lead to a decoupling of "pain and gain". The latter part could not be observed in Nazi Germany as it didn't survive for long, but the Eastern bloc saw several generations, and it was very clear that while the first generations still believed there is a carrot out there, later this got lost (and in fact the leadership's spin then became that in reality you already _have_ the carrot, despite it being obvious that you don't).

You cannot grow or even maintain an economy only by using a stick, if people make their efforts only reluctantly because they rightly perceive that they have too little of a stake in the results. Consequently the thing fell apart. As a lay historian, methinks I can see this general pattern in all societies that went down -- nascency, ascent, climax, decadence, decay, extinction. The part after the climax virtually always was characterized by what we today call totalitarianism, and they decay and extinction were caused by the society's economic base breaking away, in my view as the result.

Does this sound plausible?

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 10:05 AM

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Hard to pick a favorite from the usual children's assortment of red herrings, perhaps:

" an absolute majority of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism or even armed resistance."

Then why are they in Abu Ghraib?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on May 9, 2004 10:43 AM

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I take it back, this is the best one:

"Patrick: It's not a case of rooting for America. It's a case of being smarter."

Ah, the self-esteem movement's progeny!

Rather obviously, judging by the responses to my post, no one here has an analytical bone in their bodies.

And, since torture supposedly bothers you guys so much, how about displaying a little grasp of opportunity costs; this prison used to daily torture people to death under Saddam. Thousands were killed here (often with Uday and Qusay in attendance) by gruesome means such as immersion in acid baths or electrocution. Our invasion of Iraq put an end to that.

So, even if the worst news stories are true--and clearly they aren't--then we have substituted comparatively mild psychological "terror", in a handful of cases, for thousands of deaths that otherwise would be occuring right there in the same location. That's a trade-off worth doing, isn't it, boys?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on May 9, 2004 10:56 AM

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"'an absolute majority of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism or even armed resistance.'

Then why are they in Abu Ghraib?"

Damned if I know, Patrick. Maybe quotas were being met. Maybe mistakes were made.

"--then we have substituted comparatively mild psychological 'terror', in a handful of cases"

There's a picture and story about a man who had been beaten to death, along with an investigation of 20 deaths including two already known to be murders, plus a report that certain "ghost" prisoners are never registered, so that their fates are unknowable.

"Significantly less torture than Saddam", while true, isn't an effective sales pitch.

It's not just liberal opinion that you're dealing with. We ultimately need international support, including support or neutrality from the Muslim world. While you are venting your disdain for liberals in your customary knee-jerk fashion, others are trying to keep American foreign policy viable. Like all trolls, you care nothing about the real world and only want to express your own personal resentments and obsessions, and like all trolls, you never listen or pay attention.

Even Bush and Rumsfeld are aware that shits like you and Limbaugh have your heads up your butts, though unfortunately Rove keeps reminding them that Bush's electoral strategy depends on continuing to appeal to thoughtless, vengeful ranters like the two of you. Bush's attempts to cater to the American peanut gallery (e.g., you) have already severely damaged America's world position.

Posted by: Zizka on May 9, 2004 11:33 AM

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This crap is happening and everyone is just jollying around on the keyboard about America heading toward totalitarianism and how the war is such a lost cause. Readers of this blog are the converted. Leave the computer and go take some action that will make a difference.

Posted by: phil on May 9, 2004 12:23 PM

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Don't miss Sy Hersh's latest at newyorker.com on the coverup. New torture photos and stories, lots more new information-- loosing dogs on prisoners, for example-- and some names of higher level officers responsible for changing the rules that used to protect Us as well as Them. The larger picture is that this misadministration cannot do anything right and does NOTHING by the book, from the way they treated raw intelligence to the way they ignore treaties, including how they crashed the economy by looting the treasury, and how they turned the US into a second-tier player in the area of science and technology, to say nothing of education and health. Grrr.
As for how good people can do bad things, take a look at the Philip Zimbardo prison experiment at Stanford, or what Stanley Milgram learned about the willingness of people to provide painful electrical shocks to others.

Posted by: Tomm on May 9, 2004 01:14 PM

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Despite the unanimous and predictable outpouring of political venom aimed at Donald Rumsfeld,
and deservedly so, life goes on, and so we're overfocused on this one diametric. Kos voices the same concern.

A Clinton- or Nixon-style impeachment now, a catastrophic Viet Nam-style bailout now, at a time when polls show a significant portion of the electorate still support Bush, is suicide for America. Leave the Rumdum in office. Brick up his door and marginalize him, just like he and the neo-cons marginalized Powell.

Work with Negroponte, our new Iraq ambassador,
the transition is only a few weeks away besides! Negroponte is a political animal, he knows
which side his bread is buttered on, and all the Senate need do is apply those screws, then put a
hood over Rumsfeld, and let the generals and field commanders negotiate their way out of Iraq.

Here's what I worry about: Huns at the Gate.

This morning, following right behind the Sunday morning debates, was a paid advertisement promotion called "Options Made Easy". I kid
you not. Some Australian businessman confidence scam artist is selling free promotionals, and his special brand of options software that lets you, "win when the stock market goes up, and win
when the stock market goes down. Nothing could be easier. With options costing only a fraction of the cost of stocks, we'll put you on the road to financial freedom."

All of which is true on the face of it, just like Donald Rumsfeld is a great bureaucrat,
on the face of it.

For those who remember the derivatives scandal of the 1990's, where everyone jumped aboard the
Black-Scholes analysis and leveraged huge sums into derivative investing, it doesn't take a
rocket scientist to see those who control the software, those who control options formulas,
know *exactly* how the hoi poloi are going to invest at any moment in time! Like cattle!!

The losses, at first, will be insubstantial and under-reported. The guy in the cubicle next to you will stop coming to work. Maybe you'll read about his suicide in the papers. Then as more
"Options Made Easy" get rich quick stories are
piled on higher and higher, and OME's ponzi pyramid grows and grows, those folks who know will bet *counter* to that software, to time it, to "game" it, those who manipulate the news and stock reports to *take advantage* of the puts and call, will suck the last shred of savings Mom & Pop still have, like fleas on a coonhound.

All of which is to say, Donald Rumsfeld is only a minor player in a minor travesty being played
out halfway around the world. Of course it's awful, but life goes on. The real crooks, the real torture and murder and killing, is still going on right here in America under our noses. It's in the blood of the Beast, Wall Street and White House joined together in a gigantic fraud.
The Great Con. The Great Khan.

At a time when we have to be more alert than ever, when we should be scourging the media to investigate *everyone and everything*, not just the soap de jure, instead, we're sold down the river and eaten alive by the same institutions that have a strict fiduciary and electoral responsibility to protect our treasures!

The next Black-Scholes debacle is only a moment away, and with many of the major banks optioned
up to their eyeballs in derivatives, and a stock market about to tank the moment "good news" can no longer be gyned up out of thin air, Mom and Pop are about to be taken for a long ride and a dirt nap, which will make the disturbing photos and mercenary evil at Abu Ghraib seem like thin soup before a main course of evil incarnate.

Purge everything up on the Hill and down on the Street with a steel brillo, hot boiling water, and lots and lots of sunlight. Clean until your hands bleed, because surely they will if we're made into their slaves.

It's not just a few bad eggs. It's the SYSTEM!

Posted by: Tante Aime on May 9, 2004 01:54 PM

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CM, I don't understand what you mean by decoupling pain and gain. Does he mean the movement of profit from labor and production, the workers, to capital manipulation by managers? Or are you suggesting a situation where nothing a person does gets them ahead because the system is rigged against all but the Few at the top AND that at the top no degree of incompetence or failure will have serious personal consequences (Enron, golden parachutes, the lack of anyone being fired for the war/torture situation much less 9/11, and of course, Dumbo's entire career-- note, for example, his free ride in the press at least as far back as his debates with Gore)?

As for the notion that totalitarian societies are apolitical, Americans seem not yet to have reached the point of believing that nothing they do will make any difference. At least at the moment, the debate seems to be hotly engaged, with at least one side debating actual policy issues and another side apparently doing its best to sidetrack that debate with the kind of idiocy that talkingpointsmemo.com exposes regularly-- crap about Botox, decades old nonscandals, fake religious issues, ginned up outrage over snowboarding accidents, car ownership, and personal assistants. Perhaps the no-rules, no-accountability ideologues think they'll benefit from a refusal to address policy, by in fact making it off-limits as "unpatriotic" during "wartime." If so, that plan seems to be going as badly as all the rest.

Posted by: Tomm on May 9, 2004 02:01 PM

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CM, I don't understand what you mean by decoupling pain and gain. Do you mean the movement of profit from labor and production, the workers, to capital manipulation by managers? Or are you suggesting a situation where nothing a person does gets them ahead because the system is rigged against all but the Few at the top AND that at the top no degree of incompetence or failure will have serious personal consequences (Enron, golden parachutes, the lack of anyone being fired for the war/torture situation much less 9/11, and of course, Dumbo's entire career-- note, for example, his free ride in the press at least as far back as his debates with Gore)?

As for the notion that totalitarian societies are apolitical, Americans seem not yet to have reached the point of believing that nothing they do will make any difference. At least at the moment, the debate seems to be hotly engaged, with at least one side debating actual policy issues and another side apparently doing its best to sidetrack that debate with the kind of idiocy that talkingpointsmemo.com exposes regularly-- crap about Botox, decades old nonscandals, fake religious issues, ginned up outrage over snowboarding accidents, car ownership, and personal assistants. Perhaps the no-rules, no-accountability ideologues think they'll benefit from a refusal to address policy, by in fact making it off-limits as "unpatriotic" during "wartime." If so, that plan seems to be going as badly as all the rest.

Posted by: Tomm on May 9, 2004 02:01 PM

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Naturally, after waiting forever to show up, that posted twice. The second version as a correction near the top, though, and might make better sense.
Sorry, all.

Posted by: Tomm on May 9, 2004 02:04 PM

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Patrick R. Sullivan: "Then why are they in Abu Ghraib?"

With all due respect, you are confusing "A implies B" and "A correlates with B".

Abu Ghraib is not a correctional facility for convicted felons, but a detention center, whether by official description or just de facto. In the absence of better knowledge, we have to trust that US officials are not throwing people in jail frivolously, and thus a number of the detainees are or have been associated with suspected or known insurgents, terrorists, old-regimers, or criminals.

How this association happens is anybody's guess. To a large extent probably names, addresses, and descriptions are coming forward from Iraqi sources, or forces get shot at and put out arrest "warrants" (5'8 Arab male with mustache, last seen in shirt and pants roaming such-and-such neighborhood; the suspect speaks fluent Arabic). Local people probably know that running across coalition forces brews trouble, and take the hell off through the back door when forces show up, thereby "proving" they have something to hide.

Imagine you knew some guy ever so remotely or do the occasional business with him, like letting him fix your car. The guy gets arrested, and interrogators press him for names. ("Who did you meet today? Huh? You are not telling me you did not meet anybody today!") At some point the guy releases your name. Then it's, hey, let's have a look at this Patrick guy, maybe he knows something, or at least he may tell us some names. (Did you ever watch a police movie?) This is how police work and intelligence discovery happens. What methods are used is then a matter of the legal and institutional framework in which the process is embedded, how much and to whom the investigators are accountable, etc. On that latter part we are having some insight these days.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 02:08 PM

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I think that John C. Halasz is way early on the possibility of totalitarianism per Hannah Arendt. I think we should look at her discussion of imperialism:

"The imperialists knew ... that the body politic of the nation is not capable of empire building. They were perfectly aware that the march of the nation and its conquest of peoples, if allowed to follow its own inherent law, ends with the peoples' rise to nationhood and the defeat of the conqueror."

"What the imperialists wanted was expansion of political power without the foundation of a body politic." Ch.5, secs. I, II

These imperialists were the uber-capitalists in England, France, Belgium, Italy and Germany. They were unable to maximize the returns to their capital under the bounds imposed by the nation-state, so they used their political power to get the nation-state to set up territories where they could get that return. Eventually that led to destruction of civil society in their home countries, and to the formation of mobs, which in turn led to totalitarianism. Of course, her argument is much more than this. And, she was really smart.

Posted by: masaccio on May 9, 2004 02:21 PM

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"an absolute majority of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism or even armed resistance.Ē
Without knowledge of how and why people are detained, one cannot validly make the above statement. If the inmates were selected at random, Iíd have confidence in that statement since I doubt an absolute majority of Iraqis are terrorists. Context is important. Suppose we found out that American solders abused, even tortured captured SS officers in WWII. It would be wrong, it would be illegal, but it might be understandable if the Americans were acting out of rage after seeing the extermination camps. They should still be punished because we donít allow private vengeance. Nevertheless it really looks bad, it looks like we had gratuitous sadism at Abu Ghraib . But Iíve learned not to rush to judgment.

Posted by: zarkov@mail.com on May 9, 2004 02:47 PM

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Parick R. Sullivan writes: Then why are they in Abu Ghraib?

So, arrest equals guilt, Patrick?

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 9, 2004 02:49 PM

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cm:

OT, but so it goes. The problem with the East European case, U.S.S.R. excepted, is that those regimes were imposed as a result of military conquest. In the post-war reconstruction phase, when there was obviously much work to be done and many lower class people received access to education and improved employment, there was no doubt some investment of hope in the national regimes, but that was also the time of high totalitarian terror. What you describe as the long decay resulting in totalitarianism, at least from these distant shores, I would see as the decay of the totalitarian regimes themselves, as a consequence of the essential hollowness of totalitarian terror, which began with the emergence of the Kadar regime in Hungary and culminated with Solidarinosc in Poland. The sad part is how badly bungled the management of the aftermath was by the West, after all that "heroic" Cold War rhetoric. (Even in Poland, with the large debt forgiveness and all that investment from the BRD, the unemployment rate is currently 20%.)

I don't think it even remotely possible that the U.S.A. would become a totalitarian state any time soon and that we should expect fascists marching in the streets. And in the U.S.A., at least compared with much of the rest of the world, there are always plenty of carrots laying around. (The problem is rather that people are all too content to chew on their carrots and think that more carrots is all that is needed.) The only relevant application of the notion of the anti-political nature of totalitarianism has to do with the decay of the public sphere in this country, which I would see as beginning after the explosions/implosions of the 1960's and as gathering momentum ever since, (though that may be purely a function of my age/generational cohort.) I would define civil society in the fashion of Solidarinosc, in contradistinction to both the state and the economy, as the set of mediating institutions and organizations that lie at the base of the public sphere. I think that what we are seeing now is that, with the erosion and hollowing out of civil society and the public sphere, the political leadership itself in this country has become hollowed out and taken on an anti-political "totalitarian" cast of mind. With respect to the Iraq invasion, the irony is that there were plenty of sober, realistic assessments and plans within the institutions of the "permanent" government and paragovernmental organizations, such that, if the U.S.A. had decided forthrightly and deliberately to take over Iraq, it could have made at least a reasonable job of it. But the Bush administration, together with their cohorts in the elected political leadership, (in both parties), were so caught up in their own ideological delirium and so blind to the elementary political condition of taking account of the perspectives of others that the notions of cause and effect, of policy and implication, were simply to be overruled and overridden. And the really irritating thing, from the standpoint of us anti-war lefties, is that many "moderate" liberals who acquiesced in, if not supported, the Iraq War, as manifested in the comments of some commenters in these threads in the past few days, were more obsessed with their desire to dissociate themselves from us lunatics than with any realistic assessment of the consequences and, indeed, persist in scapegoating the leftwing opposition to the war. I guess having to associate with dirty and smelly people is the worst fate that could befall them.

The cynical German systems-theoretic sociologist Niklas Luhmann has a theory about self-referentially self-legitimating political elites. It looks like his theory is being definitively put to the test.

Posted by: john c. halasz on May 9, 2004 03:07 PM

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Tomm: By decoupling of pain and gain I meant pretty much what you said. The (even if partial) breakdown of policy, accountability, and feedback mechanisms begets an environment where people can be increasingly stiffed of the fruits of their labor.

Let me point out that it is far complex than the simplified and cheap notion of "exploiters versus the exploited (workers)". The breakdown happens in all areas and levels of society.

In the aggregate, the economic actors collaborate to produce the riches (goods, services, knowledge, art, inspiration, ...) from which the society sustains itself and grows and develops further. If everybody, or rather, a large enough "critical mass" of society's members perceives that the riches are distributed fairly (at every level; to be explained later), mostly everybody will be happy with the arrangement and make efforts to keep it up or improve. Typically it takes some accountability mechanism to ensure fair sharing. (And let me also clarify that "fair" does not mean "egalitarian" in the sense that everybody gets the same share. Generally it seems to be OK if certain people get more than others, but nobody should get too little.) Accountability requires a sufficient degree of transparency and information sharing -- which is where we have a side connection to the torture story: do you think Rumsfeld-level people would be held accountable if the pictures wouldn't have been on TV and the Internet? Let me at this point also mention Gorbachov's "glasnost" effort (which means publicity, transparency) -- he knew that you will not build accountability without public disclosure and a free flow of information.

In Eastern-bloc countries, how the breakdown of accountability and fairness at the "lower" (hierarchical) levels of society was perceived can be illustrated thus: Imagine you start in a job and work hard, while others read the newspaper, play hooky, or go shopping during office hours (because this is when stores get deliveries). Then you leave work and go grocery shopping, only to find that you can buy just those items that the office-hour shoppers didn't choose earlier. It's not that the stuff is bad, what's wrong with blood sausage or baloney?, but you have only second or third choice, and the tenderloin is definitely gone -- there is only so much tenderloin in a cow or pig. You may try bribing the salesperson to put something back for you when the next delivery comes, but chances are she has already taken orders from others (if she's honest she will tell you you are too late, or have to wait another week). At the next performance review, it will turn out that you get exactly the same as everybody else (we have to be fair, right?), or the big raise goes to whoever's turn it is this year, or to the party and "trade union" (not to be confused with its Western counterpart) guys, for their, well, "above and beyond" burden. Depending on how quick a learner you are, after X times of observing this, you make the only rational choice that you will not be the idiot and either join the game or at least don't pick up the other guys' tab when it comes to work assignments.

Of course it is never that pure -- for one thing, when you join your job you are already "primed" by having heard accounts from others, and people react differently -- some refuse to become corrupted, or want to do a good job regardless, because wasting your time avoiding work may often be worse than doing a good day's work for the good of the nation, etc. But to some extent it will show; in the aggregate less _effective_ work will get done, busywork and pretending does not create tangibles, and there will be less fruits of labor to distribute. At the end of the day, bullshit doesn't feed and clothe you.

I desperately want to cut this short, but let me mention that there are other things that many Westerners are taking for granted as (if increasingly less) merit-based: college and university places (for studying) may be assigned by the parents' party affiliation, connections, based on whether you are viewed as ideologically "reliable", etc. One critical blemish on your record, and your child may be cut out of college, good vocational trainings, and perhaps relegated to a job in hazardous conditions.

The meaning of totalitarianism is in the meaning of the name -- the aspiration to control the public and private lives of societies and individuals in totality. But technological and social progress needs innovation, and there is little in the way of beating innovation out of somebody with a stick. It needs positive rewards. That's why totalitarian societies cannot survive in the long run, but they can cause suffering for many generations.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 03:35 PM

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zarkov@mail.com: "Suppose we found out that American solders abused, even tortured captured SS officers in WWII. It would be wrong, it would be illegal, but it might be understandable if the Americans were acting out of rage after seeing the extermination camps."

I disagree. Not unless you subscribe to "an eye for an eye". I thought democracy in today's (not the Antique) definition was supposed to be beyond that. And let me point out that the people who suffered the concentration camps and territory occupations were not predominantly Americans, and not all of them were Jews. Your name suggests you may be of Slavic ancestry. In that case you should know better, although judging by name is probably not proper, so advance apologies if I'm not right.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 03:48 PM

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cm: It has nothing to do with democracy, but with human emotions. When you see a horror, it is all too human to want to strike back at that horror, to punish that horror even if you yourself have not been a victim. I want to distinguish that kind of response from an act of gratuitous sadism. The mitigating circumstance is concept we recognize in law and custom. Thatís why we have a jury system, so we can consider all the circumstances surrounding an act. I certainly think evil needs to be punished, if thatís ďeye for an eye,Ē than so be it.

As a matter of history, the only group the National Socialists specifically wanted exterminate (and devised a master plan to do so) were the Jews. Yes they wanted to enslave the Slavs to east, but to my knowledge they did not want to exterminate them down to the last infant.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on May 9, 2004 04:23 PM

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Steven Rogers: "So, arrest equals guilt, Patrick?"

Looks like. Let me mention a brief story even though I have been accused of playing the race card some time ago. I was driving to a local library when after taking a right turn, I noticed how not too long after, a police car came up from behind with lights and siren on, apparently in pursuit of a speeder or somebody who had not stopped at the light, or, well, who knows? A driver in front of me braked hard and pulled into the library property, apparently made a few rounds in the parking lot, and drove out again. It appeared to be a middle-aged African-American lady. My conclusion was that she wanted to evade the cop, either for good reason, or just because she was black. It may have been a coincidence, but then who knows. I noticed this because I got pissed at the brake-slamming in front of me, and was paying attention to what was going on. I just dumped a few books for a minute, and when I left, I saw how the cop had pulled out a white lady in an SUV.

I guess the point I want to convey, regardless of whether my interpretaion of the event is valid, is that people who rightly or wrongly have a perception of being persecuted may act in peculiar ways which are easy to misinterpret, especially assuming that evading prosecution is a proof of guilt.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 04:28 PM

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A. Zarkov: "As a matter of history, the only group the National Socialists specifically wanted exterminate (and devised a master plan to do so) were the Jews."

I don't want to argue this strongly, as there is not really a good way of arguing it without becoming or appearing apologetic. It is true that the Nazis targeted Jews specifically, and I have seen the propaganda flicks that showed hordes of rats having a good time with bags full of grain, and the narrator explaining how this shows what "the Jews" are doing with the fruits of the German people's labor.

But while Jews were identified as a primary group for persecution (among other things, forcing them to be fingerprinted, to wear a yellow David star on the breast, issuing ID documents featuring a big "J" mark, and mandating that they carry "Sara" and "Israel" as second names), and their persecution was embedded in a larger ideological framework, the Nazis also had developed a quite "refined" racial theory, and were targeting "Untermenschen" of various descriptions, including gypsies. My German grandparents, both "bonafide" Germans, were not allowed to marry because they were considered to be of different racial purity, based on eye color and shit like that, and were not supposed to mix. Obviously it did not deter them from having kids anyway.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 04:46 PM

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Oh my, more failed grades for the logic class--really, guys, there are websites where you can learn the basics. Or do you enjoy the humiliation (maybe you should visit Abu Ghraib and taste the real thing).

For the usual ignoramuses; there are two groups of detainees in there, common criminals and insurgents. They are strictly separated, because military intelligence isn't interested in common criminals. They are only interested in those who might let slip a morsel or two that would allow us to find out where weapons are stashed, who is planning on using them, and WHEN.

We've been using the videos and still photos taken of atrocities to identify people at the scenes (one kid interviewed for a newspaper article said the Americans had a photo of him holding a rocket propelled grenade launcher). We've got better things to do than round up innocent civilians. Here are a couple of Iraqi doctors talking about the situation:

http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/archives/2004_05_01_iraqthemodel_archive.html#108402732613255085

-----------quote-------------
- These thugs are treated much better than what they really deserve!

- What are you saying!? You canít possibly think that this didnít happen! And theyíre still human beings, and there could be some innocents among them.

- Of course it happened, and Iím not talking about all the prisoners nor do I support these actions, and there could be some innocents among them, but I doubt it.

- Then why do you say such a thing?

- Because these events have taken more attention than they should.

- I agree but there should be an investigation on this. There are other pictures that were shown lately, and there are talks about others that will be shown in the near future.

- Yes, but what happened cannot represent more than 1% of the truth.

- Oh I really hope there would be no more than that.

- No, thatís not what I meant. What Iím saying is that these events are the exception and not the rule.

- How do you know that!? I must say I agree with your presumption, but I donít have a proof, and I never thought youíd be interested in such issue!

- I was there for a whole month!

- In Abu-Gharib!? What were you doing there!?

- It was part of my training! ....

-So tell me what did you see there? Howís the situation of the prisoners? Did you see any abuse? Do they get proper medical care? (I was excited to see someone who was actually there, and he was a friend!)

- Hey, slow down! Iíll tell you what I know. First of all, the prisoners are divided into two groups; the ordinary criminals and the political ones. I used to visit the ordinary criminals during every shift, and after that, the guards would bring anyone who has a complaint to me at the prisonís hospital.

- What about the 'political' ones?

- Iím not allowed to go to their camps, but when one of them feels ill, the guards bring him to me.

....
-Why do you say they are very well treated?

- They are fed much better than they get at their homes. I mean they eat the same stuff we eat, and itís pretty good; eggs, cheese, milk and tea, meat, bread and vegetables, everything! And that happened every day, and a good quality too.

....
-Yes but what about the way they are treated? And how did you find American soldiers in general?

- Iíll tell you about that; first let me tell you that I was surprised with their politeness. Whenever they come to the hospital, they would take of their helmets and show great respect and they either call me Sir or doctor. As for the way they treat the prisoners, they never handcuff anyone of those, political or else, when they bring them for examination and treatment unless I ask them to do so if I know that a particular prisoner is aggressive, and I never saw them beat a prisoner and rarely did one of them use an offensive language with a prisoner.

....
- So you think that these events are isolated?

-As far as I know and from what Iíve seen, Iím sure that they are isolated.

-But couldnít it be true that there were abusive actions at those times that the prisoners were afraid to tell you about?

-Are you serious!? These criminals, and I mean both types tell me all about there 'adventures and bravery'. Some of them told me how they killed an American soldier or burned a humvee, and in their circumstances this equals a confession! Do you think they wouldíve been abused and remained silent and not tell me at least!? No, I donít think any of this happened during the time I was there. It seemed that this happened to a very small group of whom I met no one during that month.

-------------endquote--------------

Of course, what does a guy with first hand experience know?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on May 9, 2004 05:17 PM

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cm: What you say is true, many other groups fell victim to National Socialist policy and ideology. But this policy fell with unique and special ferocity on the Jewish people. They alone were scheduled for systematic and complete extermination. Anyone who doubts this need only study Eichmann. The modern-day Holocaust denier tries to portray the Jews as ďjustĒ another one of Hitlerís victims, nothing special, join the crowd. In no way am I even suggesting you are a denier, but be careful, some people donít read carefully and they might misinterpret you.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on May 9, 2004 05:19 PM

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john c. halasz: Sorry to respond to you last, but as a non-native speaker I have to chew longer on your eloquent style (no offense please). It was very much my point that the decline of the Eastern bloc was a result of the totalitarianism and not vice versa.

Neither do I want to imply that soon after much of the media is concentrated in few corporate hands, fascists will be marching on the streets. No fascists were marching in the streets of the Eastern-bloc countries. Totalitarian _tendencies_ do not develop overnight, but very gradually, and they are not black and white, but take on shades. A larger picture is formed out of many small pieces. Dissuading people from expressing contrarian opinions to not besmirch the image of a group or the nation (sound familiar?), compelling them to censor themselves (should I say this? perhaps it is not fair to somebody), creating an environment where people are judged by, and rewards and appreciation are assigned based on their contributing to a "cause" (as determined by specific key actions or inactions or just verbal lip service, or by affiliation with certain organizations -- the proverbial party member), etc. The rewards can take many forms -- assignment to more or less glamorous projects at work, allocation of job positions, college places, apartments (!), and generally all resources that are finite and scarce or are kept scarce by intent; i.e. if we give it to everybody, why should people do our bidding? Conversely, subtle punishment can be administered by withholding those rewards (and optionally hinting ever so slightly how it is related to your "performance"). How about you are not allowed to move to that other apartment complex (oops, make that the allotment is full already), and have to continue living close to the power station and smelling its fumes every day?

Now you can ask why did people not run? Well why do you think the Eastern bloc countries surrounded themselves with heavily guarded fences, walls, and minefields? It was not to protect themselves from their "imperialist" neighbors. The Berlin wall was erected because East Germany was suffering form an increasing brain drain of qualified people running away through West Berlin, which was under the management of the Western allies. Did you know that in the Soviet Union, internal movement between cities was restricted and controlled?

By no way do I want to suggest the US are on their way to a totalitarian state. But it starts very slowly. Why have we heard some journalists say they don't want to report some things as they have kids in private school and a mortgage to pay? Would you think twice saying certain things at work when your VP or director has expressed a strong opinion in the other direction? Think about it.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 05:20 PM

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Patrick R. Sullivan: I'm only willing to argue so much. There is always the point when I say, you believe whatever you want to believe.

Nobody said no criminals are there. Nobody said no insurgents are there. But you are reversing the logic. That somebody has been arrested does not mean they are of those categories. Why do you think the term "suspect" is used in the US judicial system?

If you want to believe that the judgement on the part of US officials in Iraq to only arrest "good" cases is even better than in the US, and that no performance pressure exists that distorts this judgement, be my guest.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 05:29 PM

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Patrick R. Sullivan: And let's not forget the primary issue here -- that somebody is a (suspected) criminal, insurgent, or knowledge-bearer does not mean they can be tortured or abused. Unless you are holding precisely this view. Are you?

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 05:32 PM

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Patrick,

Never mind the international rules, what about common decency? Do those standards just not apply to our suspected enemies?

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 9, 2004 05:41 PM

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To clarify, I don't think that Ursula Vernon meant we should resent the fact that they were videotaped, and wish that the torture were still going on without our knowledge: it was just the "why?" of it that's baffling.

Posted by: Julian Elson on May 9, 2004 05:43 PM

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A. Zarkov: "But this policy fell with unique and special ferocity on the Jewish people."

This is true and undisputed.

"The modern-day Holocaust denier tries to portray the Jews as ďjustĒ another one of Hitlerís victims, nothing special, join the crowd."

Stuff like this is where words like "just" and relativism break down. Atrocities cannot be excused by other atrocities, or meaningfully compared by their "magnitude" or "worseness". This is not much different from saying "we are not as bad as Saddam" -- no strong analogy intended.

"In no way am I even suggesting you are a denier, but be careful, some people donít read carefully and they might misinterpret you."

That is anybody's privilege (the not reading carefully part), and if you are concerned about that, you can express nothing but the plainest of platitudes. I do try to be careful, at least with such hotly contested issues. Nevertheless, you do read and argue carefully, so don't be overly concerned with others.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 05:43 PM

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I think that the proportion of Roma killed in the holocaust is about equal to the proportion of Jews. Not sure, but I think so.

Posted by: Julian Elson on May 9, 2004 05:45 PM

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From Patrick's quote:
---
- What about the 'political' ones?

- I'm not allowed to go to their camps, but when one of them feels ill, the guards bring him to me.
---
"Of course, what does a guy with first hand experience know?"

This first-hand experience is still compatible with our worst fears about treatment of the 'political' detainees (the 'common criminals' were not the issue in this debate) until there is a proper third-party investigation. If the situation in Abu Ghraib is really as bad as reports and the photographs suggest, tortured 'political' prisoners would probably not see a doctor.

Posted by: konrad on May 9, 2004 06:02 PM

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Julian Elson: Not to argue with you, but agreeing with A. Zarkov's points, we should not engage in relativism. That more or fewer of any population group were killed, or whether the killings were more or less brutal, or whether the intent was to kill all of one group but "only" a certain number of another, has little bearing on that it was all barbaric. (Which does not mean that you are not entitled to express facts or opinions, and not suggesting that you want to relativize.) It is not much different from saying "yes, people were tortured in Abu Ghraib, but it was only 20% as bad as under Saddam".

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 06:03 PM

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Julian,

Why the pictures? Because that is what Americans, particularly young Americans do. Take pictures, lots of them, of whatever they happen to be doing. Digital cameras, camera equipped video phones, all allow people to induldge easily the current fad for documenting memories. In this case, it bit the US hard.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 9, 2004 06:35 PM

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cm:

I would not want to belie your own experiences back East, which, of course, extend back intergenerationally. (I myself am first-generation and once visited my father's native Hungary as a kid during the grey old days. Afterwards, we trekked down to the then Yugoslavia, which was then a much happier land, and the constrast was startling, almost like a difference in the air you breathe.) I brought up Arendt's book because a) I'd recently read something about it on the internet, which struck me as a slightly literalistic misreading, so it was stuck to some neurons of mine, and b) I wanted to isolate that thought about "antipolitical" power, which strikes me as having some relevance to the current situation. The sorts of disincentives and abuses that you mention exist, at least in some measure, everywhere. They result wherever power is held and conceived as an exclusionary, "negative-sum-game" principle. This is one important reason, though not the only one, why a strong civil society/public sphere is a vital concern. Only with the existence of such horizons can such abuses of power, whether in the state or the private economy, be rendered visible and brought into question. Still, I don't have much patience with the sorts of leftist who like to cry, "fascist!", about everything. Fascism, as far as I am concerned, was a distinct historical syndrome, and, though analogous formations are possible at various points in the world, such leftists are thinking ahistorically.

The idea that we would readily be able to establish such a public sphere in Iraq on the ruins of its former totalitarian regime, when we have no real knowledge of its people and their experiences and orientations, and when our own practices in such regard are so manifestly deficient, was completely daft. And I think it could only be the product of the sort of anti-political political reasoning I brought up. Of course, the idea that the beneficent ministrations of American power can magically bring about instantaneous transformations in the world is not exactly new or unfamiliar. I am horrified by the current situation, but not surprised.

Posted by: john c. halasz on May 9, 2004 06:47 PM

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"Guys with first hand experience" = "concentration camp doctors working for the US".

For a second time, Patrick dismisses the possibility that any innocents were in th camp with the wave of a hand. "The US has better things to do than...."

And he berates us for our bad logic!

I am sure that there are some Iraqis who completely support what we're doing. There have always been plenty of murderous factionalists in Iraq.

Posted by: Zizka on May 9, 2004 07:52 PM

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"The screening, processing, and release of detainees who SHOULD NOT BE IN CUSTODY takes too long and contributes to the overcrowding and unrest in the detention facilities. There are currently three separate release mechanisms in the theater-wide internment operations. First, the apprehending unit can release a detainee if there is a determination that their continued detention is not warranted.† Secondly, a criminal detainee can be released after it has been determined that the detainee has no intelligence value, and that their release would not be detrimental to society.† BG Karpinski had signature authority to release detainees in this second category.† Lastly, detainees accused of committing Crimes Against the Coalition, who are held throughout the separate facilities in the CJTF-7 AOR, can be released upon a determination that they are of no intelligence value and no longer pose a significant threat to Coalition Forces.... According to BG Karpinski, this category of detainee MAKES UP MORE THAN 60% of the total detainee population, and is the fastest growing category.† However, MG Fast, according to BG Karpinski, routinely denied the board's recommendations to release detainees in this category who were no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release."

That's the report by General Tabuga. (Emphases mine.)

Now when somebody has been arrested on the charge of "Crimes Against the Coalition" and is subsequently declared to have "clearly met the requirements for release" (i.e. having "no intelligence value" and being "no longer a threat'), the obvious conclusion is that the original charge was unprovable or bogus. (Does anybody believe that anyone in the Army is recommending release of guerrilas actually caught shooting at us a month ago on the grounds that they somehow can be determined to be "no longer a threat?" Or recommending release of men against whom there is genuine evidence of terrorist activity on the grounds that they aren't talking and thus "are of no intelligence value"?)

The a priori conclusion that it is impossible for us to be holding innocent Iraqis because we "don't have time" for such things plainly has nothing to do with "logic."

Posted by: Jeffrey Kramer on May 9, 2004 08:39 PM

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[Sorry, "General Taguba"]

Posted by: Jeffrey Kramer on May 9, 2004 08:40 PM

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Jeff, you must have better things to do than respond to Patrick. Besides what is Bruce going to do if this becomes a habit? Think of the unemployment you could cause. Just a thought.

Julian, I respect your opinions and your particular interest here in "why the photos". It was important for me to point out that these photos had that huge political impact. Whether or not it was pre-meditated ( eg someone who had seem enough and had the brains to see how to end it) or accidental (eg the young un-trained soldier who needed some relief), it does seem to me that the investigation would have preceded very differently without them.
I am glad about that. And, sure, not happy with the plausible view that for some, this is entertainment. The irony is that these horrifying photos/videos may bring a halt to further atrocities. They certainly bring a halt to the idea that America is on a Freedon mission. Not even our Allies believe that anymore.

Posted by: calmo on May 9, 2004 09:51 PM

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I am completely unsurprised that there were photos of this activity. Here is my take on what may have happened: Military Intelligence/the CIA/Civilian condottieri told these kids to soften up the prisoners, gave some basic direction for how to go about it, then distanced themselvs for plausible deniability.

This basicly left the matter in the hands of some unsupervised amateurs. Taking pictures of whatever is going on is an old American habit, made much easier by digital camera and cell phone cameras. Since the pros were not around for deniability reasons, there was no expert supervision to keep the troopers from crossing the line and documenting what they did while they did it.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 9, 2004 11:02 PM

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john c. halasz: I cannot figure out whether you are (in part) disputing what I said or are just commenting on it. I think I _did_ express that if not the purpose then at least the effect of a functioning civil society is to provide checks and balances to keep abuses in check -- not just abuses of power, but also crime and other unethical conduct.

Nowhere did I cry fascist, but I do view certain developments with unease. Perhaps we should drop the "totalitarianism" buzzword and replace it by "impairment of civil institutions". That is a dangerous enough thing.

And, beg you pardon, it strikes me that people who grew up in democratic societies know the abuses and screw-ups mostly on a superficial level, for example from reporting on the more egregious things like human rights violations, repression, or propanganda and press restrictions. One reason I'm dwelling so much on the more mundane details is that I've got the impression that some (how many I don't know) US Americans take so many things afforded them here for granted, and tend to think about Eastern societies in terms of Western economic and social institutions and processes, which is often way besides the point. The same is of course true for Easterners unfamiliar with the West. It has taken me quite a learning process as well. I don't mean any of this negatively.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 11:17 PM

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Steven Rogers: I have some doubt to which extent these guys acted on their own. For example, dragging people around on leashes or riding them is a thing that strikes me as calculated to achieve a certain effect. This is not something that your average bored MP comes up with for fun, but then maybe they were "inspired" by other recordings that they watched.

It is far more plausible that they were taught to do this in a systematic effort, if only for the purpose of showing them what _they_ can look for when captured by the enemy.

Posted by: cm on May 9, 2004 11:25 PM

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CM,

Oh, I agree with you that the, um, techniques we saw in the photos were not something those troops came up with on their own. I stongly suspect they were ordered to soften up the prisoners and they people who gave them direction then pulled back to cover their own skins. This gave them their personal deniability they wanted, and a mass of documentation they did not want.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 9, 2004 11:39 PM

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cm:

No, I'm not polemicizing against you. It's more like clearing out the static in tuning wavelengths, while trying to clarify my own thought. And Masaccio above made a good comment on this sub-topic, (as well as being an excellent painter!) But too much agreement is harumphing. And since there are others on this thread, something of my comments are more generally directed. Your point about taking things for granted is well taken. (It's been an early obsession of mine, coming from an immigrant background.) Harumph!

Posted by: john c. halasz on May 9, 2004 11:50 PM

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Brad, that's what I meant with "Abolish the death penalty":http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13266-2004May9.html

Posted by: Hans Rudolf Suter on May 10, 2004 12:58 AM

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"I'm only willing to argue so much."

Right, when you know you're losing, you quit.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on May 10, 2004 07:50 AM

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"For a second time, Patrick dismisses the possibility that any innocents were in th camp with the wave of a hand."

Which is changing the subject. For about the 100th time, this is not an episode of Law and Order. This is war. As the two Iraqi doctors clearly understand.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on May 10, 2004 07:53 AM

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one more time, Brad, the words your looking for are "abolish the death penalty". Read Josh: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2004_05_09.php#002942

Posted by: Hans Suter on May 10, 2004 08:46 AM

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Julian Elson wrote, "I think that the proportion of Roma killed in the holocaust is about equal to the proportion of Jews. Not sure, but I think so."

This is also my recollection. How the Roma precisely fit into the Nazis' racial science schemes, and what priority their extermination was given, I'm not so sure.

Posted by: liberal on May 10, 2004 09:50 AM

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Patrick R. Sullivan wrote, "'I'm only willing to argue so much.' Right, when you know you're losing, you quit."

In other words:
1. If someone knows he's losing, he quits.
2. Hence if someone quits, he knows he's losing.

More wisdom from the Sullivan School of Logic.

Posted by: liberal on May 10, 2004 09:55 AM

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There are a number of core certainties in this vile mess that spring out:

1. Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration have been making arguments that certain prisoners don't fall under the Geneva Conventions since Afghanistan. There is no reason to make this argument if you intended to treat prisoners better than required.

2. No matter why, or what else went wrong, the use of the infamous Saddam prison was a black mark against the United States from the outset. Meet the new jailer, same as the old jailer? I point to this as yet another example of arrogant, clueless, incompetent DOD leadership.

3. There is absolutely no possibility that this is restricted to a handful of guards (and one can see, in the pictures, many more US soldiers than are currently being charged).

4. Rusmfeld has had direct reports about abuse in this and other prisons and did not do one blessed thing about it.

5. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et. al. set the conditions for torture by defining anyone on the other side (or any innocent caught up in the wrong place and wrong time) as "thugs, terrorists, murderers", etc. They are not human like us- all Muslims are terrorists, right?

6. Only a fool would not understand that the treatment of the inevitable prisoners we took in invading Iraq would be a central focus of how we are viewed by Iraqis. If we set aside WMDs, threats to US security, links to terrorism we are left with only liberation as an excuse for invasion. Even if we blind ourselves to the deliberate aspects of prisoner treatment, would any but an incompetent administration allow torture in a liberation of Iraq?

7. And finally, even if we agree with Bush's meglamaniacal desire to rule the world by force, how incompetent is our leadership not to realize that morally corrupt behavior harms even that evil goal? Why are we ruled by these incompetent evildoers?

Posted by: solar on May 10, 2004 01:41 PM

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Pattrick writes: Which is changing the subject. For about the 100th time, this is not an episode of Law and Order. This is war. As the two Iraqi doctors clearly understand.

Well, no. The war ended with the collapse of the Iraqi government. What we have now is a damned good definition of a police action.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 10, 2004 03:25 PM

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"The war ended with the collapse of the Iraqi government. "

Clearly it didn't. The Iraqi army dissolved into guerilla units (those who wanted to keep fighting, that is) and those combatants are now subject to execution. They're the people we're trying to interrogate at Abu Ghraib (which is just a building, fellas, neutral in and of itself).

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on May 10, 2004 04:38 PM

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Clearly it did. There is no government against whom we are now fighting with whom we can now conclude a peace. We are now left with peacekeeping and police work. Now, if you do indeed believe that we are still at war with Iraq, then those soldiers who have not laid down their arms, and any auxiliaries they have recruited are combatants under the Geneva Convention because we have never accepted a formal surrender from the Iraqi government. Hell, we haven't even asked.

General Taguba does seem to disagree with you about the nature of many of the people being interrogated.

Abu Ghraib is ust a building, eh? The Statue of Liberty is just a building, Mount Rushmore is just a carved rock, The Liberty Bell is just a hunk of bronze. The Hanoi Hilton was just a building. I could list several other installations in Eurasia that were just buildings.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 11, 2004 03:52 AM

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"Actually, totalitarian regimes most frequently occur when prolonged warfare has destroyed civil society and left it vulnerable to usurpation by fanatical ideologues who, under normal circumstances, would be marginalized."

It seems likely now that the whole war will have been a complete waste. There seems no real chance of democracy, so another regime like Saddam's or the Iranians is most likely.

There were no WMD's so nothing was accomplished there. It remains to be seen if the Iraqis will be better treated by their next government.

The blood and treasure spent would likely yield no democracy, no security, no improvement for the Iraqis, and no assistance for Israel.

A lot of money to spend ($1000+ per worker?) and get next to nothing for it.

dispassionate

Posted by: dispassionate on May 11, 2004 03:55 AM

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"There seems no real chance of democracy"

So what are the chances for any possible form of political system in post-occupation Iraq?

1. Working democracy, 0.1%
2. Putin-style strongmanship with limited legislative, judiciary and electoral checks & balances, 25%
3. Ghaddafi-style strongmanship with no real checks & balances that survives by staying on good terms with the West, 50%
4. Somalia, 24.9%

Posted by: ogmb on May 11, 2004 03:06 PM

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Seems topical:

1. Illusion of Invulnerability: Members ignore obvious danger, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic.

2. Collective Rationalization: Members discredit and explain away warning contrary to group thinking.

3. Illusion of Morality: Members believe their decisions are morally correct, ignoring the ethical consequences of their decisions.

4. Excessive Stereotyping: The group constructs negative sterotypes of rivals outside the group.

5. Pressure for Conformity: Members pressure any in the group who express arguments against the group's stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, viewing such opposition as disloyalty.

6. Self-Censorship: Members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments.

7. Illusion of Unanimity: Members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group's decision; silence is seen as consent.

8. Mindguards: Some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.

--"Eight Main Symptoms of Group Think", from Janis, I. L. & Mann, L. (1977). Decision making: A psychological analysis of conflict, choice, and commitment. New York: Free Press.

Posted by: ogmb on May 11, 2004 03:26 PM

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Patrick doesn't give up making a fool of himself easily, does he? According to the May 4 Slate: " According to [Taguba's] report, 60 percent of prisoners there were 'not a threat to society.' The report added that many innocent civilians were being held indefinitely, partly due to bad record-keeping."

Since then, the Red Cross has pegged it at more like 80% -- which meshes nicely with the military's own statement, as quoted by the L.A. Times yesterday: "Of 43,000 Iraqis who've been detained since the invasion, only about 700 have made it into a court, and about 8,000 are still being detained. The military says it's going to reduce that to 2,000 soon."

The reasons? Well, for one thing, the Red Cross' report -- which it says it showed in February to all high-ranking US military officials and to Powell and Rice, although all of them asked about this so far swear they just don't remember it somehow -- says, to quote Kevin Drum: "Apparently the Iraqi police force we recruited were running a racket: Iraqis who refused to pay them off were turned over to the Coalition Forces as members of the opposition. 'Many persons deprived of their liberty drew parallels between police practices of the occupation with those of the former regime.' (Sec 3.5, Par. 35, p. 16)"

This, in turn, meshes well with what the Guardian says it was told by one "former US interrogator": desperately overworked US troops have been snatching Iraqis off the street at random and turning them in to interrogators in order to fulfill the "interrogation quotients" they've been ordered to achieve by their superiors. Very much like the equally fraudulent "body counts" in Vietnam.

Now, you are of course free to believe that none of those 60 to 80% of Abu Ghraib detainees who are innocent were among those who were actually tortured. You are also free to believe in the Easter Bunny.


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