It has taken several days for the enormity of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal to sink in. With an event so horrifying, it sometimes takes some time to sort through one’s thoughts and articulate what the most important issues are.
First, we owe an enormous debt to that intrepid muckraker, Sy Hersh, at the New Yorker Magazine who uncovered this scandal and wrote about it in Torture at Abu Graibh. Thanks to Talking Points Memo, we now have the link to the complete text of Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba’s investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade.
Most importantly, this scandal is NOT the result of the actions of a few “bad apples” as the U.S. military (Richard Meyers: “And as bad as this is, as bad as this is, soldiers turned in these folks, and we are taking action against them.”), the Bush Administration (Don Rumsfeld: “an exceptional, isolated case”) and right-wing wags would have us believe. The torture at Abu Ghraib is not an aberration.
December, 2003 Abu Ghraib photo
Is this any way to run a prison?
You bet it isn’t! (credit: New Yorker Magazine)
It is part and parcel of the Bush Administration’s strategy in the War on Terror. Abu Ghraib is but the tip of the iceberg. The Washington Post has written a cogent editorial, A System of Abuse, which contends:
The foundation for the crimes at Abu Ghraib was laid more than two years ago, when Mr. Rumsfeld instituted a system of holding detainees from Afghanistan not only incommunicado, without charge, and without legal process, but without any meaningful oversight mechanism. Brushing off this violation of the Geneva Conventions, Mr. Rumsfeld maintained that the system was necessary to extract important intelligence. But it was also an invitation to abuses — and reports of those abuses have been appearing since at least December 2002, when a Post story reported on harsh “stress and duress” interrogation techniques bordering on physical torture. Other reports by journalists and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented the lawless detention and criminal treatment of detainees, including the deaths of at least two prisoners at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan that were ruled homicides by military investigators. Yesterday the Army revealed that two Iraqi prisoners were killed by U.S. prison guards last year and that 20 other detainee deaths and assaults are still being investigated in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one has been criminally charged in any of these deaths.
George Bush and John Ashcroft set the tone for the current scandal when they laid out rules for detection, detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists which flouted all major provisions of conventional U.S. justice including habeus corpus, ensuring legal representation for defendants and ensuring access by counsel to their clients. All of these provisions and many more have gone out the window. The word went forth from Washington that the FBI, CIA and U.S. military had one purpose and one purpose alone: to root out terrorists by whatever means necessary. That is what led to Abu Ghraib.
Lest you think that Abu Ghraib is an anomaly, read 2 Men Charge Abuse in Arrests After 9/11 Terror Attack, which details the brutal treatment accorded two longtime Muslim U.S. residents while housed at a federal detention center in Brooklyn:
The lawsuit [filed by one of the detainees] charges that the men were repeatedly slammed into walls and dragged across the floor while shackled and manacled, kicked and punched until they bled, cursed as “terrorists” and “Muslim bastards,” and subjected to multiple unnecessary body-cavity searches, including one during which correction officers inserted a flashlight into Mr. Elmaghraby’s rectum, making him bleed.
At that point, the papers charge, he was confined without blankets, mattress or toilet paper to a tiny cell kept lighted 24 hours a day, and was denied adequate medical care or communication with his public defender. He said his attempts to pray or sleep were disrupted by guards banging on his door.
How much of an anomaly can Abu Ghraib be when such treatment goes on on U.S. soil in facilities managed by the federal government, not the U.S. military?
It is my fervent hope and prayer that this scandal will be the final nail in Don Rumsfeld’s political coffin. He is the chief architect of U.S. military policy in Iraq and as such the responsibility for this nightmare falls on him (Rumfeld Under Fire). Rummy must go. I just don’t know whether George Bush will get to the point where he’d be prepared to jettison him.
Coming on the heels of a disastrous month for the U.S. military in which we assaulted Fallujah, killing hundreds of civilians without even capturing the culprits who murdered and mutilated the four U.S. contractors; and after announcing our intention to arrest and prosecute Moktada al-Sadr, only to back away from a full scale assault–these images of U.S. troops degrading Iraqi prisoners have hammered the final nail into the coffin of the U.S. Occupation. There can now be no credible Iraqi political leader who will cooperate in any serious way with the U.S. We are now sworn enemies of all Iraqis, whether they be nationalists, Sunni or Shia. I would eventually expect enormous Iraqi protests outside Abu Ghraib and other foci of American power.
Iraqis chant ‘democracy
doesn’t mean killing innocent
people’ & demand U.S. apologize
for humiliating Iraqis (AP)
Our stated goal of turning Iraq into a democracy is gone. There is no hope whatsoever of our having any positive impact in Iraq. No less a Reagan era conservative defense strategist than James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy, recently called Iraq “a palpable strategic error” and “a strategic mousetrap” that arose from “a breakdown in group ethics.” (Former Navy secretary unleashes tide of Iraq criticism).
I am deeply concerned about John Kerry’s campaign seemingly being unable to develop “traction” on any of its major campaign themes (see Kerry Struggling to Find a Theme, Democrats Fear). I am more and more convinced that he must take a page from Howard Dean’s playbook and declare himself firmly opposed to the Bush Occupation of Iraq. This scandal gives him perfect cover to gradually unveil a new position on Iraq for his campaign. An unequivocal position opposing current Bush policy and calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq would go miles toward setting him apart from Bush. It seems clear that the longer we stay in Iraq the worse it will be for us. The longer it takes Kerry to recognize this, the longer it will take for him to gain any traction. Now is the time for Kerry to become the Eugene McCarthy of the 2004 presidential campaign. The only question is how long it will take for him to recognize this and whether it will be too late once he does given how plodding and deliberate his campaign has been up till now. What he needs now is a bold stroke that sets Bush and the American people back on their feet making them realize this is a guy who has a vision for how we should exit Iraq and regain our national honor.