My, what an interestingly mixed bag today's news provides.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday visited Abu Ghraib prison, the facility at the center of the detainee abuse scandal, and dismissed as "garbage" any suggestion the Pentagon tried to cover up the mistreatment of prisoners. He also said lawyers are advising the Pentagon not to publicly release any more photographs of abuse. "As far as I'm concerned, I'd be happy to release them all to the public and to get it behind us," Rumsfeld told reporters. "But at the present time I don't know anyone in the legal shop in any element of the government that is recommending that."
The government lawyers argue that releasing such materials would violate a Geneva Convention stricture against presenting images of prisoners that could be construed as degrading, Rumsfeld said while en route to Baghdad on a trip that was not announced in advance due to security concerns.
One wonders what Rumsfeld thought he would accomplish by visiting, other than creating an instant and immediate security nightmare for the Secret Service and the armed forces in Iraq.
And NOW they're concerned with the Geneva Conventions. Now. Well. Indeed. Quite.
Or perhaps not.
The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials. At least one agency employee has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun during questioning, they said. In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown. These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees.
Defenders of the operation said the methods stopped short of torture, did not violate American anti-torture statutes, and were necessary to fight a war against a nebulous enemy whose strength and intentions could only be gleaned by extracting information from often uncooperative detainees. Interrogators were trying to find out whether there might be another attack planned against the United States. The methods employed by the C.I.A. are so severe that senior officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have directed its agents to stay out of many of the interviews of the high-level detainees, counterterrorism officials said. The F.B.I. officials have advised the bureau's director, Robert S. Mueller III, that the interrogation techniques, which would be prohibited in criminal cases, could compromise their agents in future criminal cases, the counterterrorism officials said.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, President Bush signed a series of directives authorizing the C.I.A. to conduct a covert war against Osama bin Laden's Qaeda network. The directives empowered the C.I.A. to kill or capture Qaeda leaders, but it is not clear whether the White House approved the specific rules for the interrogations.
The White House and the C.I.A. declined to comment on the matter. [...] The C.I.A. has been operating its Qaeda detention system under a series of secret legal opinions by the agency's and Justice Department lawyers. Those rules have provided a legal basis for the use of harsh interrogation techniques, including the water-boarding tactic used against Mr. Mohammed. One set of legal memorandums, the officials said, advises government officials that if they are contemplating procedures that may put them in violation of American statutes that prohibit torture, degrading treatment or the Geneva Conventions, they will not be responsible if it can be argued that the detainees are formally in the custody of another country.
But the people at Guantanamo can be said to be in the custody of no other country but this one, so that particular set of weasel words wouldn't apply.
One wonders how this unrelenting stream of information will affect the Hamdi and Padilla cases that the administration recently argued before the Supreme Court, as well as that of the Guantanamo Bay detainees. One of the Court's express concerns was the use of torture, and the administration's response was that they just didn't do that type of thing.
U.S. soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners has undercut the Bush administration's legal rationale for key components of its anti-terrorism policies, with some officials privately worrying that the scandal may hurt the administration's chances of winning three test cases before the Supreme Court, lawyers close to the Bush legal team said. [...] The Abu Ghraib revelations also clashed with remarks Deputy Solicitor General Paul D. Clement made to the court during oral argument in the Padilla case.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg posed a scenario for Clement's response: "Suppose the executive says mild torture, we think, will help get this information," she said. "It's not a soldier who does something against the code of military justice, but it's an executive command. Some systems do that to get information."
"Well, our executive doesn't," Clement, the administration's second-ranking Supreme Court advocate, replied. "Where the government is on a war footing . . . you have to trust the executive to make the kind of quintessential military judgments that are involved in things like that."
That night, the first pictures emerged. If the justices held to court routine, they voted on the Hamdi and Padilla cases two days later.
Granted that the solicitor general's office would almost certainly never have known about any such behavior -- you would never put your legal department in that sort of position -- but the Court can only be left with the conclusion that the government essentially stood before it and flat out lied about what it would and would not do. But I digress.
Elsewhere, Pat Buchanan seems to be having what can only be described as a very odd week. On Monday, he said the following:
In a few weeks, George Bush will travel to Omaha Beach for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The image of the American soldier of that "Greatest Generation" is of a selfless and heroic liberator of Europe. It is the image of the soldier we cherish, the ideal we honor with the new memorial on the Mall. Unfortunately, the image of the American soldier the world has seen this week is that of the jailers of Abu Ghraib humiliating hooded and naked Iraqi prisoners of war in their cellblock. [...] If we wish to create a pro-American democracy in Baghdad, we are going to have to fight a guerrilla war lasting years, against thousands of insurgents. Winning means more photos of abused Iraqi prisoners and dead Iraqi civilians. These photos will sicken and dishearten us, but they will enrage and inflame the Arab world. Are we up to it?
If Bush and his team are unprepared to deal with a lengthening list of U.S. casualties, and more pictures or videos that portray our soldiers in ways we did not see them in "Saving Private Ryan," they had best look for the next exit ramp out.
Massu won the Battle of Algiers. But France lost the war. For the tactics Massu and his "Paras" used to locate and eradicate the terrorists made the Algerian Arabs come to accept they were a people apart. And the revulsion Massu's tactics engendered in France broke the will of the French to hold on to an Algeria to which they were far more attached than any American is to an Iraq that we have occupied for scarcely a year.
Yesterday, he got even more explicit:
With pictures of the sadistic sexual abuse of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison still spilling out onto the front pages, it is not too early to draw some conclusions.
The neoconservative hour is over. All the blather about "empire," our "unipolar moment," "Pax Americana" and "benevolent global hegemony" will be quietly put on a shelf and forgotten as infantile prattle.
America is not going to fight a five- or 10-year war in Iraq. Nor will we be launching any new invasions soon. The retreat of American empire, begun at Fallujah, is underway.
With a $500 billion deficit, we do not have the money for new wars. With an Army of 480,000 stretched thin, we do not have the troops. With April-May costing us a battalion of dead and wounded, we are not going to pay the price. With the squalid photos from Abu Ghraib, we no longer have the moral authority to impose our "values" on Iraq.
Bush's "world democratic revolution" is history.
Given the hatred of the United States and Bush in the Arab world, as attested to by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, it is almost delusional to think Arab peoples are going to follow America's lead.
It is a time for truth. In any guerrilla war we fight, there is going to be a steady stream of U.S. dead and wounded. There is going to be collateral damage – i.e., women and children slain and maimed. There will be prisoners abused. And inevitably, there will be outrages by U.S. troops enraged at the killing of comrades and the jeering of hostile populations. If you would have an empire, this goes with the territory. And if you are unprepared to pay the price, give it up.
The administration's shock and paralysis at publication of the S&M photos from Abu Ghraib tell us we are not up to it. For what is taking place in Iraq is child's play compared to what we did in the Philippines a century ago. Only there, they did not have digital cameras, videocams and the Internet.
Iraq was an unnecessary war that may become one of the great blunders in U.S. history. That the invasion was brilliantly conceived and executed by Gen. Franks, that our fighting men were among the finest we ever sent to war, that they have done good deeds and brave acts, is undeniable. Yet, if recent surveys are accurate, the Iraqis no longer want us there. [...] What should Bush do now? He should declare that the United States has no intention of establishing permanent bases in Iraq, and that we intend to withdraw all U.S. troops after elections, if the Iraqis tell us to leave. Then we should schedule elections at the earliest possible date this year.
The Iraqi peoples should then be told that U.S. soldiers are not going to fight and die indefinitely for their freedom. If they do not want to be ruled by Sheik Moqtada al-Sadr or some future Saddam, they will have to fight themselves. Otherwise, they will have to live with them, even as they lived with Saddam. For in the last analysis, it is their country, not ours.
I would never have thought to see such measured words from that man, ever. And I would never have thought to say this, but: there's more there. Go read the whole thing. (No, really.)
(That said, he does display the rather irritating tendency of many people these days to compare what's happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo to SM pornography, with conduct of other people, and in other wars, in the paragraph where he mentions the Phillipine War, and in his previous column when he mentions MyLai. What happened in those cases is simply not relevant; past abuses do not excuse or mitigate present ones. And consenting to have photographs taken of consensual sex is not remotely the same as having your captors take pictures of your humiliation and violation; the latter being specifically barred by the Geneva Conventions would seem to make that point most emphatically.)
Sad thing is, of course, that this administration won't listen to such measured words. They have no desire to hear them, and as we have seen to our and their cost, what they don't want to know, they won't pay attention to.Posted by iain at May 13, 2004 01:09 PM