Saturday, May 01, 2004

Iraqi prisoner torture: "I don't know whether to puke or go blind." 

My father was a World War II veteran, and that was his expression for being faced with, well, unpalatable choices.

Because I don't have a TV, I didn't see the CBS 60 Minutes program on our torture of Iraqi prisoners, so I didn't see the pictures until today (back here).

And hey, remember last year when The Battle of Algiers was all the rage in the corridors of power at the Pentagon? Looks like we really took that movie to heart—not only did we torture prisoners, we put it all on film! [Rim shot. Silence.]

"Going forward," as we say in corporate-speak when we want to put a clusterfuck of truly awesome proportions behind us, what are the policy implications of broadcasting images of US contractors and troops, male and female, beating, sexually assaulting, sodomizing, and raping Iraqi prisoners in Abu Gharaib prison?

First, the flaks are minimizing and denying, as we would expect them to do. Briefing General Kimmit does the few bad apples defense, but clearly the barrel of apples is rotten, since as Juan Cole points out, the commanding officer at Abu Gharaib is on the hook too, so the problem is systemic. And we don't really know, at this point, how far up the Constitutional chain of command the rot goes, do we? And we certainly don't know how far up the extra-Constitutional chain of command the rot goes, either—the chain of command in the shadows that leads from the mercenaries, to the CPA/RNC, to... well, where, exactly?

Second, Bush's response—both his words and his actions—is utterly lame, as we would expect it to be. Here's the whole thing:

[BUSH]: Yes, I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated. Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America. And so I -- I didn't like it one bit.

But I also want to remind people that those few people who did that do not reflect the nature of the men and women we've sent overseas. That's not the way the people are, that's not their character, that are serving our nation in the cause of freedom. And there will be an investigation. I think -- they'll be taken care of.
(transcript via The WhiteWash House)

How lame.

I don't see the words "apology" or "apologies to the Iraqi people" in there anywhere. Can you see them? The Inerrant Boy simply cannot apologize!

Of course, Bush uses the same bad apples defense his flaks do ("few people"). But at this point in the story, we can't really know that, can we? Some of the abusers were mercenaries (one named John Israel—nice PR move, that, in the Arab world). And the people controlling the mercenaries are the CPA/RNC, which means we know nothing about what they've been doing at all. This could be the tip of the iceberg.

More amazingly, Bush gets all the facts wrong. Not "will be" an investigation—there already was one. Where can he think the photos came from, if not the investigation? Even more weirdly, Bush doesn't say that the military justice system has a courtmartial in progress. He says "taken care of." WTF? In Bush-speak, that means an extra-judicial assassination. Could it be that, in fact, the military justice system isn't dealing with the problem—because it can't? Because mercenaries aren't under military control, but under the control of the RNC/CPA? Tip of the iceberg again!

Even more amazingly, Bush had to have known about the situation for at least two weeks, since the Pentagon got CBS to suppress the story for two weeks. So why on earth didn't the administration try to get out in front of the story? Announce it themselves, and hold those responsible accountable? Instead, they wait, and it blows up in their faces. Where was KaWen? Unka Karl? I know they're busy lawyering themselves up for the coming indictments, but couldn't they have made this a priority?

Third, it looks to me like we really can stick a fork in the whole Iraqi adventure—if not our imperial prospects. I wonder if this clusterfuck is the reason for long-time Republican loyalist Margaret Tutweiler's quiet resignation this week as the Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy to the Arab world—"a muck up of massive proportions" (John Zogby). Just when we need PR the most, the head of that effort jumps ship. Could it be that she knows her job just got impossible?

We can't kill them all. Consent ot the governed needs to work even during an occupation. And I just don't see how we can possibly get any kind of consent after these pictures. Let's try to translate these pictures into our own terms. Let's imagine that Republican operatives, in addition to hijacking the election in Florida and setting up an extra-Constitutional Government, had also staged a Tailhook-style party at the Governor's mansion in Tallahassee, during the course of which they beat, sexually assaulted, sodomized, and raped a number of prisoners who had been handling the catering for the banquet as part of a work release program. And that while the operatives were beating, sexually assaulting, sodomizing, and raping the prisoners, they were filming the whole thing. And that a report on the incident had taken over a year to be produced, and after having been kept secret, the film was finally shown on TV. Perhaps that would add, shall we say, insult to injury? Would you think it was just a few bad apples? Or would you think "that's how these people operate"?

We may have passed the tipping point; Krugman thinks (back) we have. At some point image becomes reality. We're using Saddam's Abu Gharaib prison; our CPA is using Saddam's "Republican Palace." The Iraqis may have decided that they don't like the new boss any better than they liked the old one. If so, all the tanks in the world won't help us.

"Puke or go blind." I'm taking the "puke" alternative—the level to which these actions appall and outrage is fathomless.

But there are many people who will take the "go blind" approach—the cognitive dissonace will be too much for them. (Certainly this worked for Bush on the question of whether Saddam had WMDs, with the connivance of FUX and the other state media.)

And I'm not certain how to open the eyes of people who have wilfully chosen to be blind—except to take the liberal approach of working from facts, facts, facts. Readers?

NOTE Read Seymour Hersh here. Thankfully there is at least one reporter left in the SCLM who isn't a whore. I also like that the New Yorker has placed his story in a department named (what else?) "Facts."

UPDATE Latest up here: "The perfect shitstorm.

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