Monday, January 31, 2005

One Small, But Encouraging Step

As any reader of this site knows, I have been actively rooting for success in these elections and beyond - even offering my humble suggestions when I see an opening. The Iraqi people deserve this and much more. So it was with some trepidation that I watched the coverage of the elections, waiting for the other shoe to drop so to speak. Thus, it was immensely relieving to see that things went off relatively peaceful (yes, there was violence, death, and bloodshed, but compared to the fears, and compared to the recent levels of each, it was peaceful by contrast).

Unfortunately, there is not much time to bask in the electoral afterglow. As a friend, whose opinion on foreign policy matters I respect, commented to me via e-mail late Sunday: "now comes the hard part." Indeed. I am hoping that these elections have created a certain nationalistic momentum, and an invigorated sense of cooperation that can buttress efforts to tack the Iraqi body politic towards the embrace of inclusiveness and enlightened governance. An entire olive tree needs to be felled and carved up for the number of branches that need to pass hands over the next couple of months in order to see Iraq through its ordeal of fragmentation. According to
Publius, there should be some domestic transactions in wood-based currency as well (I really do recommend his take on the elections and the political ramifications both here and in Iraq).

While the results are being counted (it looks like an impressive 55-60% turnout overall), and the candidates selected, the Iraqi political machine must seek to address the many problems that lay before it. First, security must be restored and the insurgency quelled (easier said than done). Second, the new government must find a way to insure Sunni inclusion in the Constitution drafting assembly (this step could aid the first). The document that emerges from that process must take pains to grant enough autonomy to the Kurds in order to keep them in the fold, and must not become a vehicle for a "soft tyranny" of the Shiite majority (by granting too much power to majoritarian factions and including any sort of distinctly "Shiite" dogma into the laws). And as TIA reader Avedis is quick to point out, the nation's oil wealth must be distributed in a way that builds a strong middle class and a sense of fairness for the ordinary Iraqi. The eventual posture of the ruling regime vis-a-vis the continued presence of U.S. troops in the country will also be of the utmost importance - perhaps bearing on all the other choices, and the prospect for civil war and failed state-hood (both options that must be avoided at almost all cost).

With so many questions left unanswered, so many thorny issues to be smoothed out, and so many compromises needed to be struck, let's hope that these elections mark the beginning of an upward trend toward something positive and lasting. One small, but encouraging step.

[Update: Praktike summarizes some of the election results at Liberals Against Terrorism (one of my new homes away from home) but Praktike's summary is pedestrian compared to Nadezhda's opinion piece (not to denigrate Praktike's efforts, but I am confident he would agree that she has outshone us all with her rendition of events).]

Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday Wrap-Up

Most regular TIA readers know that I don't do much blogging on the weekends, but I try to offer some parting shots on Friday to tide you over.

First, some business to attend to: let's get out the vote.
Chez Nadezhda, which is the blogospheric domicile of the three-headed dynamo that is Nadezhda, Praktike, and MC MasterChef, is up for an award in the Best Non-European Blog category at Fistful of Euros. I love the name of that site by the way - I'm a sucker for any of the Sergio Leone westerns, especially those with Clint Eastwood starring. If I had to show someone the quintessential western by which the genre should be judged, it would be The Good, The Bad and The Ugly without a doubt. Pardon the cinematic tangent though. So, like I was saying, let's give Chez Nadezhda the TIA push they need to overcome their worthy competition.

More voting news:
Wampum has some more categories up for the semi-finals (upper-left corner of the home page), including Best Series. My top picks in that category are, first, the talented Coturnix from Science and Politics (also of Circadiana fame), for his staggering 40 part series entitled "Building on Lakoff" (he also has a slightly more modest 5 part series nominated entitled "What Would Darwin Do" that is more than worthy of consideration). And of course, my favorite Aussie Tim Dunlop has an entry with his rolling review of "Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies" at the Road To Surfdom. You could never go wrong with a trip to the beach house where Dunlop plays host. I should remind the reader that TIA is still asking for votes in the Best New Blog and the Most Deserving Of Wider Recognition categories (Best Overall Blog too, but that is a longshot for a neophyte like TIA - that's two references to myself in the third person in one sentence, a sure sign of dementia).

Otherwise, I wanted to highlight some of the recent additions to the blogroll. First up, is the knowledgeable and witty Tim (make that the 891st "Tim" in the blogosphere - must be something about the name that facilitates computer interface) from
Why Are All The Good Names Gone?. He offers a refreshing challenge to some of the echo-ish effects around these parts from an insider's perspective in many instances, and has been a force in the comments section as of late. Thanks for the contributions.

Threading the Needle is a thoughtful blog that tries to tackle big issues with a balanced approach. Not just a partisan crusade, but a problem solver (both are needed though, and I ain't afraid to wear both hats depending on the weather - and neither is that site's author lest you think it's all middle of the road stuff). And last but not least, Arthur from Ad Populum (make that the 1,891st lawyer in the blogosphere - must be something about us liking to argue and hear ourselves speak or type). Arthur is a frequent sparrer on publius's site, which is now the every other Thursday home of TIA, so he is family by association.

As has become my custom, I try to point to a little levity on Fridays. In pursuit of that, I turn, once again, to the very capable RJ Eskow from Night Light. Check out his two part series on the SpongeBob fiasco (especially
Part I which re-defines the parameters of "Gaydar" and the ability for cross dimensional travel - and then there's Part II).

And I've only recently discovered the slightly twisted but often humorous
Norbizness. No particular post to point to, but browse away (at your own risk and with the usual caveats that I do not endorse the opinions expressed...yadda, yadda, yadda, legalism, jargon, formality, blah, blah, blah....).

On a more serious note, Praktike,
guest blogging on Howard Dean's site, offers those readers a useful guide for what is, in my opinion, a very sensible approach to issues of foreign policy in the years of Bush the younger (despite a little good natured blue language that at least one reader took issue with - but hey, he was playing to the crowd). Someone should hire Praktike as a consultant or something.

Have a nice weekend. See you on Monday (man, even my wrap-ups are long winded).

A Second Look At Democratization

In light of the expansive, and commendable, rhetoric regarding the concepts of freedom and liberty punctuating the Bush inaugural address (perhaps flawed in certain strategic respects like it's focus on "liberty" instead of "justice"), I wanted to challenge, or at least examine, some of the emerging conventional wisdom on the effects of "democratization" and how it relates to the containment, control, and spread of terrorism.

First, I want to say that I believe in promoting the spread of democracy throughout the world, allowing for slightly different manifestations depending on the locale. I believe that democracy, and the rule of law, are the best guarantors of human rights that humanity has come up with to date. Critics of democracy-philes are quick to point out its imperfections, and it is a system that is far from flawless, but I ask that such critics point to a better model. A theocracy? Totalitarianism? Monarchy? Oligarchy? Are any of those more desirable? Could and would the critic be willing to live under such a regime? Or is it an opinion, ripe with self-indulgent intellectualization, made possible only from the comfortable vantage point that living under a liberal democracy allows? As such, I believe that promoting democracy, and with it human rights and the rule of law, can be justified on moral and ethical grounds regardless of its utility from a foreign policy perspective.

Nevertheless, in a world of limited resources, and exigent problems, democratization must be looked at using cost-benefit models - saying nothing of the morality of the means by which we seek to promote democracy (as I have
argued before, military conquest is not a particularly successful model for democracy promotion in practice, and it raises a whole slew of ethical questions to boot). This is a slightly touchy subject because democracy has been heralded as a cure to terrorism of panacean proportions. In fact, according to some in influential positions, all that is needed is for democracy to take root in the epicenter of Iraq, and it well spread outward in democratic shockwaves that will raze the jihadist mentality and ideology along with so many despots and dictators. Therefore, let's take a closer look at the ability of democracy to end terrorism as practiced by certain Muslim extremists, and how efficient the democratization model really is.

Is Middle East Democracy the Cure for Islamist Terrorism?

Your Right Hand Thief recently linked to an op-ed piece penned by Mark Halperin (himself a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq) appearing in the Wall Street Journal (no subscription required). In it, Halperin challenges the theory that democracy is an antidote to terrorism, and the likelihood of the "domino effect":
But no law of nature says a democracy is incapable of supporting terrorism, so even if every Islamic capital were to become a kind of Westminster with curlicues, the objective of suppressing terrorism might still find its death in the inadequacy of the premise. Even if all the Islamic states became democracies, the kind of democracies they might become might not be the kind of democracies wrongly presumed to be incapable of supporting terrorism. And if Iraq were to become the kind of democracy that is the kind wrongly presumed (and for more than a short period), there is no evidence whatsoever that other Arab or Islamic states, without benefit of occupying armies, would follow. And if they did, how long might it last? They do not need Iraq as an example, they have Britain and Denmark, and their problem is not that they require a demonstration, but rather their culture, history, and secret police.
That site's author, Mssr. Oyster, chimed in with an additional insight of no minor import:

And I'll add that even in a best case scenario, a "free" Iraq will work industriously to build or acquire WMD's. Just as Saddam cultivated the illusion of a WMD arsenal to make his "boxed in" country appear stronger, no Iraqi president will want to remain relatively defenseless between two nuclear neighbors, Israel and Iran-- both longtime enemies.
Considering the conclusions of the Duelfer Report, Oyster is probably correct when he suggests that even a democratic Iraq would want the security that nuclear weapons (or lesser WMD's) afford. Saddam realized their importance, and the reasons he had for acquiring them have only gotten more pressing, not less, through the recent passage of time. The Duelfer Report's assessment of Saddam's motive for acquiring WMD's:

Saddam recognized that the reconstitution of Iraqi WMD enhanced both his security and image...Iran was the pre-eminent motivator of this policy. All senior level Iraqi officials considered Iran to be Iraq's principal enemy in the region. The wish to balance Israel and acquire status and influence in the Arab world were also considerations, but secondary.
A very fine article in Foreign Policy magazine (now available online without a subscription!) also seeks to question the notion that democracy itself is the antidote to jihadism:

"Middle East Democracy Is the Cure for Islamist Terrorism"

No. This view is rooted in a simplistic assumption: Stagnant, repressive Arab regimes create positive conditions for the growth of radical Islamist groups, which turn their sights on the United States because it embodies the liberal sociopolitical values that radical Islamists oppose. More democracy, therefore, equals less extremism.

History tells a different story. Modern militant Islam developed with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1920s, during the most democratic period in that country's history. Radical political Islam gains followers not only among repressed Saudis but also among some Muslims in Western democracies, especially in Europe. The emergence of radical Islamist groups determined to wreak violence on the United States is thus not only the consequence of Arab autocracy. It is a complex phenomenon with diverse roots, which include U.S. sponsorship of the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s (which only empowered Islamist militants); the Saudi government's promotion of radical Islamic educational programs worldwide; and anger at various U.S. policies, such as the country's stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the basing of military forces in the region....

The experience of countries in different regions makes clear that terrorist groups can operate for sustained periods even in successful democracies, whether it is the Irish Republican Army in Britain or the ETA (Basque separatists) in Spain. The ETA gained strength during the first two decades of Spain's democratization process, flourishing more than it had under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. In fragile democratic states - as new Arab democracies would likely be for years - radical groups committed to violence can do even more harm, often for long periods, as evidenced by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, or the Maoist rebels in Nepal.
To the list of terrorist organizations that grew out of, and operated under, democratic regimes, we should also include the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader Meinhof gang in Germany, the 17th of November in Greece, Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, Tupac Amaru/Shining Path in Peru, FARC in Colombia, etc. And of course, even the paragon of democracy, the United States, has produced various terrorist separatist militias or racist terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. And Russia's move toward democratic reform has not lessened the terrorist threat emanating from Chechnyan rebels (in fact such terrorism is the pretext for Putin's repeal of democratic freedoms), nor has Turkey's openness helped to keep Kurdish terrorist groups at bay. Thus, the claim that democracy erodes terrorism is problematic if accepted outright. To quote a conversation on Matt Yglesias' site:

First Brian Ulrich:

...[P]eople turn to terrorism as a tactic because they can't achieve their goals through other means....By the same principle, the non-Muslims people like Bin Laden see as enemies can't be defeated by conventional military means. Therefore, people turn to terrorism. So there is something of a link. This does not mean that spreading democracy will end terrorism, because if the terrorists feel they still won't get their way, they'll continue to be terrorists. Abu Musab Zarqawi is making this point rather effectively in Iraq.
Then Matt Y:

...[P]eople with goals that cannot be achieved through the ballot box -- disputes involving ethnic or sectarian minorities figure prominently in this -- aren't going to be impressed by democracy. What I think it's important to emphasize, however, is...the simple fact that whatever forces of social alienation explain extremism's appeal, they're perfectly consistent with the existence of democracy as in France.
And Matt from a related post:

...[A] lot of your radicalized Arabs in the world are people of (mostly North African) Arab origin living in Europe and, especially, France with its large Muslim population. Whatever these people are so mad about, it's not that the country they live in isn't democratic. Many of them were born in Europe, or spent most of their lives there...

And this, after all, should come as no surprise. The terrorists of the IRA and the ETA (and whatever you call that Corsican terrorist group) live in democracies as well. The[y] object to the ground rules of democratic politics as practiced in Northern Ireland or Spain (or wherever) for what are basically unrelated reasons. Malaysia and Indonesia have given birth to more than there fair share of terrorists, and while neither quite counts as a fully paid-up member of the democratic brotherhood, both are far from being the most autocratic states in the Middle East. Indeed, harsh dictatorships like Syria and Iraq have barely generated any terrorists whatsoever, though the Syrian government maintains ties to Lebanese-born people involved in Hezbollah who retain a robust terrorism capacity. But the actual Hezbollah members are Lebanese, and while they certainly grew up under some adverse conditions (to offer and understatement) Lebanon has never been one of your more iron-fisted Arab dictatorships.

To make a long story short, the noteworthy and appalling lack of liberalism and democracy among Arab governments appears empirically to have only a tangential relationship to the actual psychology of jihad.
It is also worth mentioning that at the moment, direct elections in many nations in the Muslim world (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt) might result in regimes that are far more hostile to our interests than the current incarnations. Simply put, unless we address the underlying sources of anger toward America (and this is not to suggest that they are all our fault - far from it - as we have become a convenient scapegoat and subject of many a an unfounded conspiracy theory in the region), democracy might unleash forces that are even more pernicious than what we are dealing with today.

From this, I argue that democracy is not the vanquisher of terrorism that some make it out to be, unfortunately. This does not mean that promoting democracy has no effect, or that it is futile. The spread of democracy will have an ameliorative effect, but we would be remiss if we did not also seek to address some of the underlying causes that exist outside of the nature of the prevailing political institutions. If those grievances are allowed to fester, democracy will not be able to put an end to terrorism on its own, and might even give rise to more problematic states in the short term.

Do Democratic Regimes Curtail Terrorist Activities Better Than Others?

Counter to the current group think, reality is also a mixed bag in this regard. Again from the Foreign Policy article:
Moreover, democracy is not a cure-all for terrorism. Like it or not, the most successful efforts to control radical Islamist political groups have been antidemocratic, repressive campaigns, such as those waged in Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria in the 1990s. The notion that Arab governments would necessarily be more effective in fighting extremists is wishful thinking, no matter how valuable democratization might be for other reasons.
Ulrich argued that Syria and Iraq don't (or at least didn't in the case of Iraq before the invasion) produce domestic terrorists "because the level of state surveillance is so pervasive nothing could really get organized." Yglesias responded:

The best way to eradicate terrorism (construed as a non-state phenomenon) is to erect an all-pervasive semi-totalitarian dictatorship. Short of that, establishing true democracy undercuts some of terrorism's appeal by providing alternative methods of seeking political change.
Before you jump to conclusions, Yglesias and Ulrich were not advocating spreading the "Syria Model" of totalitarian repression. They were merely making the point, again, that our work does not end with the establishment of democracy even, as Halperin argued, if it were spread across the entire region in uninterrupted continuity. Ironically, the freedoms that democracy create can provide terrorists and radicals with more room to operate.

Limited Resources

As I argued above, promoting democracy is a worthy goal for moral and ethical reasons, and it does serve legitimate foreign policy objectives as well. Even if it not sufficient on its own to eradicate terrorism, it can and will help to relieve some of the pressures and frustrations that help to stoke the flames. I don't disagree with the message of Bush's inaugural in this regard - it really encapsulates everything I believe America does right (regardless of how well the rhetoric tracks our actions). But given the fact that invasions and nation building are so tremendously expensive from a fiscal point of view, and so costly in terms of strains on our alliances, negative impact on our image and popularity, and, relatedly, our ability to inspire the changes we are seeking to bring about, we need to really consider whether or not spreading democracy via military means is a feasible strategy - especially considering the fact that democracy itself will not, on its own, solve the intractable problems that lead to terrorist manifestations.

This is an especially acute concern when we factor in the effect that such war time spending (and tax cutting) is having on our economic stability, the
value of the dollar, our ability to deal with the emergence of rivals such as China, and our financial capacity to address other equally pressing concerns such as homeland security and the disposal of loose nuclear material poorly secured in the former Soviet republics. Mark Halperin laments some of the lost opportunities:

An impressive civil-defense effort has been made [referring to the Dept. of Homeland Security], but only relative to the absence of anything before it. It isn't a question of gaps in the fence here and there, but of sections of the fence here and there. Four and a half years after September 11th, air cargo is still not x-rayed; illegal immigration and drug smuggling prove that the borders are porous; simulated attacks are almost always a walk-over for the red-teams; and the nature of chemical, nuclear, and biological terrorism remains such that merely rattling terrorist networks is insufficient.

Uneven and ineffective application of military power, vulnerability to mass terrorism and natural epidemics, blindness to the rise of a great competitor: matters like these, that may seem remote and abstract, are seldom as remote and abstract as they seem. A hundred years ago, our predecessors, unable to sense what had already begun, did not know the price they would pay as the century wore on. But, as the century wore on, that price was exacted without mercy.
In truth, democracy promotion should be married to other efforts, and the paradigm of spreading democracy through military campaign should be seriously re-thought before we begin parts two and three in Syria and Iran. There are other means to utilize in order to effect the desired outcome which have been grossly neglected due to the all-consuming demands of the military endeavor.

Assuming our President was sincere in his recitation of our nation's goals for the next four years, I hope that he applies a serious dose of realism and realignment of priorities, not to mention some non-bellicose measures, to the admirable idealistic message he put forth. In closing, I offer the sage advice of praktike writing at
Liberals Against Terrorism (in the interest of full disclosure, I have recently joined the LAT team):

Untempered idealism is a wonderful thing in freshly minted college graduates. However, in a President, what you want is someone who can tell the difference between words and action, between rhetoric and reality. Personally, I don't care much for Kennedy as a President, although he was an excellent orator. His "pay any price, bear any burden" formulation was touching, but neither serious nor particularly useful. He showed admirable judgment during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but was an unimpresive leader otherwise. The Bay of Pigs and Vietnam come to mind.

Nathan...assumes that I'm talking about Uzbekistan when I refer to Dictatorship and Double Standards. Not really. Uzbekistan is a problem, but it is not the reason we were attacked on 9/11 and it is not a major threat to the United States today -- the legacy of the 80s Afghan War and the first Gulf War, the socio-political conditions in the Muslim World, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the legacy of colonialism, the decline of Islam in contradistinction to the West, the failure of European states to successfully integrate their immigrant populations, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict are probably the primary reasons. It begins to sound more complicated than Bush would have you believe, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Neverending Story

For the third time this week I find myself drawn to yet another aspect of the prisoner abuse and torture story. Maybe that is because I have been on the sidelines for so long, waiting (in vain) for some type of positive resolution from some of this nation's leaders. All I have to show for my patience is seven courts martial, and a series of promotions and votes of confidence for the commanding officers, policy makers, and legal minds who, in one way or another, contributed to the conditions that led to the abuse in the first place. So now that I have been aroused from my slumber, I will be a little more tenacious in my coverage.

Today I want to focus on the revelations in an article in Tuesday's
Washington Post (via Laura Rozen). The article's findings could probably be filed under the header It Was Only Seven Soldiers, And They Are Being Court Martialed as used in a prior post. The article is based on reports recently released from the Army which tell of detainee abuse and other illegal activities.

Army personnel have admitted to beating or threatening to kill Iraqi detainees and stealing money from Iraqi civilians but have not been charged with criminal conduct, according to newly released Army documents.

Only a handful of the 54 investigations of alleged detainee abuse and other illicit activities detailed in the documents led to recommended penalties as severe as a court-martial or discharge from military service. Most led to administrative fines or simply withered because investigators could not find victims or evidence.

The documents, which date from mid-2003 to mid-2004 and were obtained by five nongovernmental organizations through a joint lawsuit, suggest that the pursuit of military justice in Iraq has been hampered by the investigators' closure of many cases without reaching a determination of likely innocence or guilt...

The newly released reports detail allegations similar to those that surrounded the documented abuse at Abu Ghraib -- such as beatings with rifle butts, prolonged hooding, sodomy, electric shocks, stressful shackling, and the repeated withholding of clothing and food -- but they also encompass alleged offenses at military prisons and checkpoints elsewhere in Iraq.
Obviously, some of the investigations rightly exonerated the subjects of the inquiries, but others were dealt with in ways other than court martial. Some allegations were merely dismissed due to lack of evidence or other shortcomings such as incomplete record keeping, or what was termed insufficient "evidence to prove or disprove the allegations."

In the case of Hadi Abdul Hasson, an Iraqi who died in U.S. custody at a prison near the southern port of Umm Qasr, Army criminal investigators were unable to locate meaningful prison or military records on his capture or fate.

"Due to inadequate recordkeeping, this office could only estimate that Mr. Hasson possibly died between April-September 2003," and so the case was closed, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command said in October. Hasson's death was evidently not noticed until mid-2004, when disclosures of detainee abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad prompted a review of records and sparked many new abuse allegations by Iraqis.
There was also, according to the article, a perceptible delineation in terms of the punishments meted out depending on the nature of the infraction - whether or not it was a criminal act such as a robbery, or just mistreatment of detainees.

Many of the participants in such crimes were referred for courts-martial, while those who participated in beatings or abuse generally received lesser punishments, according to the documents.
For example:

An officer in the 20th Field Artillery Battalion deployed in Taji, for example, was given an unspecified nonjudicial punishment and fined $2,500 after he admitted to threatening to kill an Iraqi, firing a pistol next to the man's head, placing the man's head in a barrel, and watching as members of his unit pummeled the man's chest and face.

One of those who administered the beating told investigators that the officer "had given us a talk about how some circumstances bring about extra force." Another said the officer told them after it was over: "This night stays within" the unit. "We all gave a hooah" before parting, the soldier said. The document indicates that four soldiers received suspended nonjudicial punishments and small fines, while a decision on a fifth soldier was pending.
My point in drawing attention to these recently released reports is to further debunk the increasingly outlandish theory that all the prisoner abuse and torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay was the result of the seven soldiers making up the Graner and Frederick groups - and the related argument that everyone involved is being court martialed.

[Army spokesman] Dov Schwartz said that more than 300 criminal investigations so far have resulted in some type of action against more than 100 military personnel.
So, the number is more like 100 than 7, so far, and even then there is no way to be certain how many were ultimately involved because, as the article suggests, many of the investigations were concluded without an ultimate disposition of the allegations one way or the other. Furthermore, some of the findings remain classified, such as this particularly disturbing account:

Another case involved a 73-year-old Iraqi woman who was captured by members of the Delta Force special unit and alleged that she was robbed of money and jewels before being confined for days without food or water -- all in an effort to force her to disclose the location of her husband and son. Delta Force's Task Force 20 was assigned to capture senior Iraqi officials.

She said she was also stripped and humiliated by a man who "straddled her . . . and attempted to ride her like a horse" before hitting her with a stick and placing it in her anus. The case, which attracted the attention of senior Iraqi officials and led to an inquiry by an unnamed member of the White House staff, was closed without a conclusion.

The military eventually released her and reimbursed her "for all property and damage" after her complaints, the report said; details of the Delta Force investigation remain classified.
I am not trying to disparage the reputation of our men and women in uniform by focusing on these aspects of the story. Nor am I suggesting that these incidents were the result of direct orders given from up high - although some of the confusion as to the rules of treatment could be traced back to uncertainty created by the conflicting guidlines emanating from above. Nevertheless, if we do not attempt to make an unvarnished appraisal of the parameters of this problem, it is unlikely that we will come up with effective solutions going forward. Part of that reckoning means refuting the impossible storyline that this widespread pattern of behavior was really just seven soldiers behaving badly, and that all responsible parties are being court martialed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

TIA Gets Results?

No sooner did TIA issue its torture call to arms, than the blogosphere responded - sort of. My own deep-seated delusions of grandeur aside, there has been a recent uptick in some of the debate around this rather troubling topic, and today I wanted to highlight the direction in which some of the more productive discourse is heading. First of all, I recommend a review of the compilation of links assembled by Praktike at Liberals Against Terrorism. Since Praktike's ever vigilant eye probes every nook and cranny of the 'sphere, he is more than adept at producing such compendia (and if you aren't reading Liberals Against Terrorism on a daily basis, you are depriving yourself of one of the more thoughtful left-leaning approaches to US foreign policy that I have come across).

One of those links is to the most recent anti-torture post by the right-leaning
Belgravia Dispatch (for the record, Greg Djerejian has been consistently principled in his opposition to torture and clear about this problem's parameters). In this post, Greg takes on Law Professor John Yoo's rather "expansive" definition of exactly which practices constitute "torture" under the prevailing legal definition. Greg is right to point out that Yoo was at least as involved as Jay Bybee, if not more so, in the preparation of the infamous torture memo that I criticized in my prior post. I was certainly remiss to leave Yoo out of the hall of shame that houses Gonzales and Bybee, amongst others. Greg also began probing another topic: the ticking time bomb conundrum.

This is the hypothetical scenario in which a captured terrorist knows of an impending nuclear attack, and thus the question emerges whether or not it would be right to torture the detainee in order to get information that could prevent the massive loss of life sure to follow. Leaving aside questions as to whether or not torture is likely to result in the revelation of the pertinent information (which I will take up below), Belle Waring at Crooked Timber wrote a pretty comical lampooning of this example in the extreme, and argues fairly persuasively that crafting policy to account for such exaggerated scenarios is not a process likely to yield favorable results in most real-life settings (her fictional Bruce Willis action movie montage is in itself worthy of a read).

Matthew Yglesias (via Praktike, though Greg has included a link in his update as well), takes Waring's farcical approach one step further. Yglesias posits that even in a world in which torture is strictly prohibited, the ticking time bomb scenario is not as problematic as some would make it out to be:
Knowing what we know about human behavior and the sort of people who make careers in the law enforcement and intelligence communities, it's a bit absurd to think that an interrogator would ever let, say, a nuclear bomb go off and destroy Chicago when he could have stopped it with a little torture, just because the Geneva Conventions said he shouldn't torture anyone. The world just doesn't work like that.

The real question is, what do you do after the disaster has been averted? Well, in a world where torture is illegal, your interrogator's probably going to have to be arrested. But he's also going to be a national hero, he'll plead his defense of necessity, and no jury in the country is going to unanimously convict him. And even if he somehow did wind up getting convicted, he could be pardoned. We have, in other words, several methods for making ad hoc, ex post facto exceptions to the rules in our common law system. And it's a good thing. It really would be silly to punish someone who'd just gone out and saved three million lives.

So in my opinion no real harm is done by maintaining a blanket legal rule that torture is always prohibited. No catastrophic nuclear attacks will go through thanks to this rule, and no great national heros will go to jail. Conversely, a clear rule does much good. It means that interrogators will only break the rules in the case of some genuine emergency.
Nothing against Chicago, but I was somewhat relieved to see that the Second City, not NYC, was the doomed municipality in Yglesias' version of events. Belle was not so New York-friendly in her rendition. Sorry jonnybutter, but as a resident of NYC, I'm just tired of all the talk about the many ways my City may be reduced to rubble in the near future. It's time you Chicagoans bore your share of the major metropolis-as-target burden. But I digress.

Greg's post also sparked a conversation about how and where the boundaries should be established in terms of what types of treatment are deemed legal methods of coercion (perhaps loud music), and which cross the line into the realm of illegal abuse or torture (beatings, sodomy, etc.). Greg appealed to the McCain-Lieberman formula:
Ultimately, I lean towards agreeing with McCain and Lieberman, that the standard for treatment of alien detainees should be that: "No prisoner shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment that is prohibited by the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States."
That sounds about right. RJ Eskow, offers his own slightly less formal means for deducing the existence of torture or undesirable behavior:
If you're not a fan of international law, you can always conduct this simple experiment: How would you feel if you saw American soldiers being subjected to the practice? Would you consider it "abuse"? Would "waterboarding" be OK? How about being tormented with the threat of bites from a vicious dog, after which the dog was released and shredded a human leg? Would you be happy if you heard American Christians forced to thank Allah, or Buddha, or Shiva that they are still alive? When you heard that dozens of our men and women tried to kill themselves in captivity, would you feel anything? What would you think of a government that condones or encourages such practices? Now, take those feelings and imagine if you knew that many of the people being subjected to these practices are innocent civilians.
Both of these concepts provide useful guidance. By applying the standards of the Constitution, US laws and the treaties that we are a party to, we can establish that any interrogation tactic outside of our own legal framework is unacceptable, and this in turn would satisfy Eskow's standard by insuring that our techniques never exceed what we are comfortable with in our own prisons and police houses (note: this is not to say that many horrific abuses do not occur in our own prisons and in interrogations, but they are not legal per se, even if their practice is too common for comfort).

The conversation eventually turned to questions about the efficacy of torture as a means of gathering information. In response to questions regarding torture's utility, one of that site's smartest commenters, posting under the name "J Thomas," offered this seemingly informed and balanced explanation (J Thomas, a self described "radical centrist" also has
a blog, though it is somewhat neglected - hey JT, why don't you write some of this stuff down in a post!?):

...I haven't seen any academic studies about what interrogation methods work. The CIA publishes such things inhouse but I haven't read them. A collection of people who claim to be experts say it doesn't work. But then a collection of people claim to have made it work....

I've listened to people who do that sort of thing though I haven't done it myself, and here's my understanding of what they say:

1. Two classes of prisoners [exist], those who'll say something and those who'll clam up and not say anything at all. If they refuse to say anything at all they can be persuaded to say something using either positive or negative reinforcement. Get them to talk about something -- anything -- and you have a start. If you torture them for not saying anything, they're likely to consider it a big defeat to say anything. It turns into a contest of wills at the start. So it's better to just do a little poking in the middle of other methods, keep them off balance and not sure what you'll do, and if possible get them interested in talking about something innocuous. If it's a contest of wills, every hour they say nothing is a victory for them and you feel like you're making no progress until they say something, so it's likely to be discouraging.

2. Prisoners who talk have an almost-infinite amount of garbage available to talk about. Ideally you want them to sort it out for you and tell you the things you're interested in. Drugs can eliminate their resistance to telling you stuff, but will also eliminate their ability to organise it for you. So if you know exactly what to ask, you can get something that way among a lot of garbage. It isn't a good way to get them to tell you things you don't already know to ask about. Similarly, if you get them exhausted enough and sleepless enough etc, you can basicly get them deranged to the point they lose all judgement and will tell you anything including whatever garbage they hallucinate. That can work if you already know precisely what to ask, just like the drugs.

3. If they're aware, they might tell you stuff for one reason or another, and they might lie. Ideally you'd like to know whether they're lying. Trained interrogators claim they can tell whether the interrogatee is thinking or remembering. If they just tell you what they remember without much thought then it's probably the truth. Torture that doesn't reduce them to babbling might persuade some people to tell the truth. The ones it's especially good for are the ones who'd like to talk to you but who need a good excuse. If you torture them enough that they think it's a good excuse then they'll talk.

4. People who believe that you'll kill them after they've told you all you want to know, have an incentive not to talk. If you torture them to the point they want to die, then they may talk to get you to go ahead and kill them. But they may find some crafty way to kill themselves too. For example, in one Russian prison each prisoner slept on a heavy oak shelf that was hinged to fold up against the wall. Suicidal prisoners found they could arrange things so the shelf would fall down and crush their skulls. In another prison the washbasins were a size and shape that let prisoners stick their heads in and slump to break their necks. Suicidal people can be very inventive.

5. Apparently people who did statistics found that they got results at least as often and as quickly by sitting the prisoner down and starting out "The war is over for you." If the prisoner accepts that the war is over for him, he's likely to talk about old campaigns as if it's 10 years later and the war is over and he's talking with a veteran from the other side. He might avoid recent stuff and stuff he thinks would help get people caught, but he might slip up and the old stuff is useful too.

Torture on average does no better and typically worse. But people who believe in torture only count the successes. I can't quote you the studies but it makes sense to me, and I hope the way I described it makes sense to you too.

So, according to the J Thomas explanation, torture has varying degrees of success and failure depending on the nature of the detainee, and the perceptions of that prisoner vis-a-vis his or her captors. That sounds about right. It would be hard to imagine someone contending that torture always works in every context, but it is also implausible to claim that torture never works in terms of information gathering. But, as J Thomas points out in this next excerpt, the overall success rate of information acquisition is far from the only factor to consider.
There's another issue. Whatever you do, word will get out to the enemy and also to the civilians. Possibly you can arrange that tortured prisoners get kept in solitary and nobody ever sees them before they're dead and buried, but that will get out too. What effect will torture have on the ones who haven't been caught? When I was a boy scout the scoutmaster was an old man who'd fought in Korea. Once he started to talk about it, and then he remembered some things he didn't want to talk about and he said "If you're fighting the Reds, whatever you do don't let them take you alive." If I ever fought the Reds I'd have followed his advice.

People who absolutely refuse to surrender even when they can't get away are a lot more trouble than people who'll surrender. They're likely to try to sucker some of you in close so they can take you with them. So you stand back and blow it up first, and you have a big mess -- when if they thought you'd treat them right and it would just be "The war is over for you" they'd surrender and maybe you'd have a building still standing and civilians alive and so on.

There was a time we said we were going to "kill or capture" Muqtada al Sadr, after Abu Ghraib had gotten publicised. What's the chance he'd surrender even if we had him surrounded? And yet if he thought we were honestly interested in giving him a fair trial for a crime he knew he was innocent of, he might possibly have set a good example and turned himself in.

Torture has to give results a lot better if it's going to balance out the problems it causes. Some experts say the statistics show it doesn't, that for a good interrogator it's no better than just talking, but I haven't heard of them making their data public.
In addition to the effect this has on the psyche of potential combatants, and their willingness to surrender, the use of torture will also impact the perception that the target population as a whole will have of the occupier/aggressor. In the case of Iraq and the broader Muslim world, this perception is of supreme importance. We cannot win over hearts and minds, and convince people to make radical changes in their political, religious, and societal structures if we are not held in high regard - or at least not openly reviled. The use of torture undermines our status and moral authority, especially when so many of the victims were innocent civilians released back into the population to tell their tales of horror. Therefore, torture has transactional costs in terms of democracy promotion as well, which must be included as a variable in any cost-benefit analysis of the utility of the use of torture. This of course says nothing about our own moral and ethical imperatives, and what affect it would have on American ideals if we so willingly cast off prohibitions on torture as "quaintisms," obsolete in their relevance.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Pass That Gun, My Foot Is Acting Up

It has long been the contention of TIA that the inadequately named "war on terror" is really a larger war for the hearts and mind of the Muslim world - operating much like a global counter-insurgency effort. In the current dynamic, we are pitted against propagandists like Bin Laden and other radical elements that seek to beat back the perceived aggression of the West and return the Muslim world to an idealized, mythical caliphate state (please note: Bin Laden is, unfortunately, not an indispensable figure but merely the current mouthpiece to a broader movement). To achieve these ends, they seek to weaken the West, and the United States in particular, which they see as an impediment to their overall mission. The good news is that Bin Laden's brand of ideology is relegated to the fringe of the nearly 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, despite the fact that some who do not ascribe to his overall theory probably delight in his ability to lash out at the United States and the West in general - especially because dissatisfaction and anger over U.S. foreign policy runs in the high 80-95 percentiles through much of the region.

The bad news is, his ideology has appeared to be gaining in momentum and appeal. I recall the interpretation of CIA counter-terrorism expert Michael Scheuer, publishing under the pseudonym "Anonymous," when he wrote that Bin Laden had been disappointed with the reaction of Muslims to the toppling of the Taliban. Bin Laden had anticipated a public outcry, and a massive uprising. Instead, the Muslim world looked away, acceding, at least tacitly, to what was deemed a justifiable response by the United States. But then we invaded Iraq, and we gave Bin Laden much of what he sought to accomplish in provoking us in response to 9/11. In the words of
Scheuer, "if Osama was a Christian, the invasion of Iraq would have been the Christmas present he long desired but never thought his parents would give him."

I return again to the words of Jason Burke, author of Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, writing for
Foreign Policy magazine (excellent summary of the issues and a recommended read):

Bin Laden is a propagandist, directing his efforts at attracting those Muslims who have hitherto shunned his extremist message. He knows that only through mass participation in his project will he have any chance of success. His worldview is receiving immeasurably more support around the globe than it was two years ago, let alone 15 years ago when he began serious campaigning. The objective of Western countries is to eliminate the threat of terror, or at least to manage it in a way that does not seriously impinge on the daily lives of its citizens. Bin Laden's aim is to radicalize and mobilize. He is closer to achieving his goals than the West is to deterring him.
But just as I believe the Bush team handed Bin Laden and his fellow travelers a favor in the invasion of Iraq, it appears that Bin Laden and his ilk may have been inspired by the season of gift-giving and are returning the kindness with bit of over-reaching hubris that some critics think is the sole purview of the Bush administration. I am referring to the two most recent videos released by Bin Laden and his erstwhile rival, and current ally, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

For his part, Bin Laden called on Iraqis to boycott the elections, and praised the efforts of Zarqawi. The language was actually quite strong:

"The constitution imposed by the American occupier (Paul) Bremer is blasphemous ... and anyone who takes part in this election consciously and willingly is an infidel," said the speaker, who sounded similar to previous bin Laden recordings.

"You have to be careful of those charlatans who, under the guise of Islamic parties, urge the people to take part in the election," he added. [emphasis added]
Zarqawi chimed in with his own declaration of war on the elections, calling the candidates "demi-idols" and those that participate "infidels" and threatening violence for all involved.

"We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology," said the speaker, who identified himself as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq. "Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it."
These bold and aggressive proclamations were, ultimately, a major strategic blunder, the likes of which comes as good news to an American side that must have been waiting for a moment like this - and I'll explain why. The daftness of Bin Laden and Zarqawi can be broken down into three major gaffes: First, by calling candidates and participants "infidels," Bin Laden and Zarqawi are insulting (very much an understatement) the entire Shiite population (including and especially their religious leadership) and those Sunnis that are complicit with the process. Second, by championing Zarqawi, and for Zarqawi to assert himself on this stage, Bin Laden risks angering Iraqis who resent the violence and terror sown by Zarqawi's network - which has disproportionately impacted Iraqis not American or coalition forces. Third, because Bin Laden and Zarqawi are foreigners, a Saudi and Jordanian respectively, their interference in the Iraqi elections is likely to rouse nationalistic sentiments provoked by the intrusion of these outsiders.

Juan Cole describes certain aspects of the relation of these statements to the Shiite population, and the wider Iraqi populace as a whole:

Bin Laden's intervention in Iraq was hamfisted and clumsy, and will benefit the United States and the Shiites enormously. Most Iraqi Muslims, Sunni or Shiite, dislike the Wahhabi branch of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and with which Bin Laden is associated. Nationalistic Iraqis will object to a foreigner interfering in their national affairs...

Bin Laden as much as declared Grand Ayatollah Sistani an infidel. But Sistani is almost universally loved by the 65% of Iraqis who are Shiites, and is widely respected among many Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, as well. Bin Laden, the Saudi engineer, makes himself look ridiculous trying to give a fatwa against the Grand Ayatollah of Najaf. If anything, to have al-Qaeda menacing the Shiites in this way would tend to strengthen the American-Shiite alliance.
Cole on the involvement of Zarqawi in the process:

Zarqawi is widely hated in Iraq because the operations of his group often kill innocent Iraqis as opposed to American troops. The Shiites in particular despise Zarqawi, and are aware of his hopes of provoking a Sunni-Shiite bloodbath in Iraq. (The muted Shiite response to the US assault on Fallujah in November and December derived in large part from a conviction that the city had become a base for Zarqawi and like-minded Salafi terrorists). Zarqawi websites have claimed credit for the assassination in 2003 of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, a respected Shiite leader, which involved desecrating the Shiite holy city of Najaf. The mainstream of the Kurds hates Zarqawi, because of his earlier association with the small Kurdish radical Muslim terrorist group, Ansar al-Islam, which targeted the two major Kurdish parties.
Cole goes on to conclude that Bin Laden's statements, by focusing only on a narrow sliver of Salafi jihadists and not couched in a way to appeal broader Sunni and/or Shiite elements, are a sign of his weakness.

If Bin Laden had been politically clever, he would have phrased his message in the terms of Iraqi nationalism. By siding with the narrowest sliver of Sunni extremists, he denied himself any real impact. By adopting Zarqawi, who has killed many more Iraqis (especially Shiites) than he has Americans, he simply tarnishes his own image inside Iraq.

It appears that Bin Laden is so weak now that he is forced to play to his own base, of Saudi and Salafi jihadists, some of whom are volunteer guerrillas in Iraq. They are the only ones in Iraq who would be happy to see this particular videotape.
I hope that Professor Cole is reading the tea leaves correctly in relation to this incident. Bin Laden's weakness could be a welcomed sign that the ideology of jihad is beginning to wane in its popularity. The irony would be delightfully sweet if Bin Laden and Zarqawi themselves provide an impetus for the emergence of a new Iraqi nationalism, an adherence to democratic institutions, and a mass refutation of the jihadist ideology. While optimistic in its predictions, I think this backlash is very possible, especially when you consider the fact that Iraq had no real home-grown fundamentalist movement before the invasion, as Saddam was not one to tolerate Wahhabists nor were Iraqi citizens known to populate the armies of Jihad in far off places like Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and elsewhere. Although not a magic bullet, maybe Bin Laden and Zarqawi are clarifying the issues for Iraqis in a way that could breed cooperation and resolution. Perhaps we should consider providing them with more tape-making equipment, because the loaded video camera is aimed straight at their own two feet.

Monday, January 24, 2005

When Pictures Obscure 1,000 Words

I generally try to maintain an even keel on this site. I have tried (sometimes in vain) to resist the temptation to take short cuts with the facts, and view the world through the "tinted lens" of partisanship - as a colleague so eloquently put it. I even dedicated an entire post to the defense of the dialectic. In pursuit of the dialectic, this site aspires to air both sides of a given debate and remain solicitous of dissenting opinions (not always achieving this paradigm, but moving in that direction). TIA operates under the assumption that it is better to foster dialogue and cooperation in such rabidly polarized times, because most Americans mean well, they just have different means to achieve their ends.

But lately I feel as though I am losing my ability to remain so magnanimous to the political opposition - and it's not for lack of patience. The source of my crisis of faith has to do with the issue of torture, and how the discussion of that practice has manifested in the American body politic over the past three years.

When the first pictures out of Abu Ghraib emerged, I remember feeling repulsed and angered, and I believe that this was a similar reaction for most Americans. When the more horrific details began flowing in, because the pictures from Abu Ghraib were only really a sanitized and limited depiction of the widespread scourge, I was curious to see how this issue would be handled by the political powers that be. In the subsequent hearings on the matter, I recall feeling reassured at the seemingly sincere and candid words of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), himself an active Air Force reservist, when he said that he would not allow some low level soldiers to become scapegoats for the larger problem. He and other GOP lawmakers like John Warner (R-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ) appeared sober and determined in their desire to apportion blame to the appropriate parties. I believed that Graham, and the Republican Party, would not let those seven soldiers dangle in the wind - becoming the poster children for a policy gone awry.

And I thought that surely the
conservatives in this country would see past partisan divides to insure that the reputation and ideals of America emerge intact from this ordeal. Even the Bush administration, notorious for circling the wagons, must see that the practitioners and architects of this policy must be punished in some way - or at the very least not rewarded.

Today I am left wondering what happened to Senator Graham's pledge? Where has Senator Warner's steely gaze been fixed as of late? What of the American people so willing to explain away the complexities of this issue by clinging to the delusional theory that seven soldiers are to blame for the entire scandal? What has the President done to address the perpetrators and the planners?

The answers to all of these questions is one long litany of disappointments. President Bush either promoted or retained every person involved in this debacle, and the lone dissenting voice, Colin Powell, has "retired" under pressure. Rumsfeld retained his post, Gonzales got promoted to Attorney General, Jay Bybee (the author of
the most outrageous legal opinion re: torture) was promoted to a spot on the US Court of Appeals, Generals Sanchez and Abizaid retained their posts, etc. Conservative pundits, journalists, and bloggers have done slightly better, but even then, the number willing to condemn torture and provide an accurate appraisal of the parameters and quality of the problem are so few that they are noticeable by their uniqueness. Far more ubiquitous are the apologists with their series of excuses and explanations ranging from advocacy for torture, to denial that the events that transpired were actually torture or that any, other than the seven, are to blame.

As for the American people, as
Frank Rich put it in his most recent column, the story has fallen out of favor with the 24-hour television media coverage, and so it has fallen off the radars of many Americans. There was a brief revival during the confirmation hearings of the torture-justifying Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but even then we were warned by right-leaning voices like Glenn Reynolds to table the discussion because it was the wrong time and the wrong venue to raise such concerns. Glenn: I'm waiting for you to let us all know when it would be appropriate to broach the subject again - but I'm not holding my breath.

More disturbing still, it seems that the forces of revisionism in real-time have been encroaching on the story, creeping in like a cancer in order to distort the perception and understanding of this sordid episode. Today I want to look at some of the most common expressions of this real-time revisionism and compare them to what is in the public record courtesy of the US Army's own reports and investigations.

This Was Not Torture, Just Abuse

When Rush Limbaugh first made the absurd statement that the prisoner torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib was like frat hazing or initiation rites for the Skull and Bones, I thought that even the dittoheads must have done a double take. Reality, I naively believed, would deal a blow to the radio bloviatrix. Instead, I have seen this meme make a comeback. On
more respectable venues it has morphed into a quasi-critique of "liberals" for their penchant to assign the term "torture" to all manner of activity, including the use of loud music and the placing of panties on the heads of prisoners. I am willing to concede that the term could be diluted by overuse, but is that really the burning issue in need of closer attention at this juncture with so many other questions left unanswered? I'm sorry, but I expect better from my right-of-center compatriots.

Another popular counter-argument is that Saddam was worse. This is without a doubt the truth. Abu Ghraib was far more vile a place when Saddam was in charge. But ultimately, I am left wondering what significance this has for the current discussion. Since when has Saddam Hussein become a moral reference point for American policy and morality? In truth, there is a wide gulf in between the actions of Saddam Hussein and what is acceptable under the American paradigm. I refuse to let us become simply better than Saddam. I love my country and I hold it to higher standards, and I still believe that most Americans agree that we can go above and beyond merely "better than Saddam." Those seem like red herrings and side issues that can be dealt with without much hand-wringing.

Worse than these examples, though, is their counterpart that
no torture really occurred anyway. The group that promotes this theory is willfully ignorant of the vast amount of corroborated data encompassed in a series of government studies and reports on the subject. In a twist of irony, the photos from Abu Ghraib may have played a role in this. As Andrew Sullivan recently noted, the pictures themselves may have distorted public perception because they created the impression that nothing more nefarious than what was shown in the pictures occurred, and no other personnel than the ones in the pictures were involved.

With the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the photographs, which have become iconic, created the context and the meaning of what took place. We think we know the contours of that story: a few soldiers on the night shift violated established military rules and subjected prisoners to humiliating abuse and terror. Chaos in the line of command, an overstretched military, a bewildering insurgency: all contributed to incidents that were alien to the values of the United States and its military. The scandal was an aberration. It was appalling. Responsibility was taken. Reports were issued. Hearings continue.

But the photographs lied. They told us a shard of the truth. In retrospect, they deflected us away from what was really going on, and what is still going on.
So for those Americans, both conservative and liberal alike, who might have gotten a false impression from the Abu Ghraib photographs, let's take a look at some (not all mind you) of the events that took place, and then I invite someone - anyone - to make the claim that this was the equivalent of frat hazing, and that our biggest concern should be overuse of the term "torture." From Andrew Sullivan's review of The Abu Ghraib Investigations by Steven Strasser, and Torture and Truth by Mark Danner (both compiled from official government reports):

According to the I.C.R.C., one prisoner "alleged that he had been hooded and cuffed with flexicuffs, threatened to be tortured and killed, urinated on, kicked in the head, lower back and groin, force-fed a baseball which was tied into the mouth using a scarf and deprived of sleep for four consecutive days. Interrogators would allegedly take turns ill-treating him. When he said he would complain to the I.C.R.C. he was allegedly beaten more. An I.C.R.C. medical examination revealed hematoma in the lower back, blood in urine, sensory loss in the right hand due to tight handcuffing with flexicuffs, and a broken rib"...

A detainee "had been hooded, handcuffed in the back, and made to lie face down, on a hot surface during transportation. This had caused severe skin burns that required three months' hospitalization. ...He had to undergo several skin grafts, the amputation of his right index finger, and suffered... extensive burns over the abdomen, anterior aspects of the outer extremities, the palm of his right hand and the sole of his left foot"...

And another, in a detainee's own words: "They threw pepper on my face and the beating started. This went on for a half hour. And then he started beating me with the chair until the chair was broken. After that they started choking me. At that time I thought I was going to die, but it's a miracle I lived. And then they started beating me again. They concentrated on beating me in my heart until they got tired from beating me. They took a little break and then they started kicking me very hard with their feet until I passed out"...
From the FBI memos:

[A] supervising special agent described abuses such as "strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings and unauthorized interrogations"....In other instances, a female prisoner "indicated she was hit with a stick," according to a memo from last May, and in July, Army criminal investigators were reviewing "the alleged rape of a juvenile male detainee at Abu Ghraib prison."
Here's another case from the Army's investigation into Abu Ghraib, led by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay:

"On another occasion DETAINEE-07 was forced to lie down while M.P.'s jumped onto his back and legs. He was beaten with a broom and a chemical light was broken and poured over his body.. ..During this abuse a police stick was used to sodomize DETAINEE-07 and two female M.P.'s were hitting him, throwing a ball at his penis, and taking photographs."

"An 18 November 2003 photograph depicts a detainee dressed in a shirt or blanket lying on the floor with a banana inserted into his anus. This as well as several others show the same detainee covered in feces, with his hands encased in sandbags, or tied in foam and between two stretchers."
As Sullivan notes in his article, "The Schlesinger panel has officially conceded...that American soldiers have tortured five inmates to death. Twenty-three other deaths that occurred during American custody had not been fully investigated by the time the panel issued its report in August."

Here's an excerpt from one article in the
Army Times that discusses some of the findings of the Schlesinger Panel and other investigations into deaths of detainees:

Six prisoners died from "blunt force trauma" or excessive force on the part of captors or prison guards, including two within a week of one another at the same prison. Two prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, died of complications Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, 2002, after being struck forcefully on their legs by guards or interrogators, military records show. One death certificate said the leg beating "complicat(ed) coronary artery disease," and the other certificate said the beating led to a "pulmonary embolism," or a heart blockage that is often caused by a blood clot.

At least four prisoners died in Iraq from strangulation, asphyxia, smothering or "compromised respiration," including Abid Mowhosh, a major general who headed Iraq's air defenses, whose death certificate says he died from "asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression."
Sullivan comments on the nature of the evidence:

These are not allegations made by antiwar journalists. They are incidents reported within the confines of the United States government....Some of the techniques were simply brutal, like persistent vicious beatings to unconsciousness. Others were more inventive. In April 2004, according to internal Defense Department documents recently procured by the A.C.L.U., three marines in Mahmudiya used an electric transformer, forcing a detainee to "dance" as the electricity coursed through him. We also now know that in Guantánamo, burning cigarettes were placed in the ears of detainees.
Alright then, let's see what we have in summary from the government's own investigations: persistent vicious beatings, severe burns, electrical shocks, strangulation, asphixyation, sodomy, sexual abuse, possibly rape, and at least five deaths resulting from the beatings administered, with 23 or more to be investigated. Now I never pledged a fraternity in college, but I know a lot of people that did. They assured me that these are not typical of any fraternity they frequented or patronized. I believe them. Does anyone want to argue that these incidents are not torture but just garden variety abuse or the equivalent of frat hazing? If you want, I would be willing to publish your argument. If not, please stop saying there wasn't any torture. That is either a lie, or a misinformed opinion. Enough is enough.

It Was Only Seven Soldiers, And They Are Being Court Martialed

This position is slightly better than those who deny any torture occurred. For this group, they are willing to acknowledge (in most cases) that some acts were probably defined as torture (the deadly beatings and sodomy are sort of hard to explain away), but they cling to the belief that all guilty parties are being punished. In fact, they point to this as a testament to how abhorrent torture really is to all Americans, even and especially the administration.

On any type of scrutiny, this argument falls apart completely. For one, the geographic scope of the abuses extended well beyond Abu Ghraib. Sullivan:

What's notable about the incidents of torture and abuse is first, their common features, and second, their geographical reach. No one has any reason to believe any longer that these incidents were restricted to one prison near Baghdad. They were everywhere: from Guantánamo Bay to Afghanistan, Baghdad, Basra, Ramadi and Tikrit and, for all we know, in any number of hidden jails affecting "ghost detainees" kept from the purview of the Red Cross.
In addition, these acts were perpetrated by all manner of military apparatus, not to mention private contractors and other intelligence agencies:

They were committed by the Marines, the Army, the Military Police, Navy Seals, reservists, Special Forces and on and on.
And the tactics and methods showed an unsettling similarity in form and substance:

The use of hooding was ubiquitous; the same goes for forced nudity, sexual humiliation and brutal beatings; there are examples of rape and electric shocks. Many of the abuses seem specifically tailored to humiliate Arabs and Muslims, where horror at being exposed in public is a deep cultural artifact.
So let me get this straight: these seven Army reservists standing trial were allowed to change uniforms and branches between Army, Marines, Navy Seal, etc., even switching back and forth between the military and the private sector? I didn't know that was possible. And wearing these various uniforms, they were present at all those prisons in Iraq, whisked away to handle the detention and interrogation at multiple facilities in Afghanistan, then their passports were stamped and it was off to Guantanamo, and finally to the various locations holding ghost detainees. I don't suppose it matters that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was first chronicled many months before Graner's group even arrived at that prison. No, because every act of torture and abuse was the work of Charles Graner and his team of seven space/time continuum defying reservists, and they are being punished accordingly. America is showing the world how we deal with torturers.

It Goes No Higher Than Graner In The Chain Of Command

Whether or not the responsibility goes all the way up to the White House is debatable. Clearly the tone was set at the top in a
series of memos that authorized the use of torture and the suspension of the Geneva Conventions and other treaties and laws the US was party to. These legal opinions argued the legality of torture - the most offensive being Bybee's which set up the preposterous test for what constitutes torture and what are acceptable defenses. It is also true that various expanded interrogation techniques were officially sanctioned, and then revoked, in a series of confusing orders and modifications. In fact, Alberto Gonzales is still arguing that certain groups of detainees and interrogators fall outside the purview of the Geneva Conventions and other US laws curtailing the use of agressive interrogation techniques, torture, and cruel and inhumane treatment.

What is not debatable, however, is that these seven soldiers were not the only ones involved, and no one of higher rank was implicated. The abuse that I documented above, occurring at that number of locales and venues, was the product of more than seven soldiers, and of higher rank than Graner's. Any claim otherwise is metaphysically impossible. In this sense, Senator Graham has let us all down, because we have accepted the scapegoating and so the lambs are being sacrificed to salve our collective consciences.

It is also not debatable that the dubious legal analysis and classifications emanating from the White House created a lack of certainty regarding the status of detainees and the methods deemed acceptable for interrogations.

Whether random bad apples had picked up these techniques from hearsay or whether these practices represented methods authorized by commanders grappling with ambiguous directions from Washington is hard to pin down from the official reports. But it is surely significant that very few abuses occurred in what the Red Cross calls "regular internment facilities." Almost all took place within prisons designed to collect intelligence, including, of course, Saddam Hussein's previous torture palace at Abu Ghraib and even the former Baathist secret police office in Basra.

An e-mail message recovered by Danner from a captain in military intelligence in August 2003 reveals the officer's desire to distinguish between genuine prisoners of war and "unlawful combatants." The president, of course, had endorsed that distinction in theory, although not in practice - even in Guantánamo, let alone Iraq. Somehow Bush's nuances never made it down the chain to this captain. In the message, he asked for advice from other intelligence officers on which illegal techniques work best: a "wish list" for interrogators. Then he wrote: "The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken."

One sergeant who witnessed the torture thought Military Intelligence approved of all of it: "The M.I. staffs, to my understanding, have been giving Graner" - one of the chief torturers at Abu Ghraib - "compliments on the way he has been handling the M.I. holds [prisoners held by military intelligence]. Example being statements like 'Good job, they're breaking down real fast'; 'They answer every question'; 'They're giving out good information, finally'; and 'Keep up the good work' - stuff like that." At Guantánamo Bay, newly released documents show that some of the torturers felt they were acting on the basis of memos sent from Washington.

Al-Qaeda Deserves To Be Tortured, They Are Not A Party To The Geneva Conventions

I have seen this justification on more than one occasion to explain away the torture being perpetrated in Iraq. The problem is, Iraqi civilians are not al-Qaeda. President Bush is fond of saying that Iraq is the central front in the "war on terror" but that does not mean that Iraqi citizens should be viewed as al-Qaeda operatives, one and all, in terms of distinguishing between what legal standard applies to their treatment. In fact, according to Army Intelligence and the ICRC, 70-90% of all detainees at Abu Ghraib were deemed innocent of all transgressions and released - their initial detention being the product of wide-netted sweeps and/or informants settling scores with their neighbors.

In such a context, it is not enough to say that torturing al-Qaeda is right and productive (a controversial claim in its own right), and therefore that it is acceptable to subject any and all Iraqi civilians to such treatment. Of course, even at GITMO, there are innocent Afghanis who were caught in the net by similarly flawed procedures, so allowing torture at that facility is also problematic even using the "al-Qaeda" justification. The presumption of innocence is not a luxury in the American legal system, nor is it "quaint." I'm not saying, necessarily, that we should afford every detainee the full cadre of rights guaranteed to every US citizen, but I do think we should rule out torture - especially in contexts in which so many innocents are being detained.


For many of you, this post might not have contained any new information. For that, I apologize. Nevertheless, I hope that some of my right-leaning readers will reconsider their stances on the torture scandal if they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending torture, minimizing it, or rationalizing its practice. Our nation is exemplary in its capacity to enforce the rule of law and punish wrongdoers. That is what sets us apart from dictators and despots, and that is what infuses our message of liberty, freedom, and democracy with force and purpose. But that only works if we as a nation hold all the parties accountable. For now, we have settled on seven patsies designated as the fall-guys for an epidemic that involves dozens if not hundreds. The reaction from the White House has been even more perplexing: promoting and retaining each and every high level official that is in any way connected to this legal debasement.

If Bush wants to back up the grandiose rhetoric which permeated his inaugural address, his own house would be a good place to start. That right-leaning Americans do not see this, and are not clamoring for justice, is inexcusable. Listening to people I respect dissemble in plain view of the facts is a source of profound disappointment. Enough is enough.

Friday, January 21, 2005

It's Good For The Gander

It's outsourcing week at TIA. After my double-dip at Legal Fiction on Thursday (triple-dip if you throw in my short homage to Armitage - excuse the bad rhyme), I've developed a condition that cutting edge medical research has labeled blogging jetlag. Who knew that interblog travel would be this tiring?

I was planning on providing a Part II to my Seymour Hersh coverage, that would have focused on the covert ops angle of the story (as opposed to the Iran topics discussed in Part I) but I don't really have the time today. Besides, Tim from Good Names Gone has a post which tackles some of the important aspects of the infighting over who gets to run the covert ops show (complete with many helpful links), and Kevin Drum is on the case as well in his usual timely fashion. Coincidentally, both Tim and Kevin found their way to the same worthwhile article from the Spring 2004 edition of Foreign Affairs by Jennifer Kibbe (a must read).

So in my harried condition, it is much to my delight that Jonny from Crush All Boxes! (who is on temporary hiatus) has come to the rescue with a witty little rant on Bush's performance at the inauguration. Hey, if Legal Fiction can outsource, so can TIA. Don't get all protectionist on me now folks....

Woodrow W. Bush

Thank you Mister Bush. Now we move on to the Swimsuit competition....

To be fair to President Bush, an inaugural speech is a relatively pro forma affair (compared to, say, a State of the Union speech, one of which we will be graced with shortly). Few inaugural speeches have been really memorable, and despite what the spinners are poofing up, this one won't be either. You get the feeling that Bush and his guys decide on one key word or phrase for each of Bush's 'big gigs': today's 'freedom and liberty' are yesterday's 'hard work.' But an Inaugural is obviously not routine, either. So this speech must have meant something, right? But what?

It's always puzzled me that Richard Nixon was said to have particularly admired, of all Presidents, Woodrow Wilson (and even - purportedly - had a portrait of him in his Oval office). Nixon was rather more 'internationalist' and certainly more cynical, and/or 'realist', than Wilson ever dreamed of being (at least on purpose). Margaret MacMillan's excellent survey of the post-World War One negotiations, Paris 1919 , is replete with examples of Wilson's maddening combination of naivete, idealism, vagueness, peevishness, sanctimony, and plain stubbornness - and the unfortunate fallout therefrom. Take away Wilson's erudition and accomplishment, and that sounds less like Nixon and more like a certain contestant number 43....

America's idealism is both our curse and our gift. We haven't yet found a reliable way to be both idealistic and realistic (AKA 'wise') - it's that damned 'innocence' which keeps coming back no matter how many times we lose it! So we've had to make do with being awful and wonderful by turns. Even Nixon was able to project both qualities: his blackhearted policies in, among others, S.E. Asia and Latin America, are only a small part of his (and Kissinger's) shocking awfulness. But Nixon will and should be long-revered for going to China no matter why he did it. Good and bad. We muddle and blunder our way through history.

So, checks, balances and systems notwithstanding, leadership really does come down to....rather than 'character,' I would say personality, because character is a part of personality. Character might be what a person does when his back is absolutely against the wall; personality is that, plus experience, native intelligence, education, and subsequent proclivities and habits over a lifetime. Populism finds a certain comfort in the idea that a perfectly mediocre (as opposed to ordinary) person can lead - a dark side of democracy, pace DeTocqueville, et. al. This idea has not served us well in our post-war season of supremacy; willing or not, we haven't had the option of being a mediocre nation in the last 70 years. Mr Bush is the apotheosis of the negative meaning of that old saw: ANYONE can grow up to be President. He may be the last of a breed. We may, in our decline, find that we can't afford to 'wing it' this way anymore.

But, back to the speech.

What The Speech Didn't Mean

- Frum and Shrum were on MSNBC together Thursday night. David Frum tried to palm off the idea that the speech was, at least partially, a 'message' to our dictatorial allies in the Muslim world. I'm paraphrasing, but this is close: 'We won't invade you, or anything hard, guys are on notice! Shape up!'. (Frum wrote the 'Axis of Evil' speech). Bob Shrum wasn't having any of it, and wedged in a retort (this was Chris Matthews' show!), saying, roughly: "Yeah, and tomorrow guys from the Carlisle Group will call the Saudis up and tell them 'it's just talk; don't get upset.'" A slightly cheap shot, but not altogether cheap. The Iraq Invasion was, to put it mildly, a 'message' to the Saudis, but this speech wasn't. Ditto Pakistan and the rest.

- This speech didn't mean unlimited commitment of American troops and money throughout the world forever. Its authors might like it to have meant that, but it didn't - because it couldn't. This speech was obviously crafted with Kennedy's in mind. This administration never passes up a chance to equate the 'war on terror' with the Cold War (and, incidentally, to associate themselves with popular figures of the past, like JFK, TR, etc.). They're very consistent about that. Terror War = Cold War. But, no cigar.

Some Things the Speech Did Mean

- It was a reaching-out to the people of Iran. This Administration knows they need both carrot and stick there, but the carrot happens to be nice and inexpensive: rhetoric. Cheney this morning on Imus (and Sy Hersh) waved the stick; Bush offered the carrot. America stands for freedom! You know you want it! Rise up! Bush is perfectly right, in this context, to send this message. The Neocons have a 'tourist's love' - genuine, in its way - for the Middle Eastern Muslim world. I'd be thrilled and proud if this rhetorical carrot 'worked'. Of course, it won't.

- The speech was an apology to Americans. It was a veiled plea for the American People to recognize that this administration 'means well.' Pat Buchanan couldn't help himself; he finally exploded last night on 'Hardball', declaring once and for all that: 'There is no conservative party in the United States today!' The idea of the folly - indeed the danger - of 'good intentions' is about as basic a tenet of conservative philosophy as there is. Bush offers a glistening, gooey, 'guilt-free', double-fudge liberalism with zero fat and zero carbs - but TONS of sugar. He'll be gone by the time the diabetes sets in.

Elsewhere: Nadezhda has a thought-provoking and intelligent post which takes on some of the issues that Jonny raised in his piece (She being inspired by the recent back and forth between Praktike and Matt Yglesias).

In the interest of balance, Greg Djerejian has a slightly different take on the speech, but one of his readers disagrees.

And in the interest of partisan satire, RJ Eskow imagines Eisenhower and Bush in a duel of speeches, think "Celebrity Death Match: The Presidential Edition" without the claymation, or the violence for that matter (though I suggested to RJ that if we wants to go commercial, he's going to have throw in something for the "extreme" crowd).

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