Posted on May 7, 2004. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A jumble of thoughts about the Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Scandal:

More than a problem of PR, this is a problem of policy.

People are saying that these acts are an inevitable part of war and the solution is to manage the press better. I don’t accept these acts as inevitable. They’re the result of bad training, bad oversight, a bad culture, or merely bad people. Whatever you target, there is something that can be identified and corrected that would prevent these atrocities from recurring. As I explained in my last post, I think it comes down to training and the military culture.

The Bush administration justifies its actions with regards to principles rather than rules. They say the invasion of Iraq was right because it’s bringing justice, democracy, human rights. They predicated the war on the idea that ‘the ends justify the means’ � democracy justifies invasion.

On the domestic front, the Patriot Act deems previously inviolable rights � like Habeas Corpus – to be broachable, because ‘ends justify means’. At Guantanamo Bay, other rights � like the right to independent council � are no longer sacred because ‘we can’t afford these rights in a state of war’; the ends justify the means.

In the execution of the war on Iraq, the policy that ‘the ends justify the means’ is seen again. They really need information from prisoners to forestall terrorist attacks on US troops. So they ‘soften these prisoners up’ for interrogation. This ‘softening up’ crossed the line into outright torture.

All of this adds up to more than a lack of oversight; it adds up to a military culture which condones breaking the rules when it’s in your interest. And the sick result is the sort of torture that is now coming to light.

The problem is a US policy of American Exceptionalism. The solution is a rules-based international order. You don’t go to war for democracy; you go to war for the UN Security Council. You don’t extend your citizens rights as a matter of privilege or convenience; you recognize rights they already possess. You don’t think that Guantanamo Bay is right simply because the media can be kept out; you treat the prisoners there properly because anything else is wrongheaded. You don’t cavalierly use mild torture as a matter of convenience; you

This is not an aberration; this is something systemic. Rumsfeld said in 2002 that the Geneva conventions did not apply to those captured in Afghanistan. In 2003, American soldiers evidentially took that to heart.

The soldiers allowed their pictures to be taken. The pictures showed that the soldiers were not afraid or ashamed of what they had done, but clearly thought that they had approval. There are reports that these pictures were used during interrogations.

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