January 13, 2005

Sullivan Reviews Danner

Andrew has an excellent piece up on the torture/abuse scandals in the New York Times book review. Don't miss his conclusion:

American political polarization also contributed. Most of those who made the most fuss about these incidents - like Mark Danner or Seymour Hersh - were dedicated opponents of the war in the first place, and were eager to use this scandal to promote their agendas. Advocates of the war, especially those allied with the administration, kept relatively quiet, or attempted to belittle what had gone on, or made facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime. But it seems to me that those of us who are most committed to the Iraq intervention should be the most vociferous in highlighting these excrescences. Getting rid of this cancer within the system is essential to winning this war.

I'm not saying that those who unwittingly made this torture possible are as guilty as those who inflicted it. I am saying that when the results are this horrifying, it's worth a thorough reassessment of rhetoric and war methods. Perhaps the saddest evidence of our communal denial in this respect was the election campaign. The fact that American soldiers were guilty of torturing inmates to death barely came up. It went unmentioned in every one of the three presidential debates. John F. Kerry, the ''heroic'' protester of Vietnam, ducked the issue out of what? Fear? Ignorance? Or a belief that the American public ultimately did not care, that the consequences of seeming to criticize the conduct of troops would be more of an electoral liability than holding a president accountable for enabling the torture of innocents? I fear it was the last of these. Worse, I fear he may have been right.

Me too.

By the by, Kerry's manifest meekness in not effectively joining this issue in the campaign was a major reason I felt he did not deserve my support. He acted the hyper-cautious poll-watcher without any real moral compass. Rumsfeld had 70% support circa. Abu Ghraib, I could hear Kerry thinking. Let's not rock the boat and risk getting goose-hunting, red staters in a tizzy. Except that the patriotic thing to do, of course, was to condemn loudly that inmates in U.S. captivity were beaten to death on several occasions (I'm so sick of hearing about panty-hoses, human pyramids, Eminem appreciations amidst the cranked up AC--people, er, died--they didn't just listen to music, chill out, and play costume party and pile on up on each other for a 'lil giggle).

P.S. Spare me the flames that my position is absurd--ie, voting for the guy who presided over the torture mess--and against his opponent, simply for not condemning it more loudly. This episode was merely one of many (if a significant one for me) revelatory of Kerry's character. Here, in case you missed it then, is a piece on why I supported Bush contra the Massachusetts Senator.

Posted by Gregory at January 13, 2005 05:55 AM

sully: "... when the results are thios horrifying..."


Posted by: reliapundit at January 13, 2005 07:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Al Gore spoke out passionately about Abu Ghraib. The Right Wing media, Andrew Sullivan among that crowd, was disdainful if not abusive towards Gore in that matter. That's the same response he received for his October 2002 speech which he argued against going to war. In the later speech decrying the Bush administration's conduct of the war, the former vice-president actually raised his voice about American violations of the Geneva Conventions. Naturally, conservatives responded unified in ridicule of Gore; in outrage at the outrage. Is there anyone here who would like to amend their remarks regarding those two speeches? I did not think so.

You conservatives see yourselves as wise and brave among lesser men; and when you're not it's only because of the failings of some Democrat or liberal or some Frenchman or UN official. These days, as the odor of buyer's remorse is becoming a stench, you have the comfort of knowing it's all John Kerry's fault.

Don't think of this comment as a flame. Think of this as a fraternity prank.

Posted by: CMike at January 13, 2005 11:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pres. Bush's position here is basically to say that we decry torture and support the Geneva Convention, even while he promotes the guy who tried his best to construct legal arguments in favor of torture, defends the guy who allowed it, and refuses to lift a finger to investigate just how widespread this was.

Makes me proud. Yes, sir.

Posted by: Joel at January 13, 2005 12:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Your position is utterly absurd.

Posted by: praktike at January 13, 2005 02:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Torture aside, it's perfectly accurate to describe G. Bay prisoners as 'illegal combatants' who aren't covered by the Geneva Convention.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson at January 13, 2005 02:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You can't be serious. The opposition is not responsible for the government's conduct of the war, or operation of its judicial system. Yes, there are many in the US who hate liberals, and liberalism, so much that they will willing vote against their own interests and principles in order to avoid ever having to admit that some liberal might have been right about anything.

One sees this particularly with respect to the advocates of teaching of the Genesis myth as scientific fact: many supporters of this view are motivated not only by the wish that the Bible be accepted as literally true, but even more strongly by hatred of the know-it-all outsiders coming around and making ordinary God-fearing folk feel like idiots. The joke, of course, is on the folks who want their children to be taught that all of modern science is a hoax.

The principled conservative response to the Admin's torture is similar. You're mad at us for not getting you off the hook? Mad at us for making you have to choose between supporting the Admin or taking a principled stand against (which would, gasp, require agreement with people going around saying Bush is Hitler!)? Not our fault -- it's the Admin's fault, completely. They are the ones pursuing the immoral and ineffectual policy.

Ultimately, it's the responsibility of supporters of the Administration to lead it to sensible and morally defensible policy. Own it, and stop whining about how anything at all that the Admin or its supporters do is justified by anything that Kerry ever said or did.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at January 13, 2005 03:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

By U.S. do they mean the Clinton Administration?Hoolbrook,Albright,Marc Rich and the rest.

Posted by: Peter at January 13, 2005 03:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I don't see where it's 'perfectly accurate' to call an innocent bystander mistakenly caught up and sent to Gitmo an 'illegal combatant.' Are there such people? Well, a number of folks have been released, without charge, and it's clear enough that there are going to be more. Everything we know about the system of how people got there, and what's been happening, suggests that there are a great many folks locked up who should not be.

The presumption of innocence is one of the things that distinguishes us from Nazi savages. A crown jewel of our Anglo-American heritage. Certainly at the top of any reasonable list of 'moral values' (ahead, even, of 'Jesus Hates Queers').

Posted by: CharleyCarp at January 13, 2005 03:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Innocent bystanders are as you say being released by a system of due process that 'Nazi savages' did not employ. The point I'm trying to make (and one which is consistently lost on this issue), is that the Geneva convention does not extend to terrorists. For it to do so would demean the value of it.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson at January 13, 2005 03:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Three years is not acceptable due process. Abusive conduct towards a noncombatant is not permitted under the GC. Since they have not adjudicated who is what, no abusive conduct towards anyone is permitted.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at January 13, 2005 03:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg - John Kerry was unable to argue just about anything about the war, Abu Ghraib or otherwise, because (a) his own Vietnam war record was so convulted and contradictory that just about anything he said would either be used against him in some form, or declared contradictory to something else he's said in his 20-year career of Senate concession-making, and (b) let's be honest, he had roughly as much principle as Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, or Al Gore--which is to say none whatsoever--differing from them only by having less blind ambition, self-importance and/or narcissism.

P.S. Sorry to change the subject, but to this day I still don't understand the "Dean scream" problem. As much as I disagreed with everything the man said, and as little chance there is that I would have ever voted for him, I can't help but think in the back of my mind that not only might he have been a winning candidate, but at least he would have been a formidable and perhaps even principled opponent to Bush. To the subject at hand, I don't doubt for even a moment that he would have screamed Abu Ghraib from every mountaintop.

But back to his famous "scream," it was an extremely superficial reason to drop a candidate from consideration. I can't help but think that something else happened behind the scenes. Someone undertook a conscious and coordinated effort to unseat him. Maybe even someone thinking of running in 2008. Someone for whom--let's just say it aloud and see where the thought takes us--it would be a fine advantage to have Mr Dean running the DNC in that year....

Posted by: Hovig at January 13, 2005 04:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why is three years automatically not due process? The conflict with the 'Al Qaeda brand' is still on going is it not? Held prisoner till the end of hostilities is the standard practise. Nobody thinks this situation with G.Bay etc is perfect but I've not heard any better ideas.

Those that were captured on the field of battle do have a status in that they are not 'combatants' as defined in the Geneva Convention. The standard procedure in military history when capturing those forces that employ perfidy and other such war crimes is summary execution and I don't think anyone would demand that as opposed to incarceration.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson at January 13, 2005 04:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

By the by, Kerry's manifest meekness in not effectively joining this issue in the campaign was a major reason I felt he did not deserve my support.

I usually enjoy your commentary, but this is just plain comical. If you require a candidate to commit political suicide to "deserve your support" your support seems pretty pointless.

Did Bush "deserve your support" given his stance on Abu Ghraib? Why or why not?

Posted by: JakeV at January 13, 2005 04:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Another point-- if to be a courageous candidate worthy of your support, Kerry would have had to make Abu Ghraib an issue in the campaign, doesn't that mean that you think Bush bears direct responsibility for the Abu Ghraib affair? If Bush didn't bear such responsiblity for Abu Ghraib, making it a major part of the campaign would have been dirty politics, not political courage.

And if in fact Bush bears such responsibity, as you seem to believe, weren't his actions after Abu Ghraib was revealed entirely indefensible? Wasn't it an act of craven political calculation to blame this affair on a "few bad apples" as Bush continually did?

How can Kerry's supposedly cowardly failure to hype up Abu Ghraib compare to Bush's decision to minimize and paper over it, so as to avoid taking responsibility which your attack on Kerry ascribes to him? Can you answer this question?

And your "p.s" is quite irrelevant. The fact that you had other reasons to vote against Kerry doesn't make this one reason you've mentioned here any less nonsensical. I hope that your other reasons were better-considered than this one.

Posted by: JakeV at January 13, 2005 04:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


If you think all the people in Gitmo were captured on some battlefield, you're really not paying attention. Unless you think all of the world is a battlefield, in which case I don't think you can make claims about how seizures on a 'battlefield' ought to get lesser scrutiny.

You also cannot conflate legitimate POWs -- members of AQ -- and innocent bystanders when it comes to how reasonable it is to hold people. While maybe holding a combatant until the end of the war is justifiable, there is no justification for holding an innocent bystander any longer than necessary.

Your suggestion that no one has suggested a better alternative shows conclusively that you are not paying attention. People (including military lawyers) have been crying out for a fair and independent judicial process to sort combatants from noncombatants since the beginning, and the Admin has resisted.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at January 13, 2005 04:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I suspect that one of the reasons Kerry didn't speak louder against abuse or torture is because he witnessed it himself.

Posted by: jd at January 13, 2005 07:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I actually think Greg was right about Kerry's character. But I think he's wrong in thinking that "Bush gets it" in regards to the War on Terror.

Posted by: fling93 at January 13, 2005 07:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I'm very proud and supportive of you and Andrew Sullivan and your clear stand on torture. This is an awful subject, and it shouldn't be ignored just because we see our selves as the good guys.

We are the good guys, and we are good because we're self-critical. I supported and still support the Iraq War and am deeply shocked about mistreatment of prisoners (covered by the GC or not). We really have to be honest to ourselves and fix this problem before this kind of behavior becomes embedded as a sick rot that will only weaken and pervert us.

Posted by: Narmer at January 14, 2005 12:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


So Greg prefers Bush on many grounds over Kerry, but a huge failing gives him pause to vote the other way and his only real option says....well nothing about that issue. That seems reason enough to make the comment. All Greg is saying is that if on this and a few other issues Kerry had taken a principled stand he might have been willing to overlook his other flaws and what Greg considers Bush’s other virtues. You don't have to agree with Greg that Kerry is less desirable on those grounds to see it isn't absurd. It is exactly the way we should make decisions. That Greg felt that this matter was so important as to potentially affect his vote when Kerry is in his eyes so deficient in other ways says a lot.

Kerry gave those who support much of Bush's agenda, or at least prefer it over his, so little reason to abandon Bush, despite his errors and faults, accounts in many ways for his defeat. Greg is a perfect example.

I’ll throw in a few more. While much of what has happened is appalling, unfortunately it has always been so in every war fought, by us or anyone else. That isn’t to endorse complacency, only to say some of this stuff and maybe more of others would happen in any administration. I have no huge beef that this was allowed to happen, because we (and everyone else) always have allowed such things to happen in the past. In fact it has always been worse. Maybe that is cynical, but I attribute it more to the fallibility of all things human. My huge beef is the political cowardice in dealing with it. Of course that has usually been present as well, including in the last administration who gave us the policy of rendering detainees. So if I want to punish Bush I need someone willing to pay the political price, because when this kind of things happen next time I need to know he might deal with it differently and will not try and paper over it, will feel the shame and correct their own errors. Instead I get a candidate who has shown a lack of principle that makes Karl Rove look good his whole career and showed the same traits on this issue and others once again. So this is the man to clean up when his administration falls on its face as all eventually do? Greg obviously had no confidence Kerry would do any better on that front than I do. Greg and I may differ on other aspects of the desirability of Kerry’s program, but here he is dead on. I suspect most of the Democratic Party knows that as well which is why they were so tepid in their enthusiasm for him.

Posted by: Lance at January 14, 2005 12:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, not to be difficult here or anything, but do you suppose that you could cite some reasonable sources to the effect that (1) specific prisoners were in fact beaten to death in abu Ghraib after it was under US control; (2) that these beatings were administered by people under US control; (3) that the people who participated in these beatings did so without consequences; and (4) that there is actual evidence that these beatings were part of a policy promulgated by anyone in the chain of command above the platoon level?

If not, is it really your position that Rumsfield and/or Gonzales should be held responsible for crimes commited not in accordance with their policy, by people not under their control, and for which those people are being tried, and when convicted, punished?

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at January 14, 2005 02:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And may I mention that the reason we had two less-than-desirable candidates is that our plurality electoral system cannot handle more than two choices gracefully. With only one other candidate to compete with, the strategy generally shifts from trying to win to trying to not lose, resulting in tactics like negative campaigning, creating wedge issues, and being vague in your policy proposals.

In contrast, a system like Approval Voting or the Condorcet Method handles multiple candidates just fine, and in a field of many choices, the emphasis shifts towards standing out from the field and uniting all voters behind you. Not to mention it boosts turnout, since the odds are much higher that you'll actually like a candidate.

And you also no longer need primaries, which are staggered geographically exactly because of plurality's limitations.

Posted by: fling93 at January 14, 2005 02:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory Derejian:

Spare me the flames that my position is absurd--ie, voting for the guy who presided over the torture mess--and against his opponent, simply for not condemning it more loudly.

Sure; especially since you've supplied them yourself. And since you've proffered an alternative target:

This episode was merely one of many (if a significant one for me) revelatory of Kerry's character.

Me too. Winter Soldier showed he had moral courage; this showed he had discipline, that he was in politics to win, to do what it takes, not to posture.

You read Repubs all the time gloating how the Dems will "render themselves irrelevant" if they don't acquiesce in the populism-pleasing outrage du jour. Ugly stuff, but at least it makes sense. Unlike your insistence that the only proper response by Kerry to Abu Ghraib was to incapacitate himself from doing anything about it.

Posted by: Robert McDougall at January 14, 2005 04:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You want the REAL reason that Kerry and the Democratic Party refuse to really make an issue out of Abu Grhaib unless it's the red herring of Gonzalez and the "Bybe torture" memo (which went to the CIA and the military never saw)?

Because NO ONE in the Democratic (or Republican) Party wants to hold Lt. Gen Sanchez, or Generals Barbara Fast or Janice Karpinsky accountable for a total lack of supervision, control, and leadership. Abu Ghraib National Guardsmen (and women) ran amuck in all areas. They were constantly out of uniform, did not follow direct orders from superiors, conducted affairs in public with subordinates, ran bootlegging operation, black markets, as well as abusing prisoners, staging gladiator fights, etc.

Corporal Grainer did much the same thing in his native North Carolina when he was a prison guard; he should have never been allowed in any position in the military.

Military leadership at Sanchez's, Fast's, and Karpinski's level was appallingly bad; soldiers lived off MRE's, in tents, and were mortared nightly. But no one, including Andrew Sullivan, wants to take them to task since they are both directly responsible and protected class (women and minorities).

It is simply politically incorrect to call it like it is.

As for Gitmo and holding people without direct charges; at least one person was released after being picked up in Afghanistan (a Pakistani citizen) due to political pressure by his government. Surprise Surprise, he went back to his Al Qaeda ways kidnapping and killing Chinese engineers in Pakistan. Playing by Mr. Rogers rules for the neighborhood is great when you're five and in the sandbox; it's not wise when conducting a war against global jihad.

We need a way to hold people who are trying to kill us, without torture, but still using human methods of coercion (analogous to what Sam Waterston's character uses on Law and Order nightly) to get vital information to save American (and other) lives. Anything less is giving a higher priority to the enemy and a fantasy moral purity than innocent lives.

Believe me, the next terror attack on the US; the Administration will point DIRECTLY at Congress, the Media, etc and say "you tied our hands, the info was locked in prisoners heads."

We shouldn't be zapping people's testicles, or sending them to FedEx Torture clinics abroad; but should be able to offer better food/religious items etc for info.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 14, 2005 04:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


So until AQ starts issuing uniforms and dog tags, we can't detain anyone.

"I was only wandering about the battlefield....PROVE I was a combatant.

Posted by: Aaron at January 14, 2005 08:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Excellent post. I read the City Journal article where they had the prisoner willing to talk...he simply wanted to see the ocean. But the "rules" wouldn't allow it.

And notice how the "no torture" argument is being extended in comments to stuff like "due process" etc.

Slippery Slope.

Posted by: Aaron at January 14, 2005 08:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, Jim Rockford.

Except that I, for one, won't mind the FedEx-ing to let other countries get info, if they can.

The Stanford Prison experiment shows what undertrained guards are likely to do; the US internal prison rape scandals show what IS happening in the US. Unreal Perfection is a stupid standard.

The presumption of innocence is one of the things that distinguishes us from Nazi savages.
Yes, yet after My Lai, and Kerry's Winter Soldier testimony, and Cronkite's desire for Unreal Perfection by US soldiers, the US left Vietnam.

And the Commie-Nazis committed genocide. Kerry accepted 2-3 000 murders in a Vietnam Civil War; he was off by 1, no 2, no 3 orders of magnitude -- but even accepting 3 000 murders instead of 3 million seems a shaky hill for "moral superiority".

Let Iraqis run Abu Ghraib already -- let THEM use Arab standards of interrogation.

And continue punishing the US military that commits torture.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 14, 2005 09:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Andrew, please read the geneva conventions and get back to us. They're kind of long but not all that long.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 04:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Torture. I wonder if any of the people who had to live through 30+ years of real torture under Saddam take offense to using that term to describe what the U.S. soldiers did. Of course, we can't ask tens of thousands of Iraqis who were tortured under Saddam's regime because they ended up in unmarked mass graves.

Apparently, a handful of U.S. soldiers were unprofessional, immature and humiliated some prisoners. They are being brought to justice.
But what they did wasn't 'torture'.

I guess anything less than perfection will bring criticism to the U.S. As usual.

Posted by: Les Nessman at January 17, 2005 04:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Apparently, a handful of U.S. soldiers were unprofessional, immature and humiliated some prisoners. They are being brought to justice.
But what they did wasn't 'torture'."

Les, the photos that got released included one or more of dead prisoners packed in ice. Has anybody told you what that was about?

Posted by: J Thomas at January 17, 2005 07:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas --

IIRC, the dead prisoner had been brought in dead or dying by a SEAL team. He'd been packed on ice b/c the military wanted to identify him for sure; and Iraq is a very hot country.

Sorta OT, froggy ruminations has a story on the trial of SEAL commander for prisoner abuse.


Essentially, a former SEAL team member got kicked off a team for stealing a team-mates bullet resistant vest, then accused the Team's commander of abusing prisoners. His testimony on the stand changed however and said he only pointed or poked his weapon at a dangerous prisoner.

Of course, all anyone remembers is the screaming, 20 point headline "SEALs Accused of Prisoner Abuse."

Froggy has a better account than I can summarize, it's worth your time to check him out.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 18, 2005 04:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim, I believe you got a cover story there.

First, note from the Taguba report:

"The various detention facilities operated by the 800th MP Brigade have routinely held persons brought to them by Other Government Agencies (OGAs) without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention. The Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC) at Abu Ghraib called these detainees “ghost detainees.” On at least one occasion, the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib held a handful of “ghost detainees” (6-8) for OGAs that they moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team. This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law."

This was not Graner and his people, this was at multiple facilities and was policy. It specifically violates the geneva conventions, and the example of hiding unregistered prisoners from the Red Cross is a specifically spelled out in the geneva conventions, I can't imagine a way to argue it isn't a violation.

The usual reason to do it is so you can dispose of the prisoners afterward with no questions asked. I say that's the usual reason, I haven't heard of another reason yet although I suppose someone might come up with one.

So we were all set to torture high value targets to death and dispose of the bodies, and a few bodies have been found anyway. I'm not clear whether the one in the photo is the one your SEAL team brought in, where the only SEAL witness who'll talk says the prisoner only got poked some with a rifle. No telling how he happened to die. But the one in the most famous photo was beaten to death while in custody.

A number of prisoners are known to have been beaten to death, an unknown but large number went into the prison system with no records and "disappeared".

The current defendants were helping to implement the Gitmo interrogation system at Abu Ghraib. Luckily the people who gave them their orders were not in their chain of command; otherwise it would all have been entirely official. It's unclear whether the perverted stuff was suggested to them in detail or whether they enlarged on the details, but the reports do include official interrogators doing similar things including raping a boy.

I suppose it might be possible to say that the evidence isn't conclusive and perhaps Coalition forces weren't actiually torturing anybody. It isn't the way to bet, and you have to bend over backward to give them the benefit of the doubt to do it.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 18, 2005 07:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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