March 24, 2005

Fiery Friedman

Tom Friedman:

You have to stop and think about this: We killed 26 of our prisoners of war. In 18 cases, people have been recommended for prosecution or action by their supervising agencies, and eight other cases are still under investigation. That is simply appalling. Only one of the deaths occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, reported Jehl and Schmitt - "showing how broadly the most violent abuses extended beyond those prison walls and contradicting early impressions that the wrongdoing was confined to a handful of members of the military police on the prison's night shift."

Yes, I know war is hell and ugliness abounds in every corner. I also understand that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we are up against a vicious enemy, which, if it had the power, would do great harm to our country. You do not deal with such people with kid gloves. But killing prisoners of war, presumably in the act of torture, is an inexcusable outrage. The fact that Congress has just shrugged this off, and no senior official or officer has been fired, is a travesty. This administration is for "ownership" of everything except responsibility.

President Bush just appointed Karen Hughes, his former media adviser, to head up yet another U.S. campaign to improve America's image in the Arab world. I have a suggestion: Just find out who were the cabinet, C.I.A. and military officers on whose watch these 26 homicides occurred and fire them. That will do more to improve America's image in the Arab-Muslim world than any ad campaign, which will be useless if this sort of prisoner abuse is shrugged off. Republicans in Congress went into overdrive to protect the sanctity of Terri Schiavo's life. But they were mute when it came to the sanctity of life for prisoners in our custody. Such hypocrisy is not going to win any P.R. battles.

I have been deeply outraged that so many detainees have died in U.S. custody. This is a stain to our national honor, and frankly I've been plain let down that so many conservatives have been so silent. This said, and as I've blogged before, there is a dirty little secret about Abu Ghraib. It's that, while the prison scandal angered many Arabs, the sad reality is that they have become so accustomed to being mistreated by their often horrifically brutal internal security services that Abu Ghraib didn't resonate quite as much as one might have thought. The invasion of Iraq, former presence of troops in Saudi Arabia, perceived bias towards Israel, perception of hypocrisy with regard to rhetoric re: democratization but continued cozying up to assorted autorcrats (less so these days, eh?)--all are likelier bigger challenges (save Saudi which is now moot, no perma-bases there!) awaiting Karen Hughes than Abu Ghraib and the death of detainees in assorted detention centers elsewhere.

Still, it wouldn't hurt--so I echo Friedman's sentiments. But Friedman is writing here more as a cri de coeur (I'm guilty of it too sometimes). Sorry to be the boring lawyer dragged to the party, but it's just not that easy to find out "who were the cabinet, C.I.A. and military officers on whose watch these 26 homicides occurred and fire them." Well, at least without full-blown Congressional hearings. But there are Schia-who intrigues entertaining la masse of late--and steroid use in baseball is a big problem too evidently. So we'll have to wait, I guess. In vain, I fear.

Posted by Gregory at March 24, 2005 11:30 PM | TrackBack (3)
Comments

Sorry, BD, I'm an aficionado of your blog but here I deeply disagree with you. this is not a "stain to US national honor". this is, first of all, plainly, a crime of war, an outrage to international laws of war which bind US forces just as much as the duty to behave in a honorable way (which duty is entirely irrelevant from an international point of view).

Posted by: edoardo at March 25, 2005 09:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Add one more previously silent Bush supporter. I appreciate your level-headed commentary.

Posted by: Herb Hocutt at March 25, 2005 02:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm open to being convinced by additional information (especially the facts surrounding each death), but my initial reaction is to agree with edorado.

When I look at the numbers involved--numbers of soldiers, numbers of 'insurgents' and what's going on between the two groups, 26 deaths while in custody doesn't strike me on its face as unusual or problematic.

Seriously, adjusted for scale, how many deaths would take place in prisons around the world in the same time frame? One can (and some do) argue that there is a violence problem in some prisons as well, but nobody's claiming it's a national stain.

Posted by: Ignatius Byrd at March 25, 2005 05:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The absense of a senate hearing on the matter does not mean these issues are not being addressed in the appropriate venues. There is clearly an indication that the military is still investigating these crimes and even re-investigating these crimes in some cases.

We just had the Inspector General of the Armed Services (Adm. Church) testify before a senate panel that ""there was no policy, written or otherwise, at any level that directed or condoned torture or abuse. There was no link between the authorized interrogation techniques and the abuses that, in fact, occurred." In addition, we know that the panel's chairman, Senator John Warner, has said he planned to hold at least one more hearing, and that the degree of blame to be assigned to high-level officials had yet to be determined.

So, what is the burning issue that is not being addressed? Are we so conditioned by corporate media that we now believe anything that doesn't receive media saturation is not being taken seriously?

Posted by: VD at March 25, 2005 06:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"In 18 cases, people have been recommended for prosecution or action by their supervising agencies, and eight other cases are still under investigation." Amazingly, these investigations were announced to the press by the agencies involved! It seems to me the administration IS taking responsibility.

Posted by: Aleks at March 25, 2005 08:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Commission reports aside, either the U.S. military is (a) in the habit of torturing and murdering its prisoners, or (b) it isn't.

Pace the Chomskyites of the world, I'd vote (b).

The question then becomes, why this uncharacteristic upsurge in abuse and murder?

It may in the end turn out to be largely due to the direct impact of 9/11 on the perpetrators, combined with the usual intercultural noise that brings out the beast in some people.

Nevertheless, the White House's clear willingness to suspend the ordinary laws of war, together with the fact of CIA involvement in some number of these deaths, leads one to believe that *some* policy has played a role here.

And when you lump in the obvious bad faith of the rendition system .... When Al Gonzales says that "as far as we know, Egypt and Syria aren't likely to torture the prisoners we send them," he is either lying or using a special lawyerly English variant that bears no relation to the ordinary use of the language. So again, we see a suspicious indifference to human rights at high levels of our government.

Add to that the secrecy that both legitimately (there's a war on) and illegitimately cloaks the subject, and you can see why people might sincerely and validly question whether the Church Report, for ex, is really the last word on high-level involvement.

Posted by: Anderson at March 25, 2005 09:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, I don't know of any ordinary laws of war that were suspended by the White House, and I think it is safe (for the time being) to assume the Church Report is not the last word on high-level involvement since we have at least one ranking senator (Warner) has stated it is not the last word on that matter.

Posted by: VD at March 25, 2005 10:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Frankly, I wonder how Greg comes by his belief that the abuses at Abu Ghraib did not "resonate" quite as much with Arabs as they might have.

The Arabs that count in this respect are the ones willing to plant bombs and take shots at our guys in Iraq. Given that most of the people detained at Abu Ghraib were not picked up for terrorist activity, and that they all had relatives and fellow clan members, it could be that a good deal of "resonation" was going on, not just from the photos we saw here but from eyewitness accounts.

Unfortunately an accurate accounting of how much America's cause in Iraq was set back by abuse of prisoners will have to wait; survey methodology on this subject in Iraq right now would be a significant problem. As a rule, though, if what you are after in an occupied country is some level of trust that you are not depraved, contemptuous of the local people or otherwise worthy of being shot at, random abuse of prisoners casually detained shouldn't be expected to do much good.

Posted by: Zathras at March 25, 2005 10:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom Friedman seems pretty happy with the way General Washington treated prisoners. Does he then endorse the general's trial by military tribunal and execution of accused spy, Major Andre?

Posted by: Will at March 25, 2005 11:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I find it interesting to hear people so incensed at the alleged usurpation of the courts by the Congress in the Schiavo matter to turn and call for the heads of officials, most of whom likely had absolutely nothing to do with the deaths of the prisoners, without any reference to the military justice system that already has this under investigation and has had for sometime. Some people committed crimes, and the system will have them out (as it has already sentenced and punished some of the guilty). This call for cabinet level heads to roll betrays an unseemly need for kangaroo court justice.

Posted by: Stevely at March 26, 2005 05:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I personally find it impossible to believe that many of those 26 prisoners could have been killed during escalated confrontation such as you might hear of in our own prison system. Just impossible. Perish the thought. Never happens. I'm sure each and every of the 160,000 men who have been through this military prison system have been absolute angels and would never think of attacking their guards.

Until the facts, and all the facts - including guilty verdicts - come out in these cases I'll respectfully reserve judgment. And to tie this all in with the Schiavo issue is disingenuously dastardly. Not to mention the fact that a recommendation for prosecution somehow equates guilt.

Posted by: Squatch at March 26, 2005 07:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I relate this to the ACLU's saturnalia about the Patriot Act: when you ask them for one concrete exampla of an injustice perpetrated because of the act they can't produce one. I agree Abu Ghraib will be a permanent stain on our Iraq mission, Rumsfeld should have been fired for putting the National Guard misfits - who couldn't hold a job in the civilian world - in a position to do so much damage. But he did offer to resign twice, and what other country in the world would tear itself apart for 3 months over such an issue? Review the French massacre in the Ivory Coast for comparison.

Posted by: wayne at March 26, 2005 08:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Standard NYT problem - completely looking in the wrong direction to solve the problem, and suspending the presumption of innocence of the citizens serving in the military. This is why Dems are simply not taken seriously on national security. When a police officer (like the Maryland state cop that ran the Abu Ghraib debacle) makes a mistake or violates the law, do you go after the President? No, you don't. We punish those that violated the law after they are given due process and found guilty. Failures of logic like that just make Dems look unintelligent and partisan. If a prisoner dies because he is trying to kill his guards, then I (and more importantly, the law) don't have a problem with this. If there was abuse committed by military personnel, then it is dealt with through the UCMJ. Where is the presumption of innocence? For some reason, some folks over 50 just can't quite get it through their heads that the military is actually a law abiding organization that prosecutes its own when there is a violation of the law. Maybe the reason is latent Vietnam PTSD that manifests itself in the belief that the "USA is always the problem"? It does not mean that the military is perfect - if it was, we wouldn't need to have laws against murder, rape, etc. on the books. However, overblown rhetoric like what Friedman is indulging in simply again makes the point that he presumes that the members of the military are following the orders of the "cabinet, CIA, etc." to willfully break the law. I always use that as a red-flag marker that the critic just isn't serious about the issue - they have another axe to grind. I do find interesting when I read anti-war websites, they almost always give a pass to the murderous beheaders and terrorists. Yet, they hold our forces to nearly impossible standards of conduct while reveling in counting the American casualties to prove their point, not out of caring for the fallen. Fairly similar to the undisguised joy of the NYT to run the Abu Ghraib story - they were so happy to find that a very small subset of the military finally fit their worldview of it. Little or no outrage is reserved for the Ba'athists and Al Quida types that routinely murder and intimidate Iraqis. Why the double standard? We already have a military that is the envy of the world because of its professionalism and its committment to the law. While I appreciate Friedman's "outrage", I don't see nearly the same fire when terrorists behead captives and kill Americans in cold blood.

Posted by: Brian at March 26, 2005 10:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It's that, while the prison scandal angered many Arabs, the sad reality is that they have become so accustomed to being mistreated by their often horrifically brutal internal security services that Abu Ghraib didn't resonate quite as much as one might have thought. The invasion of Iraq, former presence of troops in Saudi Arabia, perceived bias towards Israel, perception of hypocrisy with regard to rhetoric re: democratization but continued cozying up to assorted autorcrats (less so these days, eh?)--all are likelier bigger challenges (save Saudi which is now moot, no perma-bases there!) awaiting Karen Hughes than Abu Ghraib and the death of detainees in assorted detention centers elsewhere."

A curious thought, since, all in all, our defeating the Baathist Jihadi insurgency and holding free elections seems to resonate much more than random abuses of insurgent prisoners. All of this introspection has some value, but not as much as winning the war and accomplishing the mission.

Posted by: Tim at March 27, 2005 02:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For my part I am not ALARMED NOR OUTRAGED by 26 deaths in captivity. Eighteen trials have been started with eight more investigations ongoing. If you are a lawyer is it not the correct proceedure to follow the law?
The Geneva conventions are the standard here. Prisoners of War are not just any one that the military picks up, they are uniformed members of the opposing military are they not? Those in mufti are treated as spys by the Convention that has no recommendation on treatment. Should the Saddam Loyalists don military uniforms during their hit and run missions then they would be POWs and would be accorded such status. What does the Convention recomend as treatment for mercenaries? A Saudi, a Yemeni, a Syrian captured in raids on training basis, caught ambushing convoys or in battles in Mosul of Falluja in mufti, civilian clothes are to be classified as exactly what, lawyers?
Added on to this arguement, all to frequently, is the they do it to us construct of the beheadings and toture perpetrated by the Islamos. That is not a justification for torture of those captured nor a justification of murder of captives. At this point any level head will want to know the circumstances of each and every event. All too frequently what we get in the chattering classes is a vague hint of conspiracy, a when did he know shading aimed at POTUS or SecDef when that is preposterous. Abu Ghraib was a very limited torture if that. Panties on the head, being forced in to cheerleader pyramids naked is no where near fingernail pulling, braking of limbs, strangulation etc. Yes, there were some very limited reports of cigarette burnings in ears. Again, small beans.
As Mr. Friedman, does he ever not 'allege' breathlessly, points out there have been 26 deaths. Were any of these deaths wounded in capture? Any failed suicide bombers with terminal illness or wounds recieved in previous engagments? Any Atlanta rapist types in this bunch. Stop the accusations without investigating the events. Claiming secrecy, which is a very important requirement in these cases for all involved, just makes it so hard not to suspect that the author, Friedman is grinding another axe. It is a bit much from an employee of the Times. They have plenty of bucks to spend on investigating should their reporters venture out of the Bagdad Hotel wish to investigate. Not just a "I spoke to a friend of a friend whose cousin was incarcerated and he said...." type of false report but a real Pulitzer type inquiry where all the actors are background checked so we can know who is who and what is what.
On the previous poster who was stymied on Iraqi opinion polling...they have been polling Iraqis quite thoroughly for the past two years. As to what we could learn from Iraqi opinion polls I will leave that for another day.

Posted by: Karensky at March 27, 2005 12:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Certainly such acts have occurred in every way ever fought. I suppose that even WWII must be a stain upon our honor as well, as I am certain (from first-hand accounts and others) that German and Japanese captured soldiers were killed, shortly after the heat of battle. When someone recently killed your best friend, well, these things happens. And I dare say that there are no memos or policies, or anything else encouraging this. And these are being investigated, and there are prosecutions. And slightly over half of these cases occurred shortly after capture, long before the people had been brought to detention centers.

It would be surprising had no such cases occurred. Especially with the practice of pretending to surrender and hiding explosives on one's person. The practice of faking surrender (combined with beliefs about Japanese culture) led to quite a few Japanese attempting to surrender (some honestly, one must assume) being shot during WWII.

One must hope that there are investigations according to military justice (and none of these "let's convict and fire people without a trial" sentiments that you see around), certainly. And certainly this report indicates that there are investigations.

Posted by: John Thacker at March 28, 2005 04:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's the news article in the NYT on the subject.

It's certainly strange how some people who are so fiercely for the rights of detainees, and for the rights of the accused in other cases, seem outraged when accused soldiers are given due process.

Posted by: John Thacker at March 28, 2005 05:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Commission reports aside, either the U.S. military is (a) in the habit of torturing and murdering its prisoners, or (b) it isn't.

Pace the Chomskyites of the world, I'd vote (b)."

you may vote (b) but after abu ghraib, guantanamo and 26 deaths the burden of proof appears to be upon you. especially if what US want to do is export the rule of law, democracy and freedom. as to the comparisons with the killings of german and japanese prisoners, sorry, but that does not seem to me very much convincing. those killings may have occurred after fierce battles with hundreds, or thousands, US dead soldiers in each single day, against strong and motivated and well armed and trained enemies which were fighting in big numbers. nothing even nearly comparable to the average battle situation which you may find in iraq where US military power is absolutely overwhelming, always.

Posted by: edoardo at March 30, 2005 08:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
"Awake"
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
Search
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Columnists
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
Security
Books
The City
Western Europe
France
United Kingdom
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Spain
Central and Eastern Europe
CIS/FSU
Russia
Armenia
East Asia
China
Japan
South Korea
Middle East
Egypt
Israel
Lebanon
Syria
B.D. In the Press
Archives
Categories
Syndicate this site:
XML RSS RDF

G2E

Powered by