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An Interesting Theory on Abu Ghraib

Last week over at ZenPundit, Mark Safranski offered an interesting suggestion about what was really going on at Abu Ghraib--that the photos were staged and deliberately leaked so as to demoralize our enemies in the Middle East. As he puts it:

the shocking pictures, for all their political fall out, remediate a deficit American forces suffer in a narrow military sense - outside of actual combat engagements, we are not much feared because by and large we do not commit the usual litany of atrocities of an occupying army.

I’ll admit that it seems far-fetched, but it fits in well with the revelation that the most gruesome photos that have appeared so far--the ones showing actual rape--have turned out to have been doctored. Furthermore, it is perfectly consistent with what Pfc. Lynndie England has claimed: that "I was instructed by persons in higher rank to stand there and hold this leash and look at the camera." Finally, there’s no denying that American casualties have dropped off noticeably since the release of the photos.

Now, assuming that the hooded figures appearing in the photos were actually prisoners, and not, for instance, paid actors, this still raises serious ethical questions. Unfortunately Jeff Tiel, our resident military ethicist, is away in Florence--I’m sure he’d have some interesting things to say on this matter.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Never attribute to brilliance what is just as easily ascribed to incompetence.

Never attribute to brilliance what is just as easily ascribed to incompetence.

I grant you, this is generally a good rule of thumb. But there’s a point at which incompetence collapses into incomprehensibility. I have no doubt that American forces have abused prisoners (however we define "abuse") in every war they have fought--unfortunately it comes with the territory, so to speak. But why in God’s name would anyone want to take photographs, unless they wanted those photos to be circulated?

On the other hand, since making the initial post, another thought occurred to me. Given the firestorm around the world over the publication of those photos, the message sent to our enemies might be the absolute opposite of what was intended. Ba’athists and Jihadists might well figure that given all the controversy oversight in the prisons will surely be stepped up, so that nothing like this is likely to happen again, at least any time soon. They might reasonably conclude now that they have nothing to fear from capture.

Look out for black helicopters!

Surely a cunning mind, so subtle as to stage photos for psychological operations, might consider that more people than Iraqi insurgents would see the pictures?

I believe that we’re seeing exactly what has been presented. Unsupervised kids of uncertain or poor character, bored and getting into trouble. Very similar inclinations to play with human beings as if they were toys show up with alarming frequency in gang activities and suburban high school atrocities. Stupid kids often film their own exploits. The horrifying distinction is that these hooligans had been trained as soldiers, and had had classes at least annually on the laws of land warfare. Lack of supervision allowed some of the trailer-trash to lead others into "being bad." Each of them needs to spend quite a lot of time in prison after a public trial in Iraq, and their negligent leaders need to be indentified and publicly tried as well. The Nuremberg Defense is no defense at all. They *all* knew better.

I wonder if John thinks that the Apollo moon landings were staged, too.

The fact remains, we embarassed a few murderous thugs with their pants down and they murdered Mr. Berg in a most despicable way, the same way they killed Mr. Pearle.

The fact remains, we embarassed a few murderous thugs with their pants down and they murdered Mr. Berg in a most despicable way, the same way they killed Mr. Pearle.

This is precisely what I’ve been talking about. We did a lot more than "embarass a few murderous thugs." TORTURE was committed. MURDER was committed. Is this to say that the Berg (or Pearl) murder was justified? Absolutely not. But when Americans (or more specifically, Conservatives) can’t even find it within themselves to acknowledge the crimes committed by those prison guards, how are we supposed to learn anything from this experience?

Laugh all you like, but if you’ve studied the history of espionage and counter-espionage in warfare you know that there have been plenty of incidents that seemed less likely than this. For example, British agents in 1944 planted "secret plans" for landings at Calais on the dead body of a British officer, then dropped the body into the Atlantic Ocean in such a way that it was likely to wash up in Nazi-occupied Europe. It wasn’t until a week after the landings came at Normandy that Hitler finally realized that it all wasn’t a ruse designed to distract attention away from the real invasion, which he had continued to believe was going to occur at Calais.

This is just one example among many cases of strategic deception employed during wartime. We also know that psy-ops are extremely active in Iraq (my neighbors’ sons are among them, in fact). I’m still not saying I’m convinced that this is what’s going on, but at the same time it’s not beyond the realm of reasonable possibility.

the strategy that the British devised with the deception is plainly obvious even before it was carried out. I am not sure that devising a plan to show our soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners, passes such a test of simple reason. "Yes, maybe this will bend the populace to our will, but maybe it will spark a civil uprising." I just don’t see that argument carrying the day.

I was actually just having a little fun at your expense, John. While I’m still hard pressed to accept the theory that the photos were deliberately leaked for the purpose of demoralizing the enemy, there is some evidence that may suggest that the photos were staged, or at least that they were the product of orders from military intelligence officers.

I went to go see "Troy" this afternoon (it is drivel, and not worth bothering with, for anyone who is considering seeing the film) and had about an hour to kill prior to the movie. So I took my WSJ with me and grabbed a bite to eat at a local Irish Pub.

Anyway, the front page of the WSJ features a story about Army Specialist Charles Graner Jr., who claims that the actions of him and his fellow guards were the result of orders from a commanding officer. The article features a photo taken "from a covert position" that portrays a birds’ eye view of the guards humiliating the prisoners.

This is not to say that I buy John’s theory, but if there is any truth to Spc. Graner’s claim, things will get a whole lot worse for the Administration.

Reading the WSJ at an Irish pub after goofing on a Brad Pitt movie? Damn, Starbuck, you might not be such a bad guy after all....

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