Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Things fall apart?

Very late last night, around 3 a.m., as I was preparing to take Becky to the airport for the first leg of her flight to South Dakota, I was able to watch a few minutes of Rumsfeld testimony and pay attention to how it was being reported. This

Washington Post story (substance aside, I like the way it is written) reflects the general mood: Rumsfeld is apologetic, and on the defense; he looks tired and haggard, maybe even aged (he is 71, by the way); he is no longer certain of himself. Finally, his detractors assert he begins to doubt himself. His time has come. He must resign. Some tried to argue--before 9/11--that he would be the first cabinet officer to wash out, then even his enemies admitted that he was brilliant in Afghanistan, then came Iraq and a few months after the brilliant campaign, he was fair game again. More problems in Iraq showed up than he may have expected or planned on, and he was once again the bad guy. The neo-con conspiracy stuff is not irrelevant in this; much internal DOD arguments becoming public; many personal animosities coming into play. And then the elite media was in a permanent attack mode. Then this Abu Ghraib fiasco. We have humiliated the Iraqis, it is said. Worse then torture. A good time to get rid of Rumsfeld, if not Bush. Now we are a shellsocked hegemon, says David Brooks. Everything we are attempting to do in Iraq and elsewhere is at stake. Maybe. Probably not. Rumsfeld most certainly should not go. If you think that you should support John Kerry for president, and then you’ll get a real Secretary of Defense, so you think.

As I have said, I don’t like what happened at this prison. Bad show, to humiliate the soldiers of Saddam Hussein. I agree. Yet, this wasn’t even a Mai Lai, never mind dropping a couple of nukes on Japan, or firebombing Dresden. So let’s not get carried away by all this. Political men have political enemies, and enemies try to take advantage of opportunities; they always push and shove, on all fronts, and sometimes the pushing penetrates. Yet, this Washington Post-ABC News poll find that 69% of Americans don’t want Rumsfeld to resign. I side with the common sense of the American people. We are in a war, and certain things follow. Get petty and silly and stupid some other time, will you? Why should I now start listening to the great moralist Senator Kennedy, as always full of passionate intensity, (or that moron from Minnesota, Mark Dayton)? I will not. Here is the transcript of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing of yesterday. On the one hand the American people don’t like what happened at the prison (and some argue that we should have blown the prison up as soon as we went in; maybe, but you should have argued it at the time), on the other hand they understand that what we are doing in that part of the world is too important to be affected by an isolated incident. After all, we don’t humiliate (or torture) as a matter of policy. But what about the opinion of the Iraqis, or Muslims more generally? Well, that’s interesting, and I have said from the beginning that this incident(s) could have broad unfavorable strategic consequences, and most certainly will be useful as propaganda for our enemies. And yet, I saw an Iraqi being interviewed (he claimed to be in one of the infamous photographs) and he said this: I am so deeply humiliated by how I was treated that I cannot continue to live in Iraq, so I will have to go to America. I have nothing else to say for now save this: Let the best of us have conviction, hold the center, do not let mere anarchy loose upon the world, and things will not fall apart. A great speech from the President within the next few days would be helpful toward this purpose.

Discussions - 18 Comments

"An isolated incident"? I suppose it depends on your definitions of these key terms, Peter. I don’t think that the ICRC report allows anyone to make that claim any more, at least in that stark a formulation.

And I’m really wondering whether it is accurate to describe what happened there as "humiliating the soldiers of Saddam Hussein." That assumes that all the men, women and children who were abused at the prison were, in fact, soldiers. If people can be so brutal and stupid to engage in these kinds of acts of torture, isn’t it a bit much to assume that they are smart enough to only inflict it on people who are "soldiers"?

It wasn’t Hiroshima or Dresden. Fine, and thank God for that. It wasn’t mass murder, either. I sure would hope not. But what was it? It’s beginning to look like it was a systematic pattern of abusive techniques of "softening up" detainees. I suppose that in the end the facts should speak for themselves, though, and if the facts mitigate against such a conclusion, I hope that they come to light soon.

But for conservatives in particular, I don’t see why it should be hard to imagine that the combination of unchecked power and bureaucratic organization could produce more than a mere "isolated incident" of abusive detention practices.

Thankyou Peter. It’s always nice to see conservatives showing their true colors!

This is about the third time this week that I’ve seen a Conservative try to justify the shameful behavior of our soldiers by trying to compare these WAR CRIMES with justified ACTS OF WAR like the bombing of Hiroshima. It speaks volumes about the Conservative movement in this country.

Interesting mix. The panic and hysteria in many quarters is almost familiar by now, though that among some pro-war folks is a little surprising. Kristol/Kagan toss in their dubious pundits’ idea-of-the-week (accelerate elections). No dumber than their last one (more troops! more troops!), but more obviously so.

The "all is lost" stampede would be much more interesting if set against actual, real-world events these days in Fallujah and Najaf, and other places in Iraq. Toss in reaction inside Iraq, almost the only place it matters, instead of in Casablanca and Karachi and Paris.

I’m with Starbuck on Hiroshima -- it’s really unseemly to not only swallow make-believe diplomatic and intelligence history, but also openly regret acts that saved millions of lives, most of them Japanese. If one is going to make an historically illiterate and offensive analogy, at least use the March 8 Tokyo raid, even more vulnerable to cheap-shot criticism as it wasn’t so closely and directly linked to the surrender.

And how reaction to the prisoner abuse can go much beyond fury at the perps and a deepened resolve to persist in the messy but successful effort baffles me. Ask Marines on the line in Fallujah what they think of this. Case closed.

Conservatives are especially brittle people, particularly in situations where reality upsets their preconceived fantasies. For example, before Peter had any additional information he was claiming that this only involved "a few army guys." And then there was the reference to Charles Krauthammer, who thinks this is all a "huge overreation." I could go on, but all you have to do is read the denials on this blog in the last few days(look at the evil Saddam, not as bad as Hiroshima, etc). Perhaps this will all blow over, since most people have very short attention spans. One thing you can count on though: as long as this is a major news story, the conservatives will be squealing like stuck pigs about the "liberal media" and "beltway blatherations."

I’ve yet to see anyone try to deny or, worse, justify what happened at Abu Ghraib. What I’ve heard over and over, even from Hansen and Krauthammer, is that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice. The only thing that conservatives have been trying to do is to prevent it from undermining support for the overall mission in Iraq, and that means reminding people to keep a sense of proportion.

It does strike me as funny, though, that the really sputtering expressions of outrage (and in practical terms I’m not sure what they’d do differently to handle the situation, aside from fire Rumsfeld, I guess) are coming from people who opposed the war to begin with--and by reasonable extension were willing to tolerate crimes that were far worse.

It does strike me as funny, though, that the really sputtering expressions of outrage are coming from people who opposed the war to begin with--and by reasonable extension were willing to tolerate crimes that were far worse.

Reasonable extension? I think not. Being opposed to the particular solution (i.e. war) that the Bush adminstration chose to remove Saddam from power hardly qualifies his opponents as being pro war crime.

And crimes that are "far worse"? Hmmm, let’s see John. Under Saddam, the Iraqi people suffered humiliation, rape, torture and murder. Under the control of these U.S. guards, the Iraqis suffered humiliation, rape, torture and murder. Yeah, thanks for clearing that up for us John.

I have three comments so I’ll try and be brief.

I can imagine no more idiotic or irresponsible act than discharging your Secretary of Defense and his subordinates in the middle of a war! The individuals suggesting suggesting such an unprecedented act are either doing the work of America’s enemies or are their useful idiots.

Secretary Rumsfeld is directly or indirectly responsible for some 7.5 million uniformed personnel, civilian employees and dependents. If he bears personal responsibility for the actions of a dozen guards, than he is also personally responsible for the enlisted man who reported the actions, the officers who took immediate and decisive action and the senior staff who are effectively addressing the issue military-wide. On balance, I think the score is very much in his favor.

Finally, I’ve been reviewing the Iraqi comments on these events. My sense is they are disapproving, but completely confident the American military will take all necessary action to bring the offenders to justice and prevent a recurrence. In fact, most of the outrage appears to be emitting from a single square mile of downtown Washington DC.

The inescapable conclusion is that domestic politics is once more driving a debate on national security. There was a time this politicization of our defense, military and intelligence in pursuit of personal power would have been considered treason. I can’t say that would be an incorrect interpretation.

Again I realize that I am a bit of an intruder on the discourse here -- I was only mildly in favor of the war and suspicious about this administration’s ability to lead throughout the difficult situation that would inevitably result from an invasion. That said, though, I think that it is odd to:

1) call the critics of Rumsfeld "treasonous" (remember, treason is punishable by death; and the politicization is by no means merely the preserve of Rumsfeld’s critics)

or 2) confuse a "sense of proportion" with belittling the events (sorry, John, but have you heard Rush Limbaugh and the folks at Fox News on this? Is comparing these events to "fraternity pranks," or arguing that this was a planned method of humiliation to anger islamists, really encouraging a sense of proportion? How influential is Krauthammer, say, compared to Limbaugh?)

Pranks? Atrocities?

No: abuses. A prank is making a frosh wear a bra for a hat inside the frat house. An atrocity is putting someone in an Iron Maiden for being a second slow in the one-hundred meter run.

And rightfully not just enlisted in the dock, but officers who wanted not to know, and possibly Intel types, military and civilian, who went beyond the bounds by "requesting" these acts. In re this, while "we weren’t trained" does not cut a lot of ice since MP’s are trained in arrest and incarceration, I will admit they are not well trained in interrogation the way Intel personnel are - specifically where the bounds are.

In response to Mr. Anderson’s comment, I offer the following definitions from Merriam Webster:


1. Appalling or atrocious condition, quality, or behavior; monstrousness.

2. An appalling or atrocious act, situation, or object, especially an act of unusual or illegal cruelty inflicted by an armed force on civilians or prisoners.

Gee, the acts sure do sound like atrocities to me!

By the way, here’s some fresh evidence for those who are so eager to claim that the actions of the prison guards was an "isolated incident."

Red Cross Report Describes Abuse in Iraq

Starbuck, guess I have ask what your overall point is in all of this? Its undeniable that this situation is tragic and the guilty should be severely punished. Things like this are completely unacceptable and morally detestable.

Does this mean we should pull out of Iraq (there may be good reasons for doing so, but this isn’t one of them)? Does this mean we should not have been there in the first place? Does this mean that any war in which an incident like this occurs should not have been fought? What if situations like this happened in WWII? (there are document, though not widespread, cases where allied soliders shot nazi’s who were obviously trying to surrender) Would this mean that FDR was a bad leader?

My point is really quite simple, RD. Our soldiers shouldn’t be humiliating, torturing and murdering Iraqi prisoners. Does you really need more of an explanation than that?

I think we can all agree on that. But so what? I think we could all agree on that prior to the start of the war. This whole situation is horrible and we should attempt in every way to prevent similar things from ever happening again, but all the talk about strikes me as being simply political. It seems like a tool to bash Bush when the real agenda is opposition to the war generally.

I think we can all agree on that.

Uh, except that we HAVEN’T, as evidenced by posts like Peter’s, which - even as they profess supposed outrage and disgust at the events - try to downplay the entire situation.

The fact of the matter is that Bush deserves to take some heat for this mess. He may not have issued the orders to the guards, but this happened on his watch, following a military conflict which he initiated (under false pretenses, no less). And when you factor in the cowboy-esque "We’re Americans, we’ll do what we want" philosophy by which he, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld et al have governed this nation, one should at least question whether these are the right men for the job.

If I hear one more complaint about Dresden, or the Toyko fire bomb raids, or Hirsohima or Nagasaki, I’ll will explode. As Sir Winston said, "He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind." End of story.

As far as this Abu Grahib business, if these "prisoners" were terrorists, guerillas, irregulars, spies, or the like, they have almost no rights under the Geneva conventions, yet none of our glorious media are addressing this important issue. If these prionsers were of such a type, they were lucky they weren’t just summarily executed, which is what should happen to those who are not fighting in uniform with an established fighting force.

After the beheading incident, the time for apologizing is over, in any event.

Thanks Bill, for providing us with the poor, uneducated, white trash perspective.

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