Saturday, May 1, 2004

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Torture in Iraq

Pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners have now been broadcast by the Arab media. This follows up the documentation of such abuse at Abu Ghraib, as cataloged by the U.S. Army and reported in The New Yorker. The report found several instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. The acts include:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

British troops are facing similar allegations. Both Tony Blair and George W. Bush have expressed "disgust" at the acts.

The Associated Press reports on the anger in the Arab world:

Egypt's Akhbar el-Yom newspaper splashed photographs of the U.S. soldiers posing by naked, hooded inmates on page one with the banner headline "The Scandal." Al-Wafd, an opposition paper, displayed similar photos beneath the headline, "The Shame!"....

"Shame on America. How can they convince us now that it is the bastion of democracy, freedoms and human rights? Why do we blame our dictators then?" asked Mustafa Saad, who was reading morning papers in a downtown Cairo cafe.

Mohammed Hassan Taha, an editor at Nile Sports News Television, said Arabs should not allow the matter to pass quietly. "This is not humiliation of Iraqis, it is humiliation of all Arabs," Taha said while buying Akhbar el-Yom at a newsstand.

No question, these reports are a stain on America's image to the world. I share the disgust and revulsion that Glenn Reynolds and Jonah Goldberg have expressed on this issue.

Here's the thing, though -- I feel a similar involuntary revulsion at reading press reports on the reaction of "the Arab street" to these pictures. Does anyone think that any of the Arabs interviewed for this story displayed even the slightest hint of rage or shame at the Arabs who burned four American civilian contractors in Fallujah in March?

I'm not even remotely suggesting that this redeems anything done by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib. And tactically, this will obviously inflame Arab resentments. But spare me the righteous indignation of the Arab street.

UPDATE: Lots of interesting reactions to this post. I take Andrew Lazarus' point that Muslim clerics in Fallujah did in fact condemn the desecration of the American corpses -- whether that sentiment was widespread across the Arab street remains unclear.

This commenter correctly points out what I had tried to say in the post: "[T]his is not moral tit for tat. This a grave political setback." However, I think MD got what I was trying to say:

how is pointing out hypocrisy the same as excusing a crime? The post says nothing about 'tit for tat.' It speaks to a hypocrisy that would condemn the barbaric treatment of Iraqi prisoners in this instance but stay silent in the face of human rights abuses committed by non-Americans.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias, Brad DeLong, and especially PaulB in the comments raise some trenchant and valid objections to the tone/content of my post (though Brad is stretching my position by more than a little bit -- Tacitus explains the distinction I was trying to raise better than I).

This may have been one of those times in which I let my "mild nationalism" (as Matt put it) get the better of me and, as a result, compose a post with too much truculence and too little penitence in it.

So, let's close this with a clear statement -- the actions at Abu Ghraib were inexcusable and despicable acts that are repugnant in and of themselves. They needlessly inflame an already inflamed Arab street, and knock us down a peg in the eyes of other countries and their citizens.

posted by Dan on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM


Does anybody have any ideas about possible responses from the US and UK about this. These revelations are pretty horrific and I don't see how they could have come at a worse time. The fact that in the US case, it took place in one of the same prisons Saddam used to torture prisoners can only make things worse.

As for responses, I'm leaning towards a fast public trial for those responsible. Making sure that it gets major coverage in Iraq and the rest of the ME. Make it absolutely clear that we don't let people get away with this, no matter who they are. Then get a group of local Iraqi contractors to blow up the prison and make sure that happens publicly too.

posted by: sam on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

It should be said that the overall number of casualties both military and civilian on a per capita basis is still extraordinarily low compared to past wars, and that the level of conduct afforded is still better than the tone of such incidents as Mai Lai.

However, the truth is that standards have changed and quoting and comparing to past wars will not be sufficient to quell outrage. We don't accept mortality figures, cancer treatment standards, or racist attitudes of past eras - so it doesn't follow that we are necessarily bound by similar military expectations such as depths of US military behavior in the US-Amerindian territorial wars of expansion.

In a military sense, this event is insignificant. In a PR sense, it's disasterous. The Iraqi public was already near a tipping point insofar as supporting American involvement. This outrage while limited in scope, need not have any rational proportion to the actual public outcry even as the downing of a single contingent of Black Hawks over Somalia had a disproportionate PR impact under Clinton. Later under Clinton it was escaping news and footage over what amounted to rape camps for white women in former Yugoslavia that politically forced action over the objections such as those as the reticent Powell.

We just have to accept that despite the fact that it's not reasonable or fair, the appearance of impropriety on the part of the US military has been created in Iraqi eyes and the grossly unfair connection between Saddam's truly sadistic regime and our own much more benign administration has been in Iraqi minds been drawn if not cemented yet.

Those who live by PR will die by PR, and this has been a stage-managed PR war through and through beginning and now seemingly approaching its end(?).

posted by: Oldman on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Point well taken, Dan, but at least the Fallujah mobs never pretended to be liberating the gangs of mercenaries.

Now that I think of it, there was condemnation from Iraqis: not about the deaths of the mercenaries, whom I suppose were some sort of legitimate target to the extent guerrilla warfare is legitimizable, but about the desecration of the corpses.

posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

The Christian (and Jewish) Crusader Army has ZERO credibility now. I won't apologize for the murderers in Fallujah, but we can all see now what they were REACTING to.

The "End to Evil" must start at home.

posted by: comenius on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Corpses don't have feelings.

posted by: Jon H on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Now that we have "rape rooms", maybe we should look out for importations into Iraq of giant human-sized shredders.

posted by: Rich Puchalsky on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

That is a disgusting question, Dan, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

First, as Lazarus pointed out and graciously provided you a link so that you could educate yourself, there WAS condemnation for the desecration of the bodies of the American mercenaries civilian contractors in Fallujah.

But as far as I'm am concerned, you have just lost all of the respect I had for you as a reasonable, thinking person with whom I just happened to disagree sometimes.

Now I see you for what you are -- one of those people who can rationalize genuine war crimes perpetrated by Americans, because "look what 'they' did..." and "'they' didn't condemn..."

Every human being in the world should feel indignation, and every American should feel shame that this was done by 'our guys'. WE should be screaming for the heads of every person involved in this outrage, as loud or louder than anyone in the Arab street.

I am disgusted.

posted by: ducktape on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]


I must agree with the above commenter, to some extent. There was outcry over the desecration of bodies in Fallujah, from Arab-Americans, from "the Arab Street", from Fallujah residents, from Governing Council members, and most notably, from Fallujah clerics.

But that is still besides the point. Even if there were no outcry over Fallujah, it doesn't delegitimize outcry over abuses by US and British soldiers.

Introspection and self-criticism are necessary qualities of liberal democracies, but we cannot expect to find them amongst oppressed people, like Iraqis. Part of democratizing Iraq (and the Arab world in general) involves fostering their ability to self-criticize; but they can't be expected to be able to do this currently--if they could, they would have overthrown their dictators themselves.

In any case, if true, the abuses by the US and British soldiers are entirely inexcusable, regardless of the reaction of the Arab Street. There is no "yes, but" sentence in this story.

posted by: Arthur Guray on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Both events were inexcusable and inhumane, and those responsible should be punished. But there is far more for the "arab street" to be outraged about when George W Bush continues to tell the world on a near-daily basis that "free societies are peaceful societies" while troops he commands are beating Iraqis with chairs and broomsticks in some windowless room. Miserable. Failure.

posted by: bumpkin on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

First off, the reason this is a story is because its the exception, not the rule. The people responsible and the ones responsible for them are going to pay a stiff price for this.
They should. Watch, in the next few months, stories in the media will start popping up about the soldiers involved, how they are such good people from small towns, and here are pictures of their families. The gist of the stories will be that it is mean old Uncle Sams fault for putting them in that situation, certainly not the poor old kids from Billings Montana and Peoria Illinois. Basically it will be an attack on Bush for putting them in Iraq.
BS. These are grown adults. They are given the responsibility to carry the deadliest of weapons, and to represent the US military. They knew _exactly_ what they were doing was wrong, how could anyone not know? We have to speak out against the coming call for leniency and 'understanding'. Americans are going to die because of this videotape. Without question. Those soldiers have caused the future deaths of their fellow soldiers. For that they deserve the stiffest penalties the army can arrange. 50 years breaking rocks would be fine by me. Even if they do have families and puppies and all that other crap that will be on 20/20 with a month. Watch for it.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

First off, the reason this is a story is because its the exception, not the rule

Wrong. This is a story because there are pictures.

posted by: BP on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Mark Buehner - Its already started, one soldier's father is quoted in a CNN report as saying his son is the "perfect son," and will fight to the end "to prove" that.

Understandable I guess, but to be honest I think he is better served by a little silence on Dads part til everyone knows the facts.

Dads comments are also a window into why this soldier was apparently involved. His son is Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick who blamed the Army "for not training its troops properly in how to treat prisoners."

I submit Dad should accept some blame for not teaching his son common human decency and appropriate behavior in a civilized society.

I also suspect we will see more "perfect sons" and "perfect daughters" in the next few days, all with the same blame shifting attributes.

As a former military member (US Navy ret) I am just as horrified by the actual acts as I am of people that would attempt to blame others, as if the Army is responsible for morals and attitudes ingrained by someones life long association with thier parents. Thats clearly and obviously bullshit. On the other hand if its found that the Army has allowed this by neglect or purpose those involved should face justice. Also lets be clear, each individul in the US Military has the legal and moral responsibility to refuse any illegal order issued by the military commanders.

As for the comment by "bumpkin," by inserting the phrase "Miserable Failure" at the end of your comment only unmasks you as someone that will use this for political gain or as a club over the head of the administration. When someone proves this is something other than an isolated incident done by a few deviants, as opposed to "from the top down" accecptence of such by the likes of, Saddam, Hamas, or Arafat and many others, I'll accept your "Miserable failure" line. I won't hold my breath waiting, and I'm sure you won't either. Untill it happens shut up with your attempted political hack job

posted by: Marc on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

That's right, Lefties - come on down! You finally got an issue that you can blame on...

Oh, wait - Nobody supports this, we are all... well..

...we're not all horrified. Some here pretend to be, but I'm not - as this is one possible dark -side of human nature.

...We're not all saddened. I am, but the lot of you up above, save Mark, seem to be over-joyed that you finally have some American crimes to thump about.

...and none of us are *all* disallussioned. MArk and I have come to expect and work to isolate this type of behavior, and you all haven't ever been on board the liberation in the first place (exception granted to the OM.

So, um, we are... we are... well, all not in favor of being treated this way. There. How about that?

But, perhaps you lot of lefties could refresh the board about how sick, corrupt and hateful the nation of Canada is - seems they no longer have an Airborne capability for the CF since *their* episode.

But, there you are - none of you know what I'm refering to - nor give a damn, eh?

posted by: Tommy G on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Hey, Squid (g)

Let me guess. You got the story about the same time I did and knew, just knew in your very core that the screamers would be out, in force, spinning this thing, huh? And knew that you better get in there.

Good for you, great post - wish it had been on screen when I came on - only reason you're omitted from my post.

Sub, Surf or flyboy?

posted by: Tommy G on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Good job Dan, the racist in you finally comes out! Apparently you forgot that the 4 "civilians" were actually mercenaries -- who have absolutely no rules of engagement. That the desecrations were actually condemed in Fallujah. You apparently also forgot that the Arab world thinks there are war crimes going on there -- you might not htink this because you haven't seen pictures of teh 1300 people dead there, many women and children, but they have.

I seriously hope this is an isolated incident, but I wouldn't be so sure. They had the audacity to take PICTURES. Moreoever, the British press has had a steady stream of articles about Brit troops complaining about American tactics (I know, I know, can't trust the pro-war Telegraph, but cut me slack). There are even allegations that some british units were invovled. The reason it wouldn't be surprising if this was more wide-spread is simply that we don't have enough people their to manage the situation. I say Larry Diamond speak the other day, and he basically said that 80% of the militaries MPs are in Iraq, many reserve units w/little experience, etc. etc.

So much for your humanity and your desire to help bring "democracy to Iraq". Such a f'n joke.

posted by: Jor on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Of course, I am outraged, sorrowful, ashamed for our country, pissed at the perpetrators, and frustrated by the stupidity --- along with other feelings.

Now what? I think that is a very important question because we will now see if GWB learned anything at all in his MBA studies, or has absorbed anything about what effective leaders do when faced with an abomination like this.

There is really only kind of response that makes any sense at all --- although I am often disappointed to see how few "leaders" (including executives, government officials, pop culture "stars", etc. seem to get this most obvious of lessons. The one appropriate response is VERY aggressive, in a positive sense of "aggressiveness". It involves openness, action, resolve, and stops at nothing to assure everyone that "this s--t will stop, this problem is being fixed, this lesson has been learned."

Everything needs to be put out on the table, messages need to be heartfelt, those responsible need to be dealt with (publicly, I'm afraid) and a level of confidence needs not only to REbuilt, it needs to be built higher and stronger than it was before. In other words, this is one of those "fork in the road" scenarios where nobody will be neutral. Everyone will be looking carefully at the events of coming weeks to see if "the right things" now happen.

The administration should say everything that a reporter would say, and say it first. The administration should find everything that an independent examination would find and preferably more, and then reveal it and say what measures are being taken. There must be "overkill" on the side of preventing reoccurence --- if that means UN supervised prisons, so be it. Whatever.

Two months from now the American public, and anyone in the world who has even the slightest open mind, must be ready to conclude, "They screwed up big time, but they reacted big time also --- and they (the US) are obviously willing to 'walk the talk'.

This is one time that PR (in the best sense of the word) needs to go into overdrive. Not to spin or cover up, but to report everything of substance and to emphasize the "rightness" of actions taken in the aftermath.

For examples, you can look to what happens when a batch of bad product hits the marketplace, and a CEO swings into action to tell the world what happened, why, what's being done, and regain the confidence of the market. Right now, we have some very bad product out there. It needs to be recalled. The production lines need to be shut down. The production manager and QA manager need to be replaced. And the CEO needs to swallow some pride and go on network TV.

We'll see. It's not the Bush way. But this time, it better be.

posted by: Terry Ott on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

"So much for your humanity and your desire to help bring "democracy to Iraq". Such a f'n joke."

You're right Jor. Things were so much better when Saddam was in power.

posted by: Bill on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Abuse of prisoners by coalition troops and reaction on the Arab street are two different stories.

With respect to those charged with abuse in this revolting incident there is a process by which they may be held accountable. While care must be taken not to allow the process to work so slowly that it appears the accused are being deliberately let off, neither is it acceptable to rush the process forward as some kind of political statement to the Arab world.

Such a statement would have minimal positive impact. The Arab countries are being called on to make radical changes in their political, social and economic lives, in part by President Bush but in larger part by their increasing interaction with the modern world. Many Arabs at all times and most Arabs at least some of the time will look for any excuse to avoid or slow down that change. Anything that tarnishes America's (and to a much lesser extent Britain's) reputation among Arabs for holding to our own principles will be used as such an excuse, and this business with the prisoners does that in spades. A judicial proceeding that looked at all like a show trial would do the same thing.

It would be fair to point, as Dan does, to the Arabs' own inconsistencies; every Arab government does worse to prisoners on a daily basis than the abuse reported in Iraq this week, and Saddam's crimes went on for over a generation with scant criticism and much fawning adulation directed his way from the "Arab street" and most Arab governments. But these inconsistencies are beside the point. They derive from the lower level of development -- or, from the standpoint of compatibility with the modern world, the inferiority -- of Arab culture, the very problem democratizing the Middle East is intended to address. Criticizing them is like faulting a musical novice for not having mastered an instrument. The novice will not learn unless he is taught (there is, to be fair, a good chance in this case that he will not learn anyway) and if he is looking for excuses not to learn we have an obligation to avoid providing them.

As an aside, my impression is that the abuse of prisoners is an exponentially greater story in the Arab countries because much of it was filmed. What purpose could have been served by filming prisoners at all, let alone being placed under duress, is very hard for me to understand. It suggests a command very far from being in control of all its people, something that cannot be only the responsibility of the soldiers charged so far.

posted by: Zathras on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

I've been going through several blogs and I haven't seen (though I may have missed it) any thought that the actions of the mob in Fallujah may have been motivated by stories of torture and human rights abuse. Given that these pictures are authentic and that the number of people in the prison was quite large (with many of them unconnected to the regime), it is highly likely that these stories were floating around. This strong probability puts the barbaric behavior of the crowd at Fallujah (which did not kill the mercenaries, but desecrated the bodies after they had been killed) in a very different light. I think that Juan Cole's comment is something to ponder

What would drive the crowd to this barbaric behavior? It is not that they are pro-Saddam any more, or that they hate "freedom." They are using a theater of the macabre to protest their occupation and humiliation by foreign armies. They were engaging in a role reversal, with the American cadavers in the position of the "helpless" and the "humiliated," and with themselves playing the role of the powerful monster that inscribes its will on these bodies.

Sarcastically pointing out the 'righteous indignation of the Arab street' really is just another way of sticking your fingers in your ear and singing as loud as you can to avoid listening to what someone else is saying.

posted by: liberal japonicus on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Juan Cole can be an insightful guy, but he has a tendency to "go native" particularly when writing about the Iraqi Sunni Arab whom he has studied in less detail than he has the Shiites. By this I mean he is prone to impute to people like the Fallujah Sunnis motives like the ones he imagines he would feel if he were one of them.

Well, he isn't. He also knows enough Iraqi history to know the long history of mutilating the corpses of political enemies in that country -- it is something that has often been done to signify the overthrow of one regime and its replacement by another. Feelings of "humiliation" and "helplessness" don't enter into it, unless you define them as resentment that the dominant position Sunni Arabs had in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with all its opportunities for plundering and oppressing non-Sunni Iraqis, is gone.

posted by: Zathras on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

This is a non-scandal. "War is hell" as General Sherman said. We are fighting a global War on Terror here. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a couple eggs.

We should stop harassing our own soldiers over Geneva Convention rules that the enemy does not even follow.

In my opinion, this is just an overblown scandal concocted by the anti-US European press and the al-Jazeera terrorist media whores in the Middle East.

posted by: mv on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Who was the U.S. military genius who decided to continue using this notorious prison after Saddam's overthrow? The first thing they should have done is shut it down, or turn it into a museum, or a school, or SOMETHING. It just boggles my mind.

posted by: dumbfounded on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

First, Drezner must acknowledge, I think, that his respondents are correct that many Arabs did condemn the desecration of bodies--though not, whatever their private thoughts, the killing.
Second, this is not moral tit for tat. This a grave political setback. We had hoped to bring democracy to Iraq, and this news, following hard on the heels of withdrawal from Falluja even as Sadr continues to hold forth in Najaf, all backgrounded by plummeting support for America among Sunni and Shi'ite Iraqis, signals that if by a miracle democracy does take hold in Iraq, it won't be under American tutelage. Most of our troops will have to depart by early next year. Friedman has already figured this out, others will follow soon.
Mr. Drezner, like most Americans (including this one for most of his life), lacks a certain sense of proportion when his countrymen are killed and humiliated. He should recall that the men most responsible for the violation of the corpses of the four Americans, those who set the mob to work, are among the most evil of evildoers. And yet Americans, who weren't invited to Iraq, have been responsible for the torture and humilation of hundreds of Arab prisoners, and the death, Hersh reports, of at least one. We're supposed to be a lot better than they are, but the comparison is far too close for comfort.
Third, we have at hand here a policy of systematic torture. We know that responsibility for it lies chiefly in the intelligence community, and that even in the army or reserves it rose at least to the rank of colonel. I doubt if the colonels were acting without authorization.
Fourth, so much is already spread on the public record (Hersh in the New Yorker, Sunday's New York Times) that it would seem advisable for the administration to play it straight and not resort to covering up and finding a fall guy. But can it afford to? Just how high does responsibility for these policies rise? Does it reach Washington?

posted by: Bad American on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Dan, I'm just shocked. I expect certain things from Little Green Footballs, or Free Republic, or Glenn Reynonds. But I didn't expect this from you. This moral relevance, the "well, _____ was mean to us, so is it so bad?" undertone. I didn't realize your partisan bias ran that deep.

I oppose much of the way the war was waged but I don't believe most of the soldiers behave this way. They are good people with kind hearts who are trapped in a bad situation. I did not dance with joy at this news. I was saddened to see Americans behave in this manner, behaving not as "liberators", but as oppressors. I was saddened to see how much more danger our troops will be in due to this behavior from a select few.

What saddens me the most is this justification of such malicious acts using the flimsiest possible reasons.

I won't be coming here anymore, and will not make any more comments on the issue or other issues. But just remember Dan, if you ever wonder why people have such a negative opinion of right-wing pundits, and generalize them as all breeding the same poisonous atmosphere, your comments are an excellent example of why that is. You have, intentionally or not, shown that there really is no difference between the quasi-thoughtful conservatives here and the trolls at Freep. Anyone who shrugs off such horror by using such an absurd template is really not worth the time or effort to read. I hope that the Arabs in this country do not have the same reaction you do when they see white soldiers humiliated or tortured. I hope they have that little shred of respect for human decency that no longer exists on this blog.

posted by: James on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

"Juan Cole can be an insightful guy, but he has a tendency to "go native""

I thought that one of the problems with the current policy is the complete inability for those in charge of the big picture to even imagine themselves in Iraqi shoes.

As for it being normal in Iraq to mutilate bodies as an indication of regime replacement, then the incident at Fallujah should be taken even more seriously than simply consigning it to some assorted sociopaths. If you have a citation about corpse mutilation as a Iraqi political tradition, I would appreciate it.

You also fail to address my suggestion (which I admit is just an inference) that the mistreatment of prisoners, which the army investigations that Hersh quote note that this apparently not a one off, recent incident, but a situation that has been building up over time, could have been a factor in the incident. As Hersh notes, "Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib." If, as some have suggested, the pattern of photography was an attempt to blackmail prisoners into being more pliant, it is even more plausible that these sorts of stories were and are part of Iraqi ideas about the US. One of the lawyers for Fredrick points out "Do you really think a group of kids from rural Virginia decided to do this on their own? Decided that the best way to embarrass Arabs and make them talk was to have them walk around nude?"

Add to this the possibility (I am not asserting that this is the case, merely noting that the idea is not a long leap from the evidence that we now have) that private contractors controlled parts of this operation and the possibility that these private contractors had Israeli connections makes your assertion that "Helplessness" and "humiliation" don't enter into it rather difficult to accept.

Hersh notes that the first disciplinary report on abuses in the prison system recommended that two CACI employees be dismissed, though the company claims they have heard nothing from the Army concerning this. This is from CACI's site The ceremony was part of the first annual Defense Aerospace Homeland Security Mission of Peace to Israel and Jordan. -snip- The purpose of the mission was to promote opportunities for strategic partnerships and joint ventures between U.S. and Israeli defense and homeland security companies. Activities included the opportunity for Dr. London and other honorees and participants to travel to Jordan and meet with King Abdullah II. Participants also attended high-level briefings and demonstrations on innovative technologies and their application to homeland security, counter-terrorism, and national defense.

Now imagine if those prisoners have been cycled through the system and have gone back to wherever, and are retelling stories about their treatment to relatives and acquaintances, who in turn pass those stories to others. even if (or perhaps especially if) there is a long history of humiliating and/or mutilating political enemies, it seems to me that we should be 'going native' more often because we've found a role in the narrative that fits us like a glove.

posted by: liberal japonicus on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

But how is pointing out hypocrisy the same as excusing a crime? The post says nothing about 'tit for tat.' It speaks to a hypocrisy that would condemn the barbaric treatment of Iraqi prisoners in this instance but stay silent in the face of human rights abuses committed by non-Americans.

These soldiers should be held accountable and punished. The president is right. Disgusting is exactly the word for it.

posted by: MD on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]


Two points. First, when you were a kid, didn't your father tell you that when you were caught misbehaving, to point to a friend and say, "he's worse!" is unacceptable?

Second, how are the wrongdoers going to be treated? The example of William Calley doesn't inspire much hope. You'll recall that he was sentenced to life at hard labor...then Nixon intervened and he ended up serving 3 1/2 years under house arrest. He is alive and well, and the courageous whistleblower, Ron Ridenhour, died of a heart attack at 52.

More important, when the six torturers are court-martialed, what evidence other than the photos will be used to convict them?

I'm not a lawyer. Am I wrong in assuming that even in a military court, the accused has the right to face his/her accuser openly? That will be a big problem in an Arab country where to admit to being sexually violated would be to literally lose your honor and reputation. (It took us hundreds of years to get past the idea that the victim of a sex crime is at fault.) Do you think that any Arab male, let alone female, is going to show up in a US court and testify? Will mere photographs be enough to convict them?

Also, some of the crimes were committed by civilian contractors. As civilians, they are not under the jurisdiction of the military. How will they be treated? Who will charge them?

posted by: Diana on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Robert Kagan in today's WaPo:

"All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now. Consider Fallujah: One week they're setting deadlines and threatening offensives; the next week they're pulling back. The latest plan, naming one of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard generals to lead the pacification of the city, is the kind of bizarre idea that only desperate people can conjure. The Bush administration is evidently in a panic, and this panic is being conveyed to the American people."

posted by: comenius on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

"But spare me the righteous indignation of the Arab street."

In a purely practical sense this news cripples our effort to gain support in Iraq or anywhere in Muslim world. It also destroys one of the last remaining justifications of the war itself -- that we went there to liberate the Iraqis. Liberators don't do that kind of thing.

It seems to me that one of the things we want most to avoid is going to war against every Muslim on the face of the earth (there's a billion of them). But seemingly a big proportion of the most enthusiastic war supporters want exactly that. Isn't that bone stupid militarily and probably evidence of personal pathology? Most of the anti-war people I know or know of are genuinely anguished about this war, whereas a lot of the pro-war people seem to be using it as a fun opportunity to gloat and vent, sort of like a state-of-the-art video game.

posted by: Zizka on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Dan, Matthew Yglesias has responded in part to this post. I think he has good things to say.

mv, General Sherman is a notorious genocidal maniac who happens to be viewed as a war hero by people who believe in American mythology (and who are most likely, uninformed of American history). Read up, and quote him with caution concerning the virtues of war.

posted by: Upp on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

But how is pointing out hypocrisy the same as excusing a crime?

It ain't, but this sort of nuance was nowhere to be found either on september 12, 2001, or in the many heated "discussions" prior to the invasion of Iraq.

posted by: BP on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Drezner is comparing apples to oranges, too, which makes this rant even dumber. There is no equivalence between the actions of a mob and the actions of members of the U.S. military intelligence, the U.S. military, and U.S. civilian contractors. And there is no equivalence between an outrage that took place in one heated afternoon and a whole series of outrages that appear to have taken place for nearly a year.

Moreover, the reaction of "the Arab street" is precisely the point, in that that reaction has a great deal to do with our chances of success in Iraq and in the overall "war on terror." Perception matters and it is foolish to pretend that it does not.

This was just dumb.

posted by: PaulB on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]


I'm not sure how I gain anything from this scandal politically, since it only weakens my country's position in Iraq. The war on teror is as much a PR effort as a military one, and the PR effort has been horribly mismanaged from day one. Don't believe me? Just ask the "arab street" why we're there. I bet the answer you get won't include the words "liberate" or "freedom."

This election boils down to a referendum on the President's handling of the war on terror, which in my opinion has been decidedly poor. So the term miserable failure seems quite appropriate from where I sit. No hack job intended, just an honest opinion from a concerned U.S. citizen who would rather see this war handled in a competent manner, both militarily and diplomatically. I wish Bush were doing that, but he's not.

posted by: bumpkin on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Two questions: One, has anyone confirmed that the photos are real and not photo-shop creations?
Two, if they are real, were any prisoners physically injured or just humiliated? I have a hard time working up a lot of sympathy if just the latter although there is an admitted PR problem.

posted by: DBL on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Dear DBL,

The President himself has acknowledged on TV that this has happened and that the people involved will be punished. The army has been aware of the allegations for some time, and has not chosen to dispute their reality. In fact it has suspended the commander of the prison and several other officers. Furthermore the comments of the people involved do not deny that it happened, they merely argue that they didn't have sufficient training not to visually humiliate in sexual poses prisoners.

That itself speaks volumes that they're not even attempting to deny it happened or that they did it. Think about it.

I think any sort of delusional invocation of faked evidence here is just so much grasping at straws.

Finally, if the people involved felt so free to do this and document it with photographs and since we have reports of other incidents I think that a tenative conclusion pending further investigation is that while these may have been among the worst by no means do they seem to be isolated incidents.

I would argue that it would be wrong to conclude that beatings of Iraqis are standard procedure. However there was probably a permissive attitude that encouraged a significant minority to take their frustrations out on prisoners or indulge in self-satisfying abuse. The rest of the soldiers who did not participate probably could do little if the chain of command itself was turning a blind eye or covertly abetting such behavior.

I would think that anyone hoping that this was an isolated incident is just engaging in hopeful thinking. There probably was a pattern of systematic abuse of certain prisoners at the hands of out-of-control guards.

Even in normal prisons there are cases of abuse from time to time, in extraordinary situations like this we can probably expect that this is a tip of the iceberg phenomena though most of the other crimes don't probably rise to quite this level of egregiousness.

posted by: Oldman on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Here's a thought: we had almost 18 months of experience with Muslim prisoners before the Iraq war began. De facto if not de jure compliance with Geneva Convention provisions were a priority with the military personnel assigned to run the Guantanamo detention facility of prisoners from the Afghan war. This did not appear to preclude interrogation of the prisoners. We also had experience with Iraqi prisoners during and after the Gulf War 13 years ago.

Why was this experience not fully transmitted to the military personnel assigned to Iraqi prisoners? Surely it was obvious that we would be getting many of them. All the other specialties within the military share information and sometimes personnel, but this apparently did not happen here. Why not?

posted by: Zathras on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

and knock us down a peg in the eyes of other countries and their citizens.

Try more like half a dozen pegs and only because most of the world far more familiar with US foreign policy than we are.

posted by: Don Quijote on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Check out this BackToIraq3.0 by Chris Albrighton entry linking to an article about Major General Taguba's internal military report documenting that the abuses were not "isolated incidents".

posted by: Oldman on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

I share Dan's sentiments re the "Arab Street" if by that he means the people in the Arab countries outside of Iraq who see the world through a narrow lens and get worked up about anything the US does, even when it's done for the right reasons and with pretty good results. The episode of the prison photos has handed them a gift that's as delightful as it is unexpected. The people who benefit from the reactions of the "Arab Street," like Arab media or radical clerics, will milk the photos for all they are worth and then some.They see no contradiction or hypocrisy between condemning the US for the actions of the guards and rationalizing the behavior of the people in Fallujah who mutilated the four Americans.

We must make a sharp distinction, however, when it comes to the Iraqi people. Each of them has the right to be horrified, revolted and outraged, whether or not they condemned the mutilations, without the accusation of hypocrisy. The photos are a graphic case of the US's failure to fulfill its fiduciary duty to the Iraqis. As leader of the forces that overthrew their government we're a sort of trustee in locus parentis for their interests, both legally and morally. Whether the the problems in Abu Ghuraib were an isolated situation or part of a much more disturbing pattern of abuse, in this case the US clearly failed its duty to Iraq.

I don't think Juan Cole has "gone native" or is overplaying the profound impact the photos are likely to have on the options the US has in Iraq. I expect the photos to be the psychological tipping point for the Iraqis. As the poll of Iraqis released last week showed clearly, the US presence has become a resented occupation for a sizeable majority of Iraqi Arabs, even those who were enthusiastic about Iraq's liberation. And that poll was taken almost a month ago. Anti-American sentiment must be much more widespread and intense today.

The balance of this excessively long post covers two areas: why are the photos likely to be a key event in defining the future of the US in Iraq; and assuming they have a potential to produce extensive damage to the US position, what should the US (Bush Admin) do.

For starters, we need to ask ourselves what it means to be viewed as an occupying force. First and foremost, it means that Iraqis no longer believe the US is there as a source of protection and assistance. For the majority who perceive themselves as occupied, therefore, the US has failed to perform its responsibilities to Iraq in the broad sense. Being viewed as an occupier also means our actions have ceased to have legitimacy, even though we control the only institutions that have formal authority.

It would be a grave error to try to play down the the prisoner photos as an isolated incident, or dismiss the Iraqis' revulsion as an overreaction stirred up by propoganda. The photos have to be placed in the context of the past month of violence and chaos, especially the fighting in Fallujah. The intensity of reaction by ordinary Iraqis against the US and the fighting in Fallujah has been more than simple empathy with the plight of innocent civilians. The situation has demonstrated how powerless Iraqis are to affect the US's decisions or actions. They can't even figure out who is making the decisions, and on the basis of what information. Nor has the US's objectives in Fallujah been explicable to the Iraqis,. If the US did not intend to inflict collective punishment on the city for not surrendering those who mutilated the four Americans, what were they trying to accomplish by using a level of violence that was so disproportionate to the puny weapons of the Iraqis who were fighting the Marines. (Of course, little do most Iraqis imagine that many Americans have been equally mystified about who has been making decisions, on what basis, and for what objectives.)

Fallujah also undermined the US position because it completed the emasculation of the IGC, the only representatives officially recognized by the Americans. Fallujah showed that the Iraqis have no way to compel the US to even consult with them before critical decisions are made -- decisions that are literally a matter of life and death and that will echo for years if not decades to come in a future Iraq. Imagine how helpless and outraged Americans would feel if we were in such a position.

The humiliation, degradation and helplessness of the prisoners in the photos resonates with most Iraqi Arabs who feel powerless vis a vis the Americans. This is a feature of any occupation, no matter how enlightened it may be. The occupied may have wonderful friends among the occupiers. The occupiers may have brought assistance and help that are deeply appreciated. But it doesn't change the structural relation of occupation that produces at best an ambivalence among both occupiers and occupied.

Let me stress as well that in no way am I equating the behavior of the US towards Iraq in general with the appallingly inhumane treatment inflicted by the guards on the prisoners. But in both cases there is an extreme structural imbalance of power in the relations between the Americans and the Iraqis, Like the guards,the occupier is constrained from abusive behavior only by its conscience and its own self interests, such as avoiding condemnation by the rest of the world for indecency and inhumanity.

Even further exacerbating the revulsion of the Iraqis to the prison photos is the location where the abuse was inflicted. This is the very place where Iraqi guards abused, tortured and killed prisoners at the bidding of Saddam. For an Iraqi today who had come to loathe and fear that prison as a symbol of Sadam's tyrrany, it might be hard not to see the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by their American guards as an ugly symbol of the US occupaton.

If we anticipate that the revulsion of the Iraqi public has passed some point of no return, how should the US proceed?

Tom Friedman predicted a week ago that the US would be out of Iraq within a year, the only question being whether we fought our way out, we were kicked out by an interim government quickly, or we left after elections and time enough for an Iraqi security force to be reasonably capable. The prisoner photos simply improve the odds that his prediction will come to pass. It's up to the Bush Admin by its words and deeds to influence the terms of the US departure and to minimize the damage to the US and Iraq.

Bush should use the prison photos as an opportunity to prepare the American public for a change in the US relations with Iraq after June 30. His own administration hasn't yet grasped that it won't be Bush agonizing over a weekend at Camp David whether to launch an assault on a city. Although the legal and operational details will be almost impossibly complicated to work out by June 30, he's got to get the Pentagon and State to understand they've got to get a deal done with the Iraqis before June 30, and it better not be subject to hijacking by the French. His Admin must also understand that after June 30 the US must be seen to be assisting the Iraqis, not calling the shots, and to defer to policies of the new Iraqi government. Anything else would be completely self-defeating for the US.

Bush is going to have to address publicly the changing role of the US sooner or later, and if I were a campaign adviser I would advocate sooner. The withdrawal from Fallujah and the publication of the photos has left an enraged Iraqi public and a puzzled and conflicted American public. If for no other reason than presidential politics, he will have to immunize himself politically from future developments that may be taken as bad news (or even betrayal) by some of his strongest supporters.

From a domestic standpoint, his top priority is to explain the decisions in Fallujah, both to attack initially and to withdraw and put in place the emergency Iraqi brigade. (Clearly most of the withdrawal news has been kibuki theatre, but it is important symbolically.) There are a lot of supporters of the war who see the Fallujah withdrawal as a resounding defeat for the US that may signal the beginning of the end. These folks don't mean that the Marines have been driven off the battlefield. They speak with overtones of the Viet Nam bitterness that the military wasn't left to get the job done but got screwed by the civilians again. Then there are the people who have just been going along with Bush who are going to start asking themselves, why did several hundred Marines get killed or injured?

Bush can't continue to justify the most recent US losses with "it's tough, but Americans will stay the course." The US choices in Fallujah were indeed political, and they can be justified only within the broader policy of our top priorities -- reducing the threats to Iraq's security and handing Iraq back to the Iraqis. This is why a full handover on June 30 is more important than ever. Furthermore, the purpose of the Fallujah fighting, or any of the military operations we undertake and ask our troops to risk their lives for, is to increase the odds that Iraq's future will be free and prosperous. We are not fighting in Iraq to kill enemies of the US in the war on terror who have chosen to use Iraq as their battlefield.

I would also advise Bush that he needs to prepare the American public for several different military scenarios -- we may withdraw a lot of troops quickly after a few months, we may increase the number above their current level if the new Iraqi government needs specific types of support (e.g. extra security in the run up to the January election). Again he needs to immunize himself from attack -- he's not going to "cut and run" and the US will give Iraq the assistance it requests. But he's not going to try to solve the problems of the Middle East, or even Iraq, with US soldiers fighting there for years to come.

The other step I would advise is to apologize to the Iraqi people on television. They've been sorely "dissed," and Bush should acknowledge that with respect. (I know it's totally out of keeping with the character of this Admin, but it's not all that stupid in terms of domestic politics. And strangely enough, Bush is one of the few public figures who has indicated an empathy with Iraqis who resent the occupation.)

Bush would acknowledge that, in the case of the prisoners, the US failed to fulfill its moral responsibilities to Iraqis. (Leave the legal liability up to the lawyers.) The people who did these acts, or permitted or encouraged the guards, are responsible not only for the inexcusable mistreatment of the Iraqis left in their charge. These people also betrayed the trust of all Americans, who rely on our troops to represent our most important values. The vast majority do so with honor.

Bush would commit to the Iraqi and American publics that The individuals responsible will be punished, openly, swiftly and surely. Bush would also describe the steps being taken to determine if other Americans engaged in similar abuses, and what the US military is doing to ensure that this sort of behavior will not happen in the future. And he will commit that his government will keep the Iraqi and American people informed on the progress of these steps.

Politically, what does he have to lose? It's true that we can expect most Iraqis to view Bush with profound skepticism, but there were a large number of Iraqis, at least a year ago, rather favorably disposed toward Bush. And an apology would do no harm. As for Americans, he would cut off a lot of the destructive brouhaha about whether Abu Ghuraib is a big deal or not, whether it's systemic, whether Bush should have known, whether the left is on its "blame America first" kick .... This is not a story that helps the Admin when it stays in the news cycle much longer. Not too many of Bush's opponents could object to a recognition of some sort of responsibility to the Iraqi people -- the worst they'll do is call him a hypocrite. And it would be churlish for his supporters to criticize him for being a wimp and giving in to the bleeding hearts.

Such a gesture would serve as a powerful signal to both Iraqis and Americans that Bush intends for the future relation between the US and Iraq to be based on mutual respect and to change signficantly after June 30. That will be a very tall order in practice, but we won't make any progress towards straightening out the mess in which we find ourselves unless the head guy tells the world what the US intends to do.

posted by: nadezhda on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

"I'm not even remotely suggesting that this redeems anything done by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib."

"So, let's close this with a clear statement -- the actions at Abu Ghraib were inexcusable and despicable acts that are repugnant in and of themselves."

Maybe I'm reading the wrong post, but these comments do not suggest to me that that Dan is a "racist" or is indifferent to the atrocities. That's absurd.

Liberals are always complaining that conservatives stifle discussion of the war by calling people "unpatriotic." Apparently its ok for liberals to do that by calling people racists.


But enough with the name calling.

posted by: MWS on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

See how Canada handles a somwhat similar scandal dating from their deployments in Somalia:

posted by: K M O'Reilly on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Coming from the left as I do, I often disagree with Dan's political views (though I also just as often agree with him). I enjoy reading his blog because I want to hear more conservative views expressed intelligently and without acrimony. (This is why I also generally enjoy reading David Brooks.) Sure, Dan let his emotional reaction to recent events get the best of him. (This post made me queasy.) But it's not as if his posts are littered with such comments (I haven't read any others), and one slip does not a (enter your own pejorative adjective here) make. Hell, if I were blogging on a daily basis ..., well, that's not going to happen!

posted by: conlon on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Dan Drezner is right on target in this instance. He perhaps senses that much of the Arab Muslim world perceives itself in a self pitying manner. They are supposedly victims of Western oppression and therefore any outrage they commit may somehow be justified. Also, these people are bigots who believe that Muslims are superior to other human beings. They are enraged when immoral acts are committed against them---but indifferent when the same outrages are inflicted on “infidels.” As I’ve said before, it would be a lot easier to discuss the Arab community if only they commonly had blue eyes and blond hair.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

I hope it's occurred to you that one of the reason's for the preceeding virulent postings is how important it is that those oppossed to this project need you to be wrong about something, anything, so that they may sooth their fractured psyches in an attempt to construct rationalizations about how wrong they have consttantly been about:

1. The right of any nation to conduct wars of self-preservation.
2. Our specific ability to do so adeptly and unencumbered. And,
3. This republic's particular moral authority to conduct wars of liberation.

You were right without all of the updates.

posted by: Tommy G on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Ummm ... TommyG if it was necessary for the self-preservation of this country I would advocate invading Britain and Canada. That only begs the question, that how could any rational person argue that invading Iraq was a paramount issue of self-preservation? Not even the Admin war proponents argued that.

posted by: Oldman on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

I am absolutely horrified that an
American would treat anyone in this
manner. We supposedly went into Iraq
to free the people and have, instead,
assaulted many of the people. This
is not my idea of freedom fighters.

posted by: bob on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Oldman Postmover,

Of course your're wrong, again, on defense. Iraq is only one of three current fronts in the GWOT.

Maybe you should spend your time defining the term "widespread", since you declare that these are not "isolated instances".

posted by: Tommy G on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Please remember that the US chose this war and justified it (last time I looked) by reference to human rights. No amount of huffing, puffing and name-calling can change that.

posted by: ruby on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Dear Sir

In my opinion these pictures will be kept in mind forever and will remain as the biggest ashame of US country. Since every year people from different countries applying for lottrery for green card to have a better life in US. and the ones who were accepted are always proud of being member of USA.

Unfortunately I think no one will be happier with so..

I like to add that i do not suspect the other honorous Americican citisens I just want them to protest and save their country.

Yasar Ali KAMSIZ
Engineer - TURKEY

posted by: YASAR ALI KAMSIZ on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

When one takes the high moral ground as bush has and talk of evil doers,one has to he sqeaky clean.
Our ranks obviously have many "evil doers" as well-it kinda destroys your argument,doesn't it?

posted by: humphrey hollins on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

i grew up with chip fredrick and i know him well i know chip would not let these things go this far and i am sure what he did do were orders from above to soften up the prisoners I SAY BRING HIM HOME AND ASK HIM NOT THE BLOOD THIRSTY MEDIA ASK CHIP HE DOES NOT LIE

posted by: marc knotts on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

Dear Mr Drezner
I have known Chip Frederick for my entire life and he has always been a very nice person he has been in my parents wedding and has been a good friend to my Dad for a very long time. From our point of view he needs brought home and left alone. I also believe that when our soldiers got beheaded they may have violated the Geneva Convention and I'm sure that flying planes into towers and killing thousands of innocent people was violating it also. As for the jerk that says that the frederick family dosent know how to raise a child, since you think your so wonderful why don't you go over there and show them the proper ways to handle 900 prisoners. I am only 17 years old and it seems to my family and others that I have more common sense that other people that post there little democratic ideas on here!

posted by: Craig Mason on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]


posted by: FREE CHIP FREDERICK on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

In regards to some people's comments Like those of DBL, Mark Knotts, Craig Mason and some others you should actually quit speaking about issues you are fully unaware of!

posted by: William Jogner on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

To William Jogner
Ican say I have talked to the family and "CHIP" and for the Masons they have talked to chip on the phone .
So how do you get your info? and we will see who is unaware and who is not.

posted by: marc knotts on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

It's so sad that you so called AMERICANS can't see that the people in the prison in Iraq are not there because they are good people. They are the ones who burned and spit on our men.They are also the ones who killed thousands of our brothers and sisters on 9-11. I say vaporize IRAQ with the big bomb. I am sure that all of these countries will get the idea that AMERICANS will not put up with terroism.One of the reasons we are still at war is we are to fight politicly correct and they fight with no rules I say kill all who stay in IRAQ.

posted by: marc knotts on 05.01.04 at 09:54 AM [permalink]

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