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April 30, 2004

Comments

Edward, once you get to the point that you have to say "Well, it's awful, but it's not as bad as it used to be..."

Well. I mean, really, that does seem to be the only positive thing anyone could say: "Sure, the US occupation is bad: they take prisoners by the thousand and they torture and humiliate them. They target ambulances carrying the wounded victims of their attacks. But at least they're not as bad as Saddam Hussein!"

There isn't anything positive about this story, Edward. Trying to look on the bright side makes Pollyanna look like a ghoul.

Further discussions here and here.

Trying to look on the bright side makes Pollyanna look like a ghoul.

Not sure that's what I was trying to do, Jes. I didn't go looking for a "bright side"; it was right there in the report. I certainly don't need to build a case that this is unacceptable, however.

I don't believe in assigning guilt to the entire US force over there for this, though (as your "Sure, the US occupation is bad: they take prisoners by the thousand and they torture and humiliate them. They target ambulances carrying the wounded victims of their attacks. But at least they're not as bad as Saddam Hussein!" comment seems to).

If those responsible are not brought to justice, believe me, you'll see some outrage from my corner.

I don't believe in assigning guilt to the entire US force over there for this, though

Not to the entire US force, no. I'm acquainted with one Reservist over there myself, and I hate to think what she is going to feel about these stories. A bit like John Kerry, I would imagine.

But to the US occupation as a whole - without assigning guilt to the blameless individuals who went because it was their duty, and who have done their best to carry out orders - yes, I do assign blame.

Bush & Co chose to invade and occupy a country that was no threat to the US. This time last year, that was my main issue with regard to the Iraq war - that the principle behind it was wrong.

A year later: it's evident that Bush & Co aren't even competent imperialists.

Reports suggest that "civilian contractors" (who are, apparently, immune from prosecution) were responsible for supervising the "softening up" process of prisoners, using low-ranking soldiers as their tools. The use of "civilian contractors" in the military was apparently mandated by the fact that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz believed it was preferable to run the occupation of a hostile country cheaply and with as little military manpower as possible. Preferable? It isn't even possible.

I'm sure the army will, now it's not possible to do anything else, run an investigation of that prison. (And of all the other "detention centres" in Iraq?) But who's going to run an investigation of how the occupation was handled from the very top?

CNN reporting this morning that the photographs are causing widespread hatred of the US Occupation to inflame even more. They are running them across the board in the Arab world. And on top of that the rest of the planet is joining them in disgust. There are also reports that a contractor raped a young Arab man at the prison and he is not being charged because there is no jurisdiction over the contractors. Just what we need, mercenaries with no legal boundaries, that will win us so many more hearts and minds. Just another ingredient in the recipe for disaster.

Bush is making Nixon look like a choir-boy.

Bush not to blame? Example:The "disappointment" at the declassified documents yesterday. A tone has been set that extends all the way to Iraq.

Called "means to an end", among other excuses.

Jes, I too opposed invading Iraq, I think you know that. But I see events like this escalating into a withdrawal of our troops before the job is done unless they're brought under control swiftly and sternly. Try as many officers up the food chain as you need to in order to convince the Iraqis we don't support this kind of shit, but stop short of trying to assign blame from the top down for these crimes...when you do that it's harder to disassociate the innocent from the guilty. And I'm concerned with the individual reservists who still have to mingle with the Iraqis here, not Bush and his Administration, just so that's clear.

The civilian contractors should be tried in Hague if they have to be to get justice there and send the appropriate message.

Wondering what this is all about:


Congress pared back Bush's $400 million request for two new prisons to $100 million; so far, only "the initial scope of work" has been approved. The Defense Department did shift $15 million from judicial security to prisons to fund 107 contractors "as trainers and mentors."

And before anyone asks "Where's the outrage from the Right on this?": Here's some.

I stopped reading Tacitus a while ago, but I read through his post and through the comments (38 at time of reading).

As I'd expect of Tac, he was outraged.

As I'd expect, his comments thread included some war supporters who were not outraged.

Crap, I just posted on my own blog that one of the disturbing things about this was the lack of any mention of it by the right-wing bloggers. Tacitus is a lot classier than many of his fellow-travellers.

Canada had to go through something like this when some of our peacekeepers in Somalia caught a teenager stealing from their camp, beat him to death, and posed for photos with him as he was tortured. It's tough for your national self-image when this happens, especially when you think that the only reason it came to light was because of the photos. How many other incidents occur when there are no cameras around?

At some point liberators become occupiers, and then eventually oppressors. Let's hope that the disiplinary actions of the military send a clear message that this crap isn't to be tolerated.

Edward:

I see what you mean (I think): that the first and essential thing, if the US military is not to be utterly disgraced, is for it to set its own house in order - for the soldiers who carried this out, for the officers who let it happen, and for the "civilian contractors" who supervised, to be brought to justice. (If I'm misinterpreting you, I apologise.) I agree, that has to happen, and it has to be seen to happen, and it has to start now. (The fact that apparently these photographs were "sat on" for a couple of weeks because the Pentagon requested a delay in breaking the story, I sincerely hope doesn't mean the Pentagon delayed in reacting to the evidence.)

But, and linking this with Von's post on "Rumsfeld's War, Powell's Occupation" - there also has to be a top-down investigation into the use of "civilian contractors" who can, apparently, commit any crime with impunity - and some evidently do. But this investigation need not be as immediate as the military investigation must be.

Jesurgislac,

Yes, that's my point.

As I noted, I suspect the "civilian contractor" issue will have spotlights shined on it in the coming days. I also predict the Kos "screw them" controversy will be revived in the wake of it.

You may be shocked to find that I agree with you, Jesurgislac, although I find your overgeneralization of what civilian contractors are doing to be...unjustified, to be charitable.

The soldiers and anyone else that was party to this need to be brought to swift justice, not only to send a message to our people, but to reassure Iraq that we really and truly condemn this sort of thing.

Slarti: although I find your overgeneralization of what civilian contractors are doing to be...unjustified, to be charitable.

To be charitable, I'll assume this was an honest misinterpretation.

When I mentioned "civilian contractors" in posts to this thread, I mean specifically those who have committed crimes in Abu Ghraib, and possibly in other "detention centres". I am using "civilian contractors" in inverted commas because I don't want to start an unnecessary argument by calling them mercenaries.

I grant that the majority of "civilian contractors" working for the military in Iraq are, like the majority of US soldiers in Iraq, decent people who didn't set out to commit atrocities.

But a setup where someone can be in a position of power over helpless people, and be completely immune to prosecution or to hierarchical discipline, such as these "civilian contractors" working in Abu Ghraib evidently were, is a fucking dangerous setup, Slarti! I don't think it's an "overgeneralization" to say it's a fuckup waiting to happen!


Slarti, sorry I shouted at you. (!!'d at you, anyway.)

The one exception where I was referring to civilian contractors in general was here "The use of "civilian contractors" in the military was apparently mandated by the fact that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz believed it was preferable to run the occupation of a hostile country cheaply and with as little military manpower as possible."

Otherwise, you may take it that any reference to "civilian contractors" was to those placed in a position of power in US detention centres in Iraq, who then abused that power.

Thanks for the clarification, Jesurgislac. I'm in the odd position of now agreeing with you nearly in entirety.

Having anyone outside a chain of command and outside of fairly frequent military oversight working in Iraq right now is a mistake.

I'd wait for confirmation on the "outside contractors" bit before blowing my stack on this, though. Let's look at that part, again:

Mr. Myers said the accused men, all from an Army Reserve military police unit, had been told to soften up the prisoners by more senior American interrogators, some of whom they believe were intelligence officials and outside contractors.

There are so many different things wrong with the above. First, that they were taking commands from people whose identity they were unsure of. Second, that they were apparently taking orders outside of the chain of command. Third, that if the orders were to physically, sexually, psychologically or otherwise abuse the prisoners, that they followed them at all. I'm sure there's more, but that'll do for starters.

Another right-winger here and here.

Incidentally, although it's entirely trivial, and not a secret to a reader here, either, way to go on politely giving me credit for e-mailing you links on this yesterday, by adhering to the usual "via" convention in the text of your post above.

Gary, you're right.

It was an oversight due to timing (having read your very kind head's up at the end of yesterday before leaving the office and having posted this entry this morning, after having discussed it at length over dinner with several folks). Dashing into a meeting right now, but will correct the matter on my return.

Cheers,
Ed

Oh, by the way, can I call 'em or can I call 'em?

My prediction: I also predict the Kos "screw them" controversy will be revived in the wake of it.

And shortly thereafter:

Common tactics to common kinds

"...incomparable...."

Better. You may now touch the hem of my cloak, peon.

"Posted by: Gary Farber at April 30, 2004 08:43 PM"

Really. Am I posting from mid-Atlantic, then? (It's 2:43 MT, 4:43 EST.)

According to Amnesty International, this is not an isolated incident. "Amnesty International has received frequent reports of torture or other ill-treatment by Coalition Forces during the past year. Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention. Many have told Amnesty International that they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated by the authorities."

"I'm sure the army will, now it's not possible to do anything else, run an investigation of that prison."

Jes, I think that you've got this one precisely backwards, actually. The investigation has been going on for some time; we were first made aware of it when the Army itself announced that arrests were made in March. The pictures surfaced in reaction to journalists trying to track down why the arrests took place - at least, that's how it read to me.

Now we see how the Army handles this. Let's just toss aside the usual fig leaf of 'should this be true' - we're all adults here and probably nobody reading this is going to have an official say in the eventual court martials - anyway, the people who directly did this garbage (by action or by deliberately looking the other way) should go to Leavenworth and the people that just 'let it happen' should have their careers wrecked, the louder the better. Sometimes lessons have to be unsubtle in order to sink in properly.

Moe

Jes, I think that you've got this one precisely backwards, actually.

Actually, no.

Yes, I'd got it backwards about when the investigation started - I hadn't, at the time I made the comment, read all the information now available. Apparently it started in January, though from the evidence of the soldier who came forward with the photographs, he'd been trying to attract someone's attention to what was going on almost since he got there.

But this isn't an isolated incident. Abu Ghraib is just one detention center in Iraq where someone has come forward with photographs. Good if that gets cleaned out as a result: but (for once Slarti and I seem to be wholly in agreement) the issue of "civilian contractors" not subject to military discipline being allowed to work in military detention centers is asking for something like this to happen. Have all the "civilian contractors" been removed from whatever positions they held at all detention centers? Is the military investigation looking into how all these detention centers are run? Two men were killed at Bagram Airbase, another "detention center", well over a year ago: and there has been no report that the military has set its house in order there.

"Amnesty International is calling for investigations into alleged abuses by Coalition Forces to be conducted by a body that is competent, impartial and independent, and seen to be so, and that any findings of such investigations be made public." I agree.

Jes is right. Tom Shanker said so.

Oh, and it doesn't look like it's a US-only thing. Daily Mirror, of course - massively opposed to the war from before the start, and a tabloid, but wouldn't be at all surprised. Various other emotions, yes.

More accurately, Tom Shanker said much the same but in far greater detail. Thanks for the headsup..

"Yes, I'd got it backwards about when the investigation started"

That's pretty much what I meant; I just wanted it to be clear about the chronology. This mess will need to be investigated across the board, of course. We'll have to see what happens next.

Moe

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