The people on the ground believed for some strange reason that their authorization to torture came straight from Rumsfeld and maybe even the White House. What on earth could have given them such a strange idea? See the Washington Post and the New York Times.
The new documents include several incidents of threatened executions of teenage and adult Iraqi detainees
Smart pundits are now predicting that Rumsfeld is being kept around to take the fall in six to twelve months for both the torture and the failure of the Iraq war. Meanwhile, even relatively mainstream inside-the-beltway types such as Matthew Yglesias now view the prospect of a war crimes prosecution with weary equanimity:
Laura Rozen looks at the latest developments on the torture front and remarks that it “is not1 at all inconceivable that some day not too many years off Rumsfeld and Bush will face arrest if they travel abroad for command responsibility for war crimes, like Pinochet.” Indeed, not only is it conceivable, I think in some ways it has to be regarded as expected at this point. I only hope the good judges of the rest of the democratic world recognize that it would be counterproductive to hand down indictments before this crew has left office, as such action would only inflame the embers of brain-dead nationalism that have done so much to get them re-elected.
The really interesting thing about the spate of stories we've seen over the past two weeks isn't so much that widespread torture was taking place (we knew that already) but that large swathes of the security and intelligence establishment issued various protests. It's testament both to the basic integrity of most of America's security professionals and to the utter moral depravity of the people in the Bush-Gonzalez-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Feith-Cambone chain that this happened. In a decent world, Al Gonzalez would face some rough questions about all this at his confirmation hearings, but I don't think we live in that world.
This tired acceptance, this learned helplessness, in the face of wrist slaps for the unlucky grunts (much more than a few bad apples—we're talking pattern and practice here) and non-investigations of the guilty is itself tragic.
“What the documents show so far was that the abuse was widespread and systemic, that it was the result of decisions taken by high-ranking officials, and that the abuse took place within a culture of secrecy and neglect,” [ACLU lawyer Amrit] Singh said.
Much as it pains me, the failure of all three branches of our government to deal with this in a timely way seems like the strongest argument yet for the International Criminal Court—clearly even our domestic checks and balances are not up to the task. The military's internal nonjudicial punishments meted out for, say, graphically threating to kill detainees, are vastly insufficient for what are clear war crimes.