The Administration Treats Torture As the New Normal

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.

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14 Responses to The Administration Treats Torture As the New Normal

  1. fnord says:

    In fact Lawyers Against the War (LAW) did file criminal charges against G. W. Bush when he visited Canada recently, see:

    The case was dismissed as Bush was said to have diplomatic immunity. But he won’t be in office forever. -g

  2. Seth Gordon says:

    Any swing in public support that would make it safe for the Senate to ratify the ICC treaty would also make it safe for the Justice Department to prosecute the higher-level officers responsible for the torture. Obviously, neither of these things will happen so long as Bush is in power.

  3. CalculatedRisk says:

    The Washington Post calls it what it is:

    War Crimes
    Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page A22

    THANKS TO a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups, thousands of pages of government documents released this month have confirmed some of the painful truths about the abuse of foreign detainees by the U.S. military and the CIA — truths the Bush administration implacably has refused to acknowledge. Since the publication of photographs of abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in the spring the administration’s whitewashers — led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low-ranking reservists, that they were limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003, that they were unrelated to the interrogation of prisoners and that no torture occurred at the Guantanamo Bay prison where hundreds of terrorism suspects are held. The new documents establish beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false.


    (please excuse my post on the other thread, I meant to post this here)

  4. Aidan Maconachy says:

    I’m having difficulty constraining my amusement as I read these posts.

    It seems to me the writers exist in some parallel universe, with an oddly skewed vision of reality.

    Tell me if I’m wrong, but this overseas action on the part of the Americans is primarily because Al Qaeda took the war to us. The origins of this go all the way back to the USS Cole and barrack slaughters in the Middle East.

    Instead of responding with bombs – quite aside from responding with torture and/or atrocity – the then counter-terrorism czar Dick Clarke was overrruled when he called for the bombing of terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Despite the almost passive stance of the USA in the face of one hell of a lot of intimidation – Al Qaeda then flew jet liners full of innocent civilians into towers – also full of innocent civilians. Is that torture in your books? It certainly is in mine.

    The use of this tactic signalled that the enemy was prepared to use any and every means – no matter how descipable or unconscienable – to destroy innocent life for political ends. They did it also in Madrid. Not content with these scenes of mass atrocity, operatives among them took to staging the beheadings of contractors of all nationalies on video; videos that were subsequently posted on the world wide web. Go to and download these videos. These are not the acts of fringe lunatics. These are quasi-judicial proceedings followed by a form of execution that is so barbaric it is almost beyond description.

    We are dealing with an enemy that is anti-democratic and violently opposed to the values we have struggled to bring to full flower since the Revolution of 1789 that overthrow the repressive Ancien regime in France. They want to put our women back in sheets and impose archaic law, and will stop at nothing … atrocity, torture, even a nuclear attack on order to achieve these ends. A nuclear attack incidentally that is pending, given the very open and vulnerable organization in our port facilities. It’s not at all inconceivable that N. Korean agents or disgruntled nuclear officials from Eastern Europe, might agree to unload the goods for a price.

    Time is short – and the threat is deadly – and yet there are these people in the West who spend their time tearing out there hair about events in Abhu Ghraib and Guantanamo, as though these events can even be compared with the very real torture used by Saddam’s thugs – or even to the torture techniques being used daily in countries like Syria. There is simply no comparison. You cannot compare noise exposure, enforced wakefulness and nudity, low voltage shocks etc with gauging out the eyes of a child in order to force a confession from the watching parents – a technique employed by the Ba’athist Mukhabarat. You certainly can’t compare the American methods to cutting the head off a civilian contractor and then subjecting the friends and loved ones of that person to the horrendous torture of having this obscenity posted on the world wide web.

    This discussion is frankly absurd in any objective sense. When the enemy uses every tool at it’s disposal, do you expect America to fight a war like saintly boy scouts? This is an absurd proposition. Given the extreme provocation by Islamic militants, I think the American military has and is behaving in a manner that is wholly admirable.

  5. Michael says:

    Seeing as Iraq was not supporting the terrorists who attacked us, indeed as a secular Baathist regime was rather opposed to the islamic fanatics, I find your post sad, not amusing.

  6. Aidan Maconachy says:

    You’re quite simply misinformed. Stop buying the BBC spin and dig a little deeper . The Baa’thists had strong and well documented connections with Al Qaeda. The new interim leader Allawi says they are uncovering evidence every day of these connections. Read “The Connection” by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard; read “The War against America” by Laurie Mylroie; read “The Third Terrorist” by Jayna Davis … for starters.

    Whatever the cultural differences between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the two engaged each other’s support in a common hatred for the United States. Liberal media sources, create the impression you were misled by the Administration – but read the actual reports from the 9-11 Commission and you realize that it is liberal media that is doing the misleading.

  7. CalculatedRisk says:

    The topic of this thread is torture. Did the US authorize torture? Was it systemic? How far up the chain of command was torture authorized? Unfortunately the answers appear to be that torture was authorized, it was systemic and it went to the top (apparently to Rumsfeld, Bush and White House counsel / Attorney General appointee Alberto Gonzales).

    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,” Amrit Singh, ACLU

    The Washington Post has gone so far as alleging a cover-up under the title “War Crimes”. “Since the publication of photographs of abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in the spring the administration’s whitewashers — led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low-ranking reservists, that they were limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003, that they were unrelated to the interrogation of prisoners and that no torture occurred at the Guantanamo Bay prison where hundreds of terrorism suspects are held. The new documents establish beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false.

    Arguing that America’s torture is excusable because it was not as severe as Saddam’s torture is absurd. But that raises the question: What is America? Here was my answer excerpted from a speech I gave in October:

    In the second debate, Mr Bush said: “I think whoever is the president must guard your liberties, must not erode your rights in America.” George W. Bush Oct 8, 2004

    The following week, three women showed up at a Bush rally in Oregon wearing t-shirts that read “Protect Our Civil Liberties.” For Americans this is like saying I like Apple pie and mom. Many other people at the rally were wearing t-shirts, mostly saying Bush-Cheney 2004 and other campaign slogans. About 30 minutes before Bush’s arrival the women were told they had to leave because their t-shirts were obscene.

    “Protect our civil liberties” is obscene?

    Maybe this was an overzealous organizer. But let me tell you a story from the NYTimes last week concerning an American named Esam Hamdi. Hamdi was born in Louisiana to Saudi Arabian parents, so he had dual citizenship. In 2001, at the age of 21, he was studying marketing in Saudi Arabia. That summer he decided to take a year off from school and study religion in Afghanistan. In retrospect, a poorly timed decision.

    After the invasion of Afghanistan, Hamdi was captured by a local warlord and turned over to our forces. Maybe Hamdi is a bad guy, maybe not. But Hamdi is still a US citizen, and yet he was designated an “enemy combatant” by Mr. Bush. He was held in Guantánamo for almost three years without access to his lawyers or to see his family. In effect, his habeas corpus rights were suspended. This is a basic right of all Americans.

    Hamdi was recently released and is now in Saudi Arabia. He was forced to renounce his US citizenship without any charges ever being filed.

    This raises the question: What is America? Is it a geographical location on map? Or is it something more.

    To me, America is that and much more. America is an idea. America is the rule of law and our civil liberties as embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. America is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. America is still Jefferson’s shining beacon on the hill; an example to the World.

    In America, Esam Hamdi’s rights are as important as my own.

    That is my America.”

    Let me conclude (for this post) by saying, that in my America when torture and / or war crimes are alleged, we investigate. And if crimes were committed, we prosecute the perpetrators – even if it is the POTUS. Isn’t that America?

  8. Aidan Maconachy says:

    You appear to hold America to some standard of perfection that is not merely unrealistic, but also utopian.

    During times of war and national threat, it is perfectly legitimate for a nation to modify or suspend civil liberties and take extraordinary measures when dealing with suspects.

    If this was in fact the America of your imagination – it’s enemies would take advantage of its text book idealism to destroy it utterly. In a time of war a country does what it has to do to safeguard its civilians and military personnel, and it isn’t always pretty.

    What is most interesting is your hell bent desire to hold America to standards of that are non-existent in many arab countries. Why not aim your crusade in that direction?

  9. Michael says:

    Anyone who cites Laura Mylroie as an authority rather than a figure of fun loses a great deal of credibility.

    Similarly, vague assertions by US client Allawi , who is obviously scripted by the Bush administration, require substantial skepticism and specific proof. To date their isn’t any. That’s not “BBC spin”. That’s fact.

    If real proof existed of any material pre-war Iraq connection with Al Queada (rather than the sort of vague intelligence contacts every nation has with all sorts of shady groups) the Bush administration would trumpet it. It doesn’t. They don’t.

  10. CalculatedRisk says:

    Sunday NYTimes: Further Detainee Abuse Alleged
    Guantanamo Prison Cited in FBI Memos

  11. Aidan Maconachy says:

    Dr Laurie Mylroie served as an adviser on Iraq to the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. Mylroie is currently vice-president of “Information for Democracy,” and the publisher of “Iraq News.” She is very far from being a figure of fun.

    However Michael – your naive complacency about Saddam’s non-involvement makes you a candidate for “the figure of fun” award.

  12. Michael says:

    Ira Magaziner advised Clinton too, and he was a disaster. The merits of the speaker, or demerits, are the issue not the pedigree.

    And it’s not complacent to want actual evidence of things are not obvious, just reasonable. The fact remains that Bush started a war on false evidence. Iraq wasn’t behind the World Trade center attack. It did not possess, nor was it likely to possess in the near term, weapons of mass destruction. These were the greatest lies in US history since Nixon’s secret plan to end the war, or maybe since the supposed attack on the Maine that launched the Spanish-American war.

    I suppose it’s easier for some to believe comforting lies than consider hard truths. But don’t expect me to respect it.

  13. Aidan Maconachy says:

    Of course – Saddam was going to advertise his Al Qaeda connections and hand the international community a smoking gun. He was the type of guy.

    As Chirac said – “history will judge”. Get ready to eat crow when all the birds feel secure enough to start singing.

    Over and out.

  14. Apian says:

    Apropos of Torture Policy in the Bush Administration

    This is my concern:

    Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) told the Associated Press that Gonzales’ confirmation hearing “may be the only remaining forum in which to examine more fully the steps that were taken to weaken U.S. policy on torture in the period that led to the prison scandals at Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan.”

    The Gonzales Confirmation Hearings are now just a week away.

    Can you tell me, please,
    1) Is there any limit to the questions the Committee can ask Gonzales?
    2) Can they request documents?
    3) Once it gets to the Senate floor, is there any limit to the questions Senators can ask Gonzales? Is there any time limit on their discussion?
    4) What are the rules about filibuster? Can it be used here? Is it effective?

    I have been reading the FBI e-mails. I urge all your posters to read them. The documents can be found at: Operative words: Executive Order, Cover-up, What constitutes torture, Witnessed (but did not participate in)

    Was torture systemic? Yes. Was it authorized from the top? Yes. Is there enough proof? Yes.

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