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Torture Matters

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Gregory at Belgravia Dispatch has a fearless examination of the testimony in the prisoner abuse cases in Camp Mercury, near Fallujah. The testimony was gathered by Human Rights Watch from a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne. You want to know why this stuff ought to matter as much — more — to those who support the Iraq project as a part of the war on Islamist terror than it matters to the “Bush is Always Evil” set? The sergeant will tell you:

The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation. [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.

Gregory’s take is that this is happening due to a convergence of two forces, one avoidable. The unavoidable one is the passions and destructive power unleashed on battlefields, among young men who have seen their buddies killed. Ugly things happen after the battle ends. That’s part of war. If you don’t like it you can go be a pacifist, which at least is an honorable ethical position. I was raised by Quakers, so I respect that. If you can’t stand the ugliness that trails away from battlefields, then don’t talk of war.

But this went far beyond that. And the contributing factor that can be avoided, that is not a necessary adjunct to war, has come down into the military like a bad wind from above.

Legal enablers with their talk of ‘military necessity’ and enthusiastic ‘defining torture down’ memoranda gave Bush the wriggle-room he needed to ignore Geneva whenever it suited him. Rumsfeld got carried away with souped-up Gitmo interrogation tactics that–while unsuited even for such a controlled environment–were absymally inadequate in front-line environments like Afghanistan and Iraq. Gitmo is in the rosy tropics, after all, as Dick Cheney has reminded us. But near front lines where detention centers get shelled, where buddies are getting killed, when officers are letting people work off stress by beating prisoners, where riots occur, where the guard to detainee ratio is way too low, and so on–well, things got and still get pretty nasty. And while Rummy paid cheap service to Geneva applying in Iraq, there was obviously much confusion on this point, and likely still is to this day. The result? It is not implausible to wonder whether there has been an institutionalization of detainee mistreatment in Gitmo, Diego Garcia, various camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, undeclared so-called OGA (CIA) detention-holds, rendition modalities, the practice of holding surreptitiously so-called ghost detainees, possible failure of health professionals to report abuses, and more. Given this, what is needed now is a truly independent investigation armed with full subpoena power.

There’s nothing more appropriately honorable than protecting a civilian population from the violence of one’s own soldiers — Patton did this in France. As a result, U.S. military justice was execrated as a racist, in a recent skewed comparison of two cases. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, certainly. But some damnations burn more than others.