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May 30, 2004: A whole Lott of love here... Conservative Thought

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Some views from the conservative right…


Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly follows rationalizations (everyone need a hobby).  Here’s his take on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. 


A few weeks ago I half-jokingly noted that mainstream conservative reaction to Abu Ghraib had shifted over time. 

Phase 1: horrible, just horrible. 

Phase 2: yes, it's bad, but keep in mind that it's not as bad as Saddam. 

Phase 3: give it a rest, OK? 

And then I guessed that there might still be a Phase 4 to come:

Maybe torturers as heroes, thanks to testimony from someone or other that one of the scraps of information they extracted saved a convoy somewhere?  Hey, war is hell.


Well, he thinks the mainstream conservative right has reached this Phase 4. 

His evidence?  He points to what the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, and that would be Trent Lott, had to say today to Channel 16 in Jackson, Mississippi. 

He thinks this is disgusting. 

What set Kevin off? 


Frankly, to save some American troops' lives or a unit that could be in danger, I think you should get really rough with them," Lott said.  "Some of those people should probably not be in prisons in the first place."

When asked about the photo showing a prisoner being threatened with a dog, Lott was unmoved.  "Nothing wrong with holding a dog up there unless it ate him," Lott said.  "(They just) scared him with the dog."

Lott was reminded that at least one prisoner had died at the hands of his captors after a beating.  "This is not Sunday school," he said.  "This is interrogation.  This is rough stuff."


But you see the logic. 

Well the Taguba report says sixty percent of those held in that prison were clearly picked up by mistake – just folks who looked funny, or didn’t, but might be useful, or not.  The Red Cross (ICRC) pegs the number of the hapless and useless being held there at up to ninety percent.  But if one of them, by some chance, may perhaps know something that might be useful - that kind of justifies the majority tortured.  And some of them die.  This is war.  The argument falls under the general heading of “you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.” And that is true, when making breakfast. 

So, the short form? 

Wimps unwilling to torture even these randomly detained and probably useless bystanders, for the greater good, endanger us all. 

Now we will see who joins Lott in this line of reasoning. 


… wimps unwilling to torture even these randomly detained and probably useless bystanders, for the greater good, endanger us all.  The possible information to be obtained matters more far more than any foolish moral scruples or legal niceties.  This is war, as he says. 

Except we are now admitting that, well, it doesn’t exactly work, as the New York Times now (May 27) reports:


The questioning of hundreds of Iraqi prisoners last fall in the newly established interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison yielded very little valuable intelligence, according to civilian and military officials. 

… [C]ivilian and military intelligence officials, as well as top commanders with access to intelligence reports, now say they learned little about the insurgency from questioning inmates at the prison.  Most of the prisoners held in the special cellblock that became the setting for the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib apparently were not linked to the insurgency, they said. 

All of the prisoners sent to Abu Ghraib had already been questioned by the troops who captured them for urgent information about roadside bombs, imminent attacks and the like.


Oh well.  Wrong guys.  They were just useless bystanders.  Sorry about that. 

But Trent is a man of hope.  One of these randomly selected hapless and exceptionally unlucky detainees one day, maybe, might scream out something tangentially useful – if enough pain and humiliation is applied, cautiously.  You never know.  Trent is an optimist. 

And the trouble with the wimps on the left is they are too negative. 






This fellow has a few things to say about the current meme from the conservative right regarding those prison pictures.


Postcards from the culture wars…

Frank Rich

International Herald Tribune, Friday, May 28, 2004

New York Times, Sunday, May 30, 2004


Excerpt 1:


… How do we square the tales of American cruelty with the promise of democracy we thought we were bringing to Iraq?  One obvious way might be to acknowledge with some humility that Americans' often proud history has always had a fault line, running from slavery to Wounded Knee to My Lai.  But there's an easier way out in 2004: blame Janet Jackson for what's gone wrong in Iraq.

That's not a joke.  Some of America's self-appointed moral leaders are defending the morally indefensible by annexing Abu Ghraib as another front in the election-year culture war.  Charles Colson, the Watergate felon turned preacher, told a group convened by the Family Research Council that the prison guards had been corrupted by "a steady diet of MTV and pornography." The Concerned Women for America site posted a screed by Robert Knight, of the Culture and Family Institute, calling the Abu Ghraib scandal the "Perfect Storm" of American cultural depravity, in which porn, especially gay porn, gave soldiers "the idea to engage in sadomasochistic activity and to videotape it in voyeuristic fashion." (His chosen prophylactics to avert future Abu Ghraibs include abolishing sex education, outlawing same-sex marriage and banishing Howard Stern.) The vice president of the Heritage Foundation, Rebecca Hagelin, found a link between the prison scandal and how "our country permits Hollywood to put almost anything in a movie and still call it PG-13."

Some of these same characters also felt that the media shouldn't show the Abu Ghraib pictures too much or at all - as if the pictures were the problem rather than what they reveal.  They are of an ideological piece with Jerry Falwell, who, a mere two days after 9/11, tried to shift the blame for Al Qaeda's attack to the "pagans," abortionists, gays and lesbians who have "tried to secularize America."

This time the point of these scolds' political strategy - and it is a political strategy, despite some of its adherents' quasi-religiosity - is clear enough.  It is not merely to demonize gays and the usual rogue's gallery of secularist bogeymen for any American ill but to clear the Bush administration of any culpability for Abu Ghraib, the disaster that may have destroyed its mission in Iraq.  If porn or MTV can be said to have induced a "few bad apples" in one prison to misbehave, then everyone else in the chain of command, from the commander-in-chief down, is off the hook. 


Excerpt 2:


… To blame every American transgression on the culture, whether the transgression is as grievous as Abu Ghraib or the shootings at Columbine or as trivial as lubricious teenage fashions, is to absolve Americans of any responsibility for anything.  It used to be that liberals pinned all American sins on the military-industrial complex; now it's conservatives who pin them all on the Viacom-Time Warner complex.

President George Bush has repeatedly vowed to introduce "a culture of responsibility in America" in which "each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life." Up to a point.  Now he talks about how the Abu Ghraib pictures are not "the America I know." (Maybe he should get out more.) If he really practiced "a culture of responsibility" he would take responsibility for his own government's actions rather than plead ignorance and express dismay.  He might, for instance, explain how his own White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, came to write a January 2002 memo that labeled the Geneva conventions "quaint" and "obsolete" for dealing with prisoners in the war on terrorism (of which Iraq, we're told, is a part).  The dissemination of that memo's legal wisdom through the Defense Department and the military command over the past 26 months may tell us more about what led to Abu Ghraib than anything else we've heard so far from the administration.


Indeed.   Maybe Bush should get out more.


But does this argument – Janet Jackson made them do it (one thinks of Flip Wilson’s famous “The Devil made me do it!” routine) – really get Bush off the hook.


Recommended reading?


Wise Counsel

Appoint a special counsel to investigate Geneva violations.
Neal Katyal -
Posted Friday, May 28, 2004, at 1:50 PM PT – SLATE.COM


Now Neal Katyal teaches law at Georgetown University.  He is chief counsel to the military defense lawyers in the Guantánamo case pending at the Supreme Court. 


What’s he argue?


In the past week, details have emerged of not only more prisoner abuse in Iraq, but also a concerted effort by the president's chief lawyer to try to insulate such abuse from domestic criminal investigation.  A 2002 memorandum from White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales tells the president to refuse to apply the protection of the Geneva Conventions to detainees because Americans could be charged in domestic courts with war crimes.  Now that photos and Army reports suggest that just such crimes have been committed, a criminal investigation is necessary.  And because the administration's own memoranda reveal that it tried to adopt policies to frustrate precisely such prosecutions, the attorney general must now appoint an outside prosecutor to investigate whether war crimes actually occurred. 


This is the paradigmatic case for a special counsel. 


Really.   The whole thing is long and detailed, a legal argument.

And there is a smoking gun.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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