Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Tipping point (continued)

ON MAY 13, the New York Times led with a curious story. Headlined HARSH C.I.A. METHODS CITED IN TOP QAEDA INTERROGATIONS, the article reported that the agency has sought to extract information from top Al Qaeda leaders — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to have helped plan the World Trade Center attacks in 1993 and 2001, as well as the 2002 videotaped beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl — through such coercive techniques as "water boarding," in which subjects are held under water until they think they are about to drown.

By itself, the Times story was straightforward enough. But by placing it within the context of the still-unfolding Abu Ghraib scandal, the Times was signaling an inability or an unwillingness to make distinctions between the treatment of high-level terrorists, who might be able to provide life-saving information, and the ordinary Iraqi men and women who appear to have gotten caught up in Abu Ghraib. As Mark Bowden wrote last October in a long Atlantic Monthly piece, evocatively titled "The Dark Art of Interrogation": "Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy: it should be banned but also quietly practiced."

The trouble with the White House is not that it is using coercion — okay, torture — to get Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to talk. Rather, it’s that it couldn’t or wouldn’t control the ugly human impulse to torture indiscriminately dozens, if not hundreds, of others. In his Atlantic story, Bowden wrote, "The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter." But in an interview with National Public Radio last week, Bowden conceded that the administration never should have given explicit authorization for such techniques. "If you authorize that kind of treatment or behavior in advance," he said, "you are guaranteed to end up in the darker end of the spectrum where people are being tortured and raped and murdered. I think there’s just an inevitable progression that starts once you give that permission in advance." In this case, though, the Times appears as unable to figure out the right balance as the White House.

So where do we go from here? At the moment, the White House is furiously trying to contain the damage by going after only those who were directly involved in torture at Abu Ghraib. There are many risks to such a strategy, including that of alienating enlisted personnel and their families, upon whom the military so depends. On May 17 the Army Times, a weekly Gannett-owned newspaper aimed at servicemen and -women, published an editorial saying that though the soldiers facing criminal charges must be held responsible, that responsibility "extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership." The editorial — written by managing editor Alex Neill, who served in the Navy during the 1970s — also criticized Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A week later, the paper came back with a long cover package headlined DO THE RIGHT THING, laying out what soldiers should do if given an unlawful order.

Robert Zelnick, who chairs the journalism department at Boston University’s College of Communication, and who was a long-time foreign correspondent for ABC News, believes the situation in Iraq is not unsalvageable, although he does think that Rumsfeld’s resignation is a necessary precondition for moving forward. "It was a devastating event in terms of public support for the war and confidence in the chain of command and the leadership. And I think it increases the international pressure on the Bush administration to find a quick exit, as opposed to an exit that lets them say they accomplished some important political objectives," Zelnick says. But he adds of Abu Ghraib: "All that said, it is of marginal military consequence. I think it is of some but not great importance in Iraq. I think the situation is still to be determined by security factors — how safe are the people, who can protect them, how can they protect themselves, are they still willing to proceed with the democratic experiment that we have laid out. I still think that there is a chance that this can end in something less than a humiliating, if disguised, defeat."

Yet even if Iraqi public opinion recovers from Abu Ghraib — a dubious proposition — what about American public opinion? Since the war was launched a little more than a year ago, a majority of Americans have forgiven Bush over the mistakes (and worse) about weapons of mass destruction, even though the "grave and gathering danger" posed by Saddam’s alleged arsenal was Bush’s stated reason for the conflict. They’ve forgiven Bush for the lack of a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda — perhaps because Bush has hinted at such a connection so many times that many people still believe there is one.

But they’re not going to forgive Bush for picking up where Saddam left off — for grabbing hundreds of Iraqis off the street and torturing them in the exact same place where Saddam tortured and killed his fellow countrymen for so many years. And Rush Limbaugh’s snickering over frat-boy antics aside, let’s not forget that the Pentagon is investigating the deaths of 37 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, including nine that have been classified as homicides. That photo of Specialist Charles Graner, smiling and giving the thumbs-up over the corpse of an Iraqi prisoner, most definitely does not conjure up images of Pledge Week at Delta House, except perhaps in Limbaugh’s OxyContin-fueled imagination. For the American public, the one remaining rationale that seemed to hold up was that of liberation — of saving an entire country from the depredations of an evil madman. "America: Not Quite As Bad As Saddam" is not an acceptable message for a public that believes the United States has a special mission in the world.

"The Abu Ghraib pictures show a level of callous cruelty which undermines that sense of belief that we try to do good," Michael Goldfarb, a London-based journalist for WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) who has reported from Iraq, told me in an e-mail. "It is making a lot of people retroactively ask questions. The haste with which the Bush Administration sought to pin the blame on the little people is also making people ask questions."

From now until November, the media are going to be asking those questions as well.

Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com. Read his daily Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com.

page 3 

Issue Date: May 28 - June 3, 2004
Click here for the Don't Quote Me archive
Back to the News & Features table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group