People who analyze polling data will often take a group of polls, toss out the outliers on either side, and then focus on the cluster of data in the middle which seems overlapping and confirming.
A similar procedure seems in order with the various information we’re getting about the situation at the Abu Ghraib prison. All attention is now focused, and rightly focused, on Sy Hersh’s latest installment (who says there are no second acts?) on the story in The New Yorker, in which he reports that the situation at Abu Ghraib was the result of a highly-secret ‘black operation’ intended for use against select, high-value al Qaida operatives, which tumbled out of control when expanded for use against the Iraqi insurgency — which Pentagon and administration officials were understandably desperate to get under control.
Then there is another important Newsweek article which quotes a memo White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote to the president in January 2002, saying the following: “As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians … In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
I’ve been away from regular Internet connectivity for the last couple days (one of the reasons for the lack of posts) so I haven’t had the chance to dig into the rest of the news coverage in quite the depth I’d like to. And I think we’ll need to wait a few days, and for follow-ups from other sources, to render a full judgment on Hersh’s piece. (Rumsfeld spokesman Larry Di Rita’s widely-quoted statement — “Assertions apparently being made in the latest New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib and the abuse of Iraqi detainees are outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture.” — isn’t a denial, it’s splutter — a classic non-denial denial.)
But to go back to my analogy about analyzing polls, even if we set aside the issue of whether there was this specific black operation — noted by Hersh — the basic story seems more and more clear, and increasingly confirmed from multiple sources. That is, that irregular methods originally approved for use against al Qaida terrorists who had just recently landed a devastating blow against the US, were later expanded (by which mix of urgency, desperation, reason, bad values or hubris remains to be determined) to the prosecution of the insurgency in Iraq.
In the words recently attributed to Gen. Miller, they Gitmo-ized the counterinsurgency operation in Iraq.
In other words, methods approved for use against the worst and most dangerous terrorists spread — like ink through tissue paper — to other military theaters that were, at best, only tangentially related to the war on terror. And this, I think we can say, is tied to the boundless, amorphous and ever-expanding definition which the administration has given to the war on terror.