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Andrew Sullivan has a series of damning posts up tonight about the Abu Ghraib scandal. The section that particularly caught my eye was this …

To have humiliated the United States by presenting false and misleading intelligence and then to have allowed something like Abu Ghraib to happen – after a year of other, compounded errors – is unforgivable. By refusing to hold anyone accountable, the president has also shown he is not really in control. We are at war; and our war leaders have given the enemy their biggest propaganda coup imaginable, while refusing to acknowledge their own palpable errors and misjudgments. They have, alas, scant credibility left and must be called to account.

In fairness, this is a long stream of thoughts that <$Ad$>should be read in toto in order to get his full meaning. He does reaffirm his belief that the decision to go to war was the right one, but only just barely. But I don’t think these excerpted words in any way overstate the scope and intensity of his condemnation of the administration.

I haven’t been able to read much news in the last thirty-six hours, or at least not as much as usual. So I’m still catching up with the details of today. But when I try to write about this, I have to confess that the words, metaphorically at least, get stuck in my throat.

For myself, it’s not so much the horror of what we’re seeing itself. Certainly, history is littered with far greater outrages. But how exactly did we find ourselves on the doling out end of this stuff? Morally, how did it happen? And in simply pragmatic terms, since this was a grand gambit for hearts and minds in a region awash in anti-Americanism and autocracy, how exactly did we get here? More than anything, a self-inflicted wound of this magnitude just leaves you speechless.

For someone who considers himself in many ways a hawk and who did and does believe in American power as a force for good in the world (most recently in the Balkans) it is difficult to describe the depth of the chagrin over watching the unfolding of a story which reads in many ways like a parody of Chomskian screeds against American villainy.

As I think is already becoming clear, the responsibility for all of this goes right to the very top — to the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Vice President and many others. The point isn’t that the president ordered or knew specifically that soldiers in Iraq were setting attack dogs on to naked prisoners or all the other outrages we’re about to hear of. But going back almost three years these men made very conscious and specific decisions to disregard or opt out of the various international conventions, rules and traditions governing the treatment of prisoners of war and enemy combatants that are intended to prevent such things from happening.

It may be true that in this one MP Unit things got particularly out of hand. But even the instructions from above they and other unit appear to have been getting from superiors were quite bad enough.

Now there are reports of something close to open warfare between the cabinet departments in the administraiton over this. We’ll cover all this in greater depth in succeeding posts but the embrace of lawlessness, systematic deception and an almost boundless incompetence have all made this possible. These guys created the climate in which this could happen. And then they were either too disorganized or too indifferent to stop it when things got out of hand.

In the case of the president, it’s hard to know what to think. As Jake Weisberg explains here, the president of the United States is just so cocksure, incurious and lazy that I think it’s half possible he’s never gotten past the gleaming phrases his advisors have given him to make sense of what’s happening on his watch. Nor, I think, can we discount the possibility that the president’s advisors and the president himself knew enough of what was probably happening — how their orders were being executed in practice — not to want to know the details.

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