Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Zakaria sums it all up in a few short sentences: "Leave process aside: the results are plain. On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq—troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani—Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world."

An uncomfortable backdrop to the Abu Ghraib story is the knowledge that various sorts of abuse are endemic throughout the American prison system. Along those lines, here's a clip from a piece in Saturday's Times by Fox Butterfield: "The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time. The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country's criminal justice system."

Meanwhile, on page 6 (link through then scroll down to page 6) of the latest edition of the Utah Sheriff's Association newsletter, The Utah Sheriff, is a picture of McCotter on "a tour of the death house at Abu Ghraib Prison" with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. The figure in the background appears to be Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski.

Department of Scoundrels looking for that last refuge. This from Kate O'Beirne ...

The most recent images of abuse concerning Iraqi detainees will inevitably fuel the anti-Americanism that endangers American lives — not at the hands of sadistic young misfits but at the hands of our elected representatives. Members of Congress elbowing their way into camera range to question, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, whether abuses were widespread and senior commanders were implicated and accusing the military of engaging in some cover-up are abusing the Abu Ghraib scandal and recklessly putting our troops at risk.

Stab-in-the-back bake mix. Limited assembly required. Do-it-yourself. Off-the-Shelf.

In the context of these recent revelations, these couple-month-old claims from British nationals released from Guantanamo Bay appear in a new light.

This article in tomorrow's Guardian suggests that some of these sexual humiliation methods apparently practiced at Abu Ghraib are taught to various special <$NoAd$> forces and military intelligence troops in the US and the UK, both to use them and also to prepare themselves to withstand them.

What's now happening in Iraq is that the same methods are being passed down to untrained and unsupervised reservists; and the whole situation spirals out of control.

I'm not sure this is the whole story. But it has a ring of truth to me, mixing, as it does, ugliness with disorganization and a spiralling cycle of unaccountability.

The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.

The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.

One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: "It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn't know what they were doing."

He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in these techniques, which were taught at the joint services interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former US base at Chicksands


Many British and US special forces soldiers learn about the degradation techniques because they are subjected to them to help them resist if captured. They include soldiers from the SAS, SBS, most air pilots, paratroopers and members of pathfinder platoons


"The crucial difference from Iraq is that frontline soldiers who are made to experience R2I techniques themselves develop empathy. They realise the suffering they are causing. But people who haven't undergone this don't realise what they are doing to people. It's a shambles in Iraq".

The British former officer said the dissemination of R2I techniques inside Iraq was all the more dangerous because of the general mood among American troops.

"The feeling among US soldiers I've spoken to in the last week is also that 'the gloves are off'. Many of them still think they are dealing with people responsible for 9/11".

Not an excuse, certainly, but here I think we can start to see the contours of the perfect storm -- hideous methods, at least reserved for restricted cases, parcelled out to unsupervised amateurs, abetted by what might be generously termed high-level indifference. Marathon Man? Lord of the Flies?

If there's a pattern here -- and I'm not sure we know <$NoAd$>enough yet to discern patterns -- it's one of military intelligence officers giving untrained and unsupervised soldiers vague instructions to 'soften up' prisoners to get them to talk in subsequent investigations.

That's a recipe for ugly results.

Here's a snippet from a new story from ABC News ...

The photographs show a 52-year-old former Baath Party official, Nadem Sadoon Hatab, who died at the detention center last June after a three-day period in which he was allegedly subjected to beatings and karate kicks to the chest and left to die naked in his own feces.

Abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Camp White Horse was allegedly carried out by U.S. Marine reservists. The accused reservists have told their lawyers they were given orders to "soften up" the men in their custody for interrogation by what were known as human exploitation teams from military intelligence.


According to testimony in the case, Hatab was targeted for especially harsh treatment because he was believed to be in possession of Jessica Lynch's 507th Army Battalion weapon and suspected of involvement in the ambush of her unit.

In this case, thankfully, a criminal prosecution is apparently well underway.

Among the more buck-passing and diversionery arguments proffered to explain what's emerged from Abu Ghraib is this truly far-fetched column by Linda Chavez, which seeks to lay the blame on having women in the ranks of the American military.

Now, you do have to sort of center yourself for a moment to be able to take such ridiculousness seriously. But here goes ...

Chavez's argument is that having women in integrated units is bad for good order and discipline. But more specifically she argues that "putting young men and women at their sexual prime in close proximity to each other 24 hours a day increases sexual tension [and that] military service has become heavily sexualized, with opportunities for male and female soldiers, sailors and Marines to engage in sexual fraternization, which, though frowned upon -- and in certain circumstances, forbidden -- is almost impossible to prevent."

Now, I don't think it makes much sense to draw any social policy lessons from this -- not about women in the military, gays in the military or anything else. The real issue is some ugly mix of poor oversight, abetting policy and the darker, more malleable side of human nature. Let's also note that the issue is not the nature of the sexual dimension of this, but the fact that it is coerced and punitive.

Yet who can ignore that the subtext of all this is homoerotic? And just how does having women in the armed forces contribute to this? If you're going to draw a social policy lesson from this, I'd say Chavez's is hardly the most logical. More plausible, though not the most probable explanation, would be the homophobia that is unfortunately quite entrenched in the US military and indeed throughout much of American society. Let's be frank, if there's an issue of 'sexual tension' involved when men try to humiliate other men by calling them 'fags' and forcing them to simulate homosexual acts, I'd say it's an issue of sexual tension between men, rather than between men and women.

A bunch of readers have asked me what it was Sen. Joe Lieberman said this morning that made me react so negatively. It was his words right out of the gate this morning at the Senate hearings ...

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Secretary, the behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge, immoral, intolerable and un-American. It deserves the apology that you have given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military.

I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security have never apologized.

And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never received an apology from anybody.

So it's part of -- wrongs occurred here, by the people in those pictures and perhaps by people up the chain of command.

But Americans are different. That's why we're outraged by this. That's why the apologies were due.

Ugly, pandering, a display of the cheapest tendencies <$Ad$>of the man.

Our moral superiority to mass murderers and people who desecrate people's bodies in town squares is, while thankfully true, simply not relevant to this issue.

This is the sort of subject-changing our parents try to wean us from when we're in grade school. (Okay, I did that. But look what Tommy did!) And of course there's the side-issue that Lieberman is playing to the notion that there's some sort of 'they did this to us and now we did this to them' issue here. And (how many times does it have to be said?) these folks in Abu Ghraib weren't the 9/11 planners.

Nothing Lieberman said is untrue precisely. It does set us apart from fascists and mass-murderers that Americans are outraged by this and that there will be investigations and accountability. But talk about defining deviance down!

In cases like this, emphasis is everything. And his was all wrong.

For Mr. Responsibility and Morality, what a disappointment.

He can take a lesson not only from John McCain but from Lindsey Graham too.

I've only seen portions of today's testimony. From what I've seen the Pentagon needs new civilian management. But then we knew that. Or at least that's long been my judgment. Yet take note of this snap poll from ABC which says that very few Americans seem to think Rumsfeld's head should roll over this.

Secondly, I've always had a love/hate feeling (I'd say love/hate relationship but obviously he has no idea who I am) about Joe Lieberman. After his statement today, no love.

You know things haven't reached anything near the equilibrium phase for Don Rumsfeld when you see something like this. Yesterday afternoon or evening -- I don't remember precisely when -- the headline on MSNBC was something to the effect of 'Rumsfeld to go on offensive'.

I remember reading that and thinking, offensive against who? Who's he going to attack?

This morning the headlines everywhere read 'Rumsfeld to apologize.' So the ground is moving under their feet. All the normal signs point to Rumsfeld being history. But I still can't get myself to think that this White House, at this political moment, will kick him overboard.

On a lighter note, this might be an apt time to review that classic book of maxims Rumsfeld's Rules -- here in .pdf and here in html.

Some points now make for interesting reading ...

In the execution of presidential decisions work to be true to his views, in fact and tone.

If you foul up, tell the president and correct it fast. Delay only compounds mistakes.

Stay tuned ...