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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A telling foreshadowing?

This from George Will's column<$NoAd$> of August 12th, 1999 ...

[Tucker] Carlson reports asking Bush whether he met with any persons who came to Texas to protest the execution of the murderer Karla Faye Tucker. Bush said no, adding: "I watched (Larry King's) interview with (Tucker), though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' " Carlson asked, "What was her answer?" and writes:

" 'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me.' "

Hughes, who says Bush's decision not to commute Tucker's sentence was "very difficult and very emotional," says Carlson's report is "a total misread" of Bush. Carlson, who describes Bush as "smirking," says: "I took it down as he said it."


Gary Bauer, then running against Bush for the 2000 nomination, called the Bush's comments "inappropriate, disgusting and profoundly disturbing."

Consider this along with the fact that, as many have noted, the now-President's ire has oddly turned on the photos -- that is to say, the evidence -- seemingly more than the underlying facts.

Just to pass on some added information, about which we'll be saying more. There is chatter in Pakistani intelligence circles that the US has let the Pakistanis know that the optimal time for bagging 'high value' al Qaida suspects in the untamed Afghan-Pakistani border lands is the last ten days of July, 2004.

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.

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.

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