Thursday, May 27, 2004

We need some clarification
A comment string at Pandagon brings to mind some questions for which I would like to have more information.

Abu Ghraib prison is a huge complex, over two hundred acres. The unit where the abuses that we have heard about took place is supposed to be the high value prisoner unit. What sort of process was used to decide who ended up in this unit? Most of us on the Left focus on the Red Cross report that more than 70% of the prisoners at Abu Graib were picked up in sweeps and not accused of anything specific. The Right has been focusing on the fact that this was the high value prisoner unit and therefore these guys must be guilty of something and deserving of violence (a chain of logic that does considerable violence to a couple of centuries of common law respect for due process). If we had a better idea of who the men in the high value prisoner unit were and how they got their we might be able to have a more productive debate.

There have been stories of humiliating little old ladies and raping women. There are no women in this unit of the prison. We need better explanations of where, when, and under what circumstances each abuse took place. Right now all we have is a bunch of anecdotes that are blended together in the public imagination and lacking context.

Another aspect of the confused blending of incidents is the eliding of interrogations and recreational violence. The Right narrative is of getting information from bad people in order to save lives (we're tough enough to do what needs to be done). Again, it's macho bullshit, but it allows them to remain on the side of the comic book heros. The Left narrative is of beating the crap out of innocent people for the heck of it. My feeling is that most of what has been revealed so far has been recreational violence and that the interrogation violence (torture) is still mostly covered up. I know there was some blurring of the borders at the prison, with guards asked to soften prisoners up for interrogation, so again, we need more context to make sense out of all of these horrific anecdotes.

The official excuse is to try and scapegoat the blame onto "a few bad apples." Our problem is that there were bad apples as well as sanctioned violations of international law. If we are going to nail those higher up the food chain, we need clarity about the different crimes committed, and we need to communicate it to the public in a sound-bite way.

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