More on the Abu Ghraib hearings

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I agree with Jeremy that "It's becoming increasingly clear that there had been some sort of investigation already going on, and they just didn't want anything public until they'd completed that investigation."

My question now to CBS is if they knew that these photos were part of an ongoing investigation. And here is a further question about journalistic ethics in general: If you happen to discover (through legitimate means) an atrocity, are you ethically bound in any way to not report on it if it turns out that there is an ongoing investigation into that investigation? Part of me wants to say yes to help preserve due process. But a biger part of me wants to say no, or else there could be precious little reporting done. No accidents could be reported on in the news unless no one cares to investige them or until the matter has been fully resolved. (So much for getting traffic reports--by the time any accident that causes traffic is investigated, the traffic is long over. And forget about warning a community that a serial killer is on the loose--the first murders are still being investigated.) And a truly corrupt executive branch could essentially repeal freedom of press by opening investigations into everything and then not pursue any of them.

So. Not sure what to make of the ethics of the release of the pictures...

However, the fact that there was an ongoing investigation explains a lot of what was confusing me before. Without knowing that, it seemed like various people knew that there were abuses going on, but that noone was doing anything about it--it looked like it was being covered up. The ongoing investigation explains that something was indeed being done.

That being said, what was being done was being done too slowly and without priority. With this kind of circumstance, the investigation must be immediate, and justice swift. Cases like these need to go straight to the front of the queue, and straight to the top of the chain-of-command. Due process does not always demand that first come = first served. However, how are you to know that you have that kind of case until you look into it??? There is no procedure for this kind of flagging and no mechanism for that kind of foresight, though it is desperately needed. The tension is palpable and you could hear it in Rumsfeld's voice. He clearly wished that he could have known about it earlier, done something about it sooner. But how without psychics? Rumsfeld was stuck between a rock and a hard place on this, and my sympathy is with him here. The failures of our current systme of due process and/or the failures in the chain of command left Rumsfeld out of the loop on this so that he was blindsided last week.

Overall, I think that Rumsfeld did quite well and cleared up many things. One of the things that I wish he had made clearer earlier was the timeline of which reports were seen when. He kept referring to himself and the president being briefed sometime in Jan/Feb about reports of abuse, but not realizing the gravity of the situation until the pictures were released last week. I had assumed that the Jan/Feb report was the Taguba Report, and it seemed impossible that he could not realize the gravity of the abuse, even without the pictures. It seemed that Hillary, based on her question, assumed the same thing, and that was very late in the session. Turns out that the report of Jan/Feb was simply a "there are aubses reported at 'Abu Ghraib' prison. We're investigating it." type of report, not the full Taguba Report. That explains why there was no push from the top months ago. (That being said, somebody had condensed the Taguba Report down into "abuses in prison. being investigated" so that it could fit into an executive summary, and that person needs to learn to exercise some judgement and put "THIS IS FREAKING IMPORTANT. PAY LOTS OF ATTENTION TO THIS." in the summary too. Also, that person needs to be fired and somebody competant hired.

One thing that really pissed me off was when he said something along the lines of "The main problem is the existence of these and other pictures." No, the real problem is the atrocities which said pictures document. If you destroyed all of the pictures, you still have the criminal activity, you now just don't have any proof of it. Attitudes like that end up generating policies like "If you happen to be witness to or party to the inhumane treatment of prisoners, you are not permitted to document said treatment using video, audio, pictures, drawings, or written description." instead of the more proper directive of "Prisoners are not to be treated inhumanely."

Statements like "The main problem is the existence of these and other pictures." make it sound like he is more concerned about the appearance of good over actually being good. To be fair, he may be thinking about if from a purely management point of view, where the atrocities have already happened and there is nothing anyone can do about them. Thus, going forward, the problem is the photographs. Or what to do about the photographs. And in particular, how will the revelation of further pictures (which seem to be immanent) screw up the situation in Iraq even more. But even so, he needs to remember that the abuses are thre real problem here, and would remain the real problem even if the photos did not exist. He seemed more worried about the release of more pictures than about fixing the problem or bringing those responsible to justice. That is understandable from a practical point of view (the impact on Iraq will be huge and immediate), but disgustingly self-serving from an ethical point of view.

On a different note...Rumsfeld said something along the lines that "It is inconceivable that anyone would condone or encourage this kind of behavior." And yet, clearly it happened. If there were only a few incidents of torture, then I could possibly buy the idea that no one besides the perpetrators ever knew. But there were more than a few incidents, done by more than a few people. If we have some pictures, and more are on their way, and many more were destroyed (as I have heard they were), and surely for every incident of torture that was photographed, there were many more that went undocumented, then there must have been hundreds of tortures. There is no way that no one else knew. There is no way that every perpetrator independantly and spontaneously decided to commit torture. Somebody must have told someone else about how he tortured a prisoner. Somebody must have turned a blind eye. Somebody must have encouraged others to imitate that torture, whether that be the original torturer, or someone higher up the chain. As much as we would like to think that such condoning or encouragement is inconceivable, it clearly isn't. The truly inconceivable is that each incident of torture was a spontaneous independant event known about by no others.

On more of a human nature note: Everyone keeps saying that "This does not reflect the values of the American People." Which is true. But in another sense, not entirely true. It is certainly not one of our official values, and it is not a noble value, but it is a base (as in "negative, or corrupt") value of almost every cuture in the world that "might makes right". (Only a few really considered that to be a noble value--maybe Saddam did?) We need only look at the abuse statistics to see that too many have internalized this base value as their own. And if the perpetrators had not had it as one of their own values, then the crimes would not have been committed. I guess this quote, like the "inconceivable" quote above, is another of the "I would love to believe this, and it's kinda true, but really not" statements. I would normally not comment on this kind of thing, but statements like these that point to the fundamental goodness of humanity undermine the humility of an apology (while at the same time being contrary to the [what I believe to be] fact of human depravity).

Also, I felt that Rumsfeld did perfectly when discussing his calls for resignation. I'll separate that into a different post as it deserves it, and this one is getting long.

8 Comments

Your pretty free with the word atrocity there aren't you. I don't want you to get the idea that I don't think what happened at the prison wasn't bad and condemnable, but if being paraded around in woman�s underwear constitutes an atrocity what do we call things like My Lai. How can being forced to participate in a naked human pyramid compare to mass rape in west Sudan? By calling what happened in Abu Ghraib an atrocity you simply weaken the word�s rhetorical force.

Your primary examples of when reporting should clearly be done are when there's a serious safety concern (or at least extreme inconvenience) at issue. The public needs to know about accidents (and no one disputes that the thing did occur in the accident case anyway, just who is at fault). I don't think either is true in this case.

Another issue about the release of the pictures is that CBS had to get them somehow, and it might be that someone in the investigation leaked them. Maybe there are circumstances about the investigation that led them to see this as necessary, but otherwise it's pretty low.

As for reflecting American values, I'd say something even stronger. I've heard enough people say that these prisoners deserved it as the enemy to say that many Americans would have done or condoned this in those circumstances. This completely disregards their prisoner of war status, which respects them as good soldiers rather than criminals (an advantage they wouldn't have on John Kerry's crime-hunting model of fighting terrorism that they do get on Bush's war model).

But even apart from their status as prisoners of war, they're human beings, and I don't think anyone can argue that justice requires us to do everything we can unto others that they would do to us. In fact, most of America claims to hold to Christian values, which deny such requirements of strict justice outright, at least on our part. It more strongly requires individuals to set aside their feelings of resentment and forgive, which should lead them to want to see reconciliation with even the worst enemy. Somehow I don't think most American Christians would welcome Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden into their congregation were he to become a genuine Christian, but that's what the gospel requires. This really is an American value behind this, one that opposes the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew, worse things took place than just pictures of people in their underwear, at least if the charges are true. The reports include sodomy and genuine physical torture. I haven't been following enough of it to know any details, but I was able to pick up that much.

Matthew - What would you have me call it? These were human rights abuses that rise to the level of War Crimes. Rumsfeld called the events at Abu Ghraib "brutal and so cruel and so inhumane", and Bush called them "appalling acts". Maybe atrocity is a little strong, but not by much. According to the Taguba Report, we are talking about torture, sodomy and rape. And Rumsfeld warned that the worst was yet to be revealed in regards to what happened there.

This is hardly just "being paraded around in woman's underwear" (though that happened too).

As a by the way, can some Righty bloggers please get around to condemning the likes of Rush and Scrappleface for calling the torture "just blowing off steam" and for comparing the torture to a frat hazing? This is not a matter to make light of or to joke about. Their comments are resulting in too many comments like Matthew's above. If we Lefty bloggers have the decency to condemn in various places the idiocy of Rall, despite the expectations that we would never do so, can the Righty bloggers please have the same decency to denounce their share of the lunatics?

Oh, and if the Righty blogs have already done this, then please leave links in the comments below, because I haven't seen them yet.

Josh Claybourn says Rush went too far, as does Ramesh Ponnuru at The National Review, and Tacitus has even stronger words.

Thanks. I needed to see those.

FYI
Here is the link to one rumor about how the pictures were released to the media.

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