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What torture?

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Big grief over some pictures coming to light of American soldiers “torturing” Iraqi prisoners.

Look at those pictures, though: There’s no “torture” going on there. These pictures amount to variations on simply making them get naked and taking their pictures. This may be humiliating, but it is not torture- it doesn’t involve the infliction of pain or really even the threat of it.

I would presume that such behavior is unwarranted and unacceptable, though there could be mitigating circumstances. One story has it that these things were done under orders for the purpose of “softening them up” for interrogation. If these were nasty Republican Guard members merely being humiliated and not physically molested but mentally broken down in advance of important questioning, that would mitigate if not excuse the US soldiers.

Still, people responsible for these pictures need to be removed from their positions, and possibly otherwise punished. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s punishment for STUPIDITY and bad judgment rather than faked up outrage over the non-injuries they did not inflict.

Doing stuff like this has obvious and predictable negative consequences, and no one not smart enough to have seen them has any business being in charge of anything. Humiliation games with prisoners are a bad idea even just practically. Allowing PICTURES of it to be taken is just inexcusable.

What? Al Jazeera is running these pictures 24/7? Duh! Who could have seen that coming? Of course, al Ja-frickin’-zeera will run these pictures ENDLESSLY, and they will be used in recruiting posters for al Qaeda and so on. Of course, the Arab media will talk crap about the US no matter what, but why give them ammo?

This will obviously cause US some diplomatic problems- though perhaps not that many. A lot of people are going to pontificate and shake their fingers, but mostly only because they are already hostile. This doesn’t seem to change much, but it does give them an at least halfway legitimate excuse for complaining.

I’m not that concerned with a bit of embarassment being brought to some Iraqi prisoners, who’ve done Allah knows what. Frankly, I wouldn’t feel too bad if a few of the uglier customers got actually roughed up considerably worse than anything in these embarassing but non-violent pictures- particularly if it were for the purpose of gaining intelligence that might save the lives of US soldiers. But no cameras, please.

However, they’ve brought embarassment to the US government, and that’s different. The people who created these pictures have done what should have been obviously predictable and serious damage to US efforts to make that hellhole of a country livable.

The soldiers and commanders who made those images are guilty of war crime misdemeanors at WORST, but they made a big stupid international stink out of pure dumb stupidity. I don’t feel that much urge for moral censure, but they need to take the rap for this situation. It’s their doing, and they should have goddam known better.

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  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Mmm, torture dip. [Insert Homer drooling noise here.]

  • mike

    Al, reading your lame apologetics for this is torture.

  • http://www.newyorker.com/online/covers/?040510onco_covers_gallery Doc

    Gee, does the Iraqi beaten to death in the prison count at torture? Huh?

    http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/iraqis_tortured/

    See also The New Yorker:
    http://www.newyorker.com/online/covers/?040510onco_covers_gallery

    Unfortunately for the Iraqi’s and us, the Bush admin has put too many people like our lugnut Al in charge and this is only the beginning of how this ill conceived war will finish…

  • Shark

    Al, the fact that pictures WERE taken suggests to me that these actions were:

    1) under orders from someone;

    2) INTENDED to be recorded for later use (to show incoming ‘freshmen’ photos of what they’re in for)

    “I was just following orders.” –Hermann Goering and about 200 other top Nazis, 1945

    BOTTOM LINE: We might as well pack up and leave the entire middle east; between Bush’s Blunder, ie the ill-advised, under-planned invasion of Iraq — and this graphic demo of what Americans do when left alone with imprisoned camel jockies/sand-niggers/towel-heads means we’ve pretty much lost the entire 21st century battle for ‘hearts and minds’. (These people have LONG cultural memories.)

    Add it all up, it means we’ll never “WIN” the “war” on terror. We’ll be lucky if we, as Americans, can even leave our shores within a few years.

    Meanwhile, the Islamic terrorists are having a field day; recruitment offices filling up with youngsters wanting to kill the heathen westerners.

    The good news: When we ask “Why do they hate us?” in the future, we can just look at these photos.

    btw: THANKS AGAIN, GEORGE W! WAY TA GO!

  • Shark

    ALSO:

    You can thank the “privatization” of military functions for this one. (“Privatization” is a neo-con euphemism for “enriching your friends and previous employers” — see “Halliburton” for more)

    We knew about civilians driving trucks, cooking, and cleaning for the troops; then when four non-military Americans were roasted and strung up in Fallujah, we learned that private contractors (aka ‘mercenaries’) were serving as personal bodyguards to U.S. officials and guards for government installations.

    Now it turns out that interrogators in Iraqi prisons are working for private contractors “CACI International” and a company appropriately called “Titan”.

    Those four dead in Fallujah: American taxpayers didn’t ask them to be there.

    And the “Interrogators” currently under investigation — did you, American taxpayer — ask them to go ‘serve’ their country?

    PS: We’re fucked. Thanks, Rummy!

  • Shark

    And don’t get me started on that lucky dimwit, Halliburton truckdriver Thomas Hamill — who just made a “daring escape” from his ‘captors’.

    (He walked out of an empty mud hut and yelled “I’m an American”; unfortunately, he was later contacted by Jessica Lynch’s lawyer and told to cease and desist from using the first three words of a line she trademarked a little over a year ago.)

    Count the seconds before Thomas Hamill’s book is published and ABC features Billy Bob Thornton playing Hamill in a Movie of the Week.

    feh.

    “Why do they hate us?”

    Take a wild friggin’ guess.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Aside from the photos, Al, there have been reports of beatings and stuff like leaving the prisoners unclothed out in the sun to bake all day.

    Those sound like torture to me. We’ll see if it actually happened.

    So I guess you’d understand and “excuse” similar behavior perpetrated on American prisoners, right? [Except for the photo taking, of course.]

  • Shark

    bhw, when Iraqis torture captured Americans, they pry open their eyelids and force them to watch a videotape of a Bush Press Conference.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    LOL, Shark. Too bad nobody taped the 9/11 commission interview. They could probably use that, too. Besides, I’ve always wanted to see if Cheney could drink a glass of water while Bush talked.

  • Eric Olsen

    As bhw said, we’ll have to see what the actual abuse was to the prisoners, which is obviously relevant to the discussion, but IF the abuse is limited to “humiliation” then Al is right that the greatest crime here is stupidity and the inevitable casting of one’s country in a very bad light at the worst possible time.

    What I have yet to comprehend about our friend Shark is just WHY he views the actions of his own country with such bitter contempt. Do you hold your own country to a higher standard than the rest of the world? Why is EVERYTHING so much worse when we do it, whatever IT may be? This strikes me as masochistic.

  • http://cranialcavity.net Marc

    Shark, go the fuck away, nothing you have posted will resonate beyond your hollow head. You have an address to go to, the Democratic Underground, now get there.

    As for you Al Barger here are just some of the synonyms listed in Roget’s Thesaurus for torture.

    “abuse, afflict, agonize, annoy, beat, bother, crucify, distress, disturb, excruciate, grill, harrow, impale, injure, irritate, lacerate, maim, mangle, martyr, martyrize, mistreat, mutilate, oppress, pain, persecute, rack, smite, torment, try, upset, whip, wound, wring, wrong”

    You’ll note not all of them involve physical injuries.

    And here is the dictionary definition:

    “intense feelings of suffering; acute mental or physical pain; “an agony of doubt”; “the torments of the damned”

    And what the hell is this:

    “I would presume that such behavior is unwarranted and unacceptable, though there could be mitigating circumstances. One story has it that these things were done under orders for the purpose of “softening them up” for interrogation.”

    There is NO MITIGATION, under any circumstances.

    Sorry Al your way off base.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    Do you hold your own country to a higher standard than the rest of the world?

    but why shouldn’t we?

    we go around bellowing to all who will hear about how we’re the greatest country in the world…then, when some of our actions (and i did say some) sink to the level of a 3rd-rate dictator, we make up excuses.

    …and then we wonder why people hate us.

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com Craig Lyndall

    Shark you are very funny, but doesn’t this get a bit old for you? I mean you say the same things over and over. By the way, those cats might hate us more now, but they weren’t exactly fans in the first place. They wanted to kill us before. Now they just want to kill us more. Big effing deal.

    I don’t really have anything to add to this conversation as far as the torture, humiliation, abuse or whatever it is/was, other than it is not the way humans should act.

  • Eric Olsen

    I agree that we should AIM for a higher standard as we do often represent ourselves as the apex of human development. But my question is really, why react in such a self-flagellating manner when we dont always live up to those standards, which, being that we are human and far from perfect, is inevitable?

  • Eric Olsen

    Also, we (Americans) are about as far from monolithic as you can get, so why judge us by the behavior of our worst and everyone else by their best? Since we are human we are guaranteed to fuck up, but in the big picture, it seems to me we fuck up less than any other country that has been in our position. We didn’t ask to be the sole superpower in the world, we sort of fell into the role when everyone else bugged out.

  • http://www.drivingwithdawn.com dawn

    So, how far does someone need to go to torture someone, in your opinion?

    I can’t believe people are actually rationalizing this. “We aren’t as bad as Saddam.” Gee, is he someone who we hold as a standard?

    And yes, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than other countries, especially countries that distinguish themselves by their human rights abuses.

    We pride ourselves as being the leader of the free world, spreading democracy and what not. We pride ourselves on treating others humanely (or, at least we should). So, sorry, you are damn right that I hold the U.S. to a higher standard than the repressive regimes of Saddam’s, NK, China, Myanmar, (insert country here.)

    Sick, sick.

  • Eric Olsen

    There are two subjects here and dawn is confusing them: I am not rationalizing anything. Regardless of what happened, it’s serious and needs to be addressed seriously depending upon the level of abuse.

    My most recent comments are trying to get at why many, including Shark, are so outraged when Americans make mistakes – it’s all or nothing, seemingly, either we are all good or all bad, and since we are human and doomed to screw up, it’s always all bad.

    I am not talking about the behavior of governments and regimes; of course we should hold our “offical” behavior to the highest standards, but I am talking about individual behavior: why are some of us so surprised that Americans can behave as badly as anyone?

  • mike

    The issue isn’t the behavoir of “Americans” but of the American government in Iraq. And for those of us in the antiwar movement, it is the relentless spectacle of watching every bad thing we said was going to happen happen. And then we get attacked as “anti-American” for pointing it out.

  • http://www.jackejet.com jack e. jett

    i think the irony of all this is that kerry is getting a bush bashing for talking about “human atrocities” in viet nam while these photographs are being circulated.

    anyone who attempts to rationalize this as okay has clearly been at the kool aid bowl a bit too long.

    jack e. jett

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    I definitely believe we should and do hold ourselves to much higher standards than the likes of Saddam Hussein. But absolutely NOTHING in those pictures even BEGINS to get to 1% of that kind of behavior.

    Dawn, as to how far someone needs to go to “torture” someone, I’m probably going to say that it would have to involve administering physical pain, or at least a strong threat of it to meaningfully qualify as torture.

    Back up in comment 11, Marc just pretty much lays out the whole gamut of pussyfication. Why, if “annoy” and “disturb” count as torture, then there’s some pinkos that won’t be hanging around this joint for awhile, cause they’ll be in prison for “torturing” me. (Start packing your stuff, Saleski!)

    BHW, back up in comment 7, you talked about actual beatings, which starts to get into something that might really be torture. Again, there might be mitigating circumstances- what kind of “beating” given to whom under what circumstances. Still, that would be a lot more serious.

    However, these pictures that are the point of controversy show nothing like that. I’m not going to just assume that our people are making abuses that are not in evidence. I wouldn’t take that attitude even towards the other side. Show me names, dates and documentation of real torture, and I’ll take it more seriously.

    As to thinking that it would be alright for American POWs to be treated similarly to these Iraqis, of course I wouldn’t be happy with it. For starters, good American soldiers don’t deserve the same treatment as, say, a member of Hussein’s Republican Guard.

    However, I reiterate that this treatment as documented in these photos is not that bad. If I thought that minor embarrassment like this was the worst treatment they were facing, that’d be a relief.

    And yes, Marc, there are LOTS of mitigating circumstances. Lt Col Allen West, for example, fired off a pistol near a prisoner’s head some months ago during an interrogation and threatened to blow his brains out.

    This is considerably more abusive than these photos, but the prisoner had been an insurgent involved with ambushing and killing US soldiers. The prisoner spilled his guts figuratively, and bad guys were caught.

    On one hand, this stopped this group of bad guys from killing more Americans. On the other hand, Lt Col West scared the crap out of a nasty thug to do it. You could half reasonably say that he “tortured” the guy.

    Lt Col West got run out of the military, and was doing good to keep his pension. He should have gotten a MEDAL for saving American lives.

    Did I mention that we’re in a WAR?

  • boomcrashbaby

    The Geneva Convention has rules on the treatment of prisoners, doesn’t it? I think we follow that, or are supposed to anyway. If it has rules against torture, surely it must also define torture? I don’t know.

    I do think though, that these pictures do not show me what I would define torture as. But I do know that pictures wouldn’t show me ‘the whole picture’. If I catch my daughter getting in the cookie jar, then the candy drawer is now suspect too. Meaning it’s unlikely that wrong behavior is a single occurrance. We should investigate to see how widespread it is and exactly what kind of torture is occurring.

    One thing is for sure, these pictures are causing/will cause much more harm towards the U.S. than any benefit gained from psyching new prisoners out.

  • Shark

    Funny, ya read what ya wanna read, eh?

    Just for the record, there was nothing I said that indicated that I hold “actions of [my] own country in bitter contempt…” nor did I ever indicate that I’m “outraged” that “Americans make mistakes.”

    I said,

    1) “…we’ve pretty much lost the entire 21st century battle for ‘hearts and minds…”

    2) the “torturers” were “under orders from someone”

    3) “Terrorist recruiters are having a field day”, ie. we’ve created many more terrorists than we’ve eliminated

    4) I, (and millions of other Americans) am astounded to learn that we’re ‘privatizing’ military intelligence functions, which, btw, possibly allows for less chain o’ command oversight when it comes to this sort of thing.

    5) Look for Hamill to turn to that Holy Grail of American Ingenuity, self-marketing via a book and movie.

    GOT A FUCKING PROBLEM WITH ANY OF THAT, BOYZ?

    : )

    PS: What Mike said, ie. EVERY friggin’ thing we ‘pinko anti-war’ types predicted HAS COME TRUE. We’re not thrilled about that, but it’s our patriotic duty to point it out to any pin-heads still in denial about the true effects of this ridiculous “war” in Iraq.

  • boomcrashbaby

    I was astounded to learn about the privatizing of military operations too. There is no way that can be a good thing. I’d consider it a pretty big deal and hope it gets a lot more news coverage. Terrorists can get into our society and blend, they could do so with our private businesses too, like Halliburton. Then they have a lot of military at their disposal.

    When is some good news going to come out of Iraq?

  • Shark

    And Marc, you got anything to add besides a flaccid insult and some cutting and pasting from the thesaurus AND the dictionary?

    ~Good gawd, when we want to define a word by listing its synonyms, we’ll call you.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Couple of particularly good points in comment 21. The last sentence, “One thing is for sure, these pictures are causing/will cause much more harm towards the U.S. than any benefit gained from psyching new prisoners out.” This reiterates part of my original point, perhaps better than I said it.

    Right before that, “it’s unlikely that wrong behavior is a single occurrence. We should investigate to see how widespread it is and exactly what kind of torture is occurring.” Excellent point.

    In the real world, I’m not going to be too bent out of shape if a prisoner gets slapped around a little from time to time, but it can get way out of line real quick if you treat it all with a wink and a nod. Our people definitely need to be careful to keep on top of abusive type behaviors before they get serious.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    Would you call any of these torture, Al?

    Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

    These are from a 53-page report by Major General Antonio M. Taguba. Here’s the full report.

    I’d be interested in what you think after you’ve read it.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    Also, 25 Iraqis died in prison. 12 deaths were from natural causes, the others are being investigated further, and it looks like three murder charges are in the works already.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Hal, none of these things are in evidence from the pictures that are causing such a stir.

    Some of the things in that paragraph sound pretty bad. If some of the worse sounding things have happened, then people should be appropriately punished- after a proper investigation.

    However, I’m not going to be dressing in sackcloth and covering myself in ashes over a few abuses. Our soldiers are human, and they’re fallible.

    These alleged abuses are not policy, however, and we do take them seriously. Note that you’re quoting from an internal military investigation rather than some al Jazeera undercover sting or something. That in itself is evidence that we take these things seriously, and are not sweeping them under the rug.

    Considering the number of Americans and Iraqis involved, and the fact that we’re in a W-A-R to knock down some really bad people, a dozen questionable deaths in custody does not sound anything like systemic problems.

    Now, if there are US soldiers “murdering” prisoners in custody, just taking it on themselves to whack a prisoner, obviously that is totally unacceptable. We should look into it, as we are, and punish the handful of individuals responsible. Still, I’m not shedding crocodile tears over the kind of dirtbags who would be the likely recipients of such abuse.

    Also, note how you cited a 53 page report, as if it involved 53 pages of documented abuses. It does not. Indeed, skimming through most of it, I did not see the allegations of abuse.

    Not that they’re not there, but the report is mostly about other things.

    It looks like an interesting report on what’s actually going on. I definitely want to peruse it further.

    Before you carry on too much about US abuses though, note some of the attacks and disruptions it documents by the prisoners against the US soldiers.

    We’ve put a lot of US soldiers under serious pressure fighting a war in a far off land against some nasty customers. It is a messy business, and it isn’t going to be perfect. There’s no way for it to be.

    You seem to think that ANY abuses or falling short by any of our forces prove us all to be bad guys and wrong for being there. Even ONE individual sin by the lowliest ranked person, and we’re invalidated.

    Obviously I reject this position. The choice is not between our imperfect performance versus the platonic liberal ideal, because it doesn’t exist in the real world. We do the best we can, and go from there.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    What you say I “seem to think” has no connection to reality.

    And this was your post, not mine – it’s you doing the “carrying on.”

    I just brought some facts to the table.

  • http://nightdragon.diaryland.com Mark Edward Manning

    Great post, Al. I must stress, for those who are curious, I wrote my own thoughts on the subject completely independent of your post. I wasn’t even aware of your post until after I’d written mine. And I must say, it’s amazing how close the conclusions we both came to are!

  • http://fando.blogs.com Natalie Davis

    Actually, it is not amazing at all. :(

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    Natalie, you da bomb!

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Is it just me, or is everybody in the States on compulsory stupid pills? The USA has run _the_ college for torture and abuse for 30 years. I forget what it’s called now, because they keep changing the name, but the School for the Americas has trained and equipped more monsters than anything short of Stalin. Of course, it is only in South America, so you don’t give a fuck about those wet-backs. Assholes. You should be ashamed, but you are probably too stupid to even know what that is.

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    It’s just you, Jim. There is no “everybody” though some might want to paint things with that broad brush.

  • http://nightdragon.diaryland.com Mark Edward Manning

    Jim Carruthers: “…the School for the Americas has trained and equipped more monsters than anything short of Stalin. Of course, it is only in South America, so you don’t give a fuck about those wet-backs. Assholes. You should be ashamed, but you are probably too stupid to even know what that is.”

    Tell me, Jim, why doesn’t CANADA get involved in South America then? Your nation doesn’t give a fuck either.

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Last I looked Canada wasn’t actively training, participating or sending troops into South America to torture, plant land-mines, send “special advisors”, wage war or stage wholesale murder of civilians.

    Or try (and fail) to overthrow legally elected governments in Venezuela.

    And how’s that secret war in Columbia going, by the way?

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Sorry, I forgot my place as a member of the United Special States Republic (USSR). I’ll try not to do that again.

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    Jim, quit pissing on your neighbors :) There are things that suck about America and Canada. Neither place is perfect :)

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    But I thought you liked Golden Showers, at least that’s what Rummie told me.
    Or at least he told me he was Rummie, or was it a rummy?

    It was all hazy. He was old and craxy, that’s all I really remember.

  • Debbie

    “Is it just me, or is everybody in the States on compulsory stupid pills? The USA has run _the_ college for torture and abuse for 30 years. I forget what it’s called now, because they keep changing the name, but the School for the Americas has trained and equipped more monsters than anything short of Stalin. Of course, it is only in South America, so you don’t give a fuck about those wet-backs. Assholes. You should be ashamed, but you are probably too stupid to even know what that is.”

    Jim, sweetie…. it’s time to take your medication again….. then we’ll wipe the foam off your lips and I want you to try to take a nap. You are obviously over stimulated….

    sheesh, is your whole country filled with loons?

  • Debbie

    “Sorry, I forgot my place as a member of the United Special States Republic (USSR). I’ll try not to do that again.”

    Jim-Bob, you don’t have one.

  • http://fando.blogs.com Natalie Davis

    In all seriousness, you are exceedingly lucky, Jim.