Newsweek Defends Abu Ghraib


Take one paragraph from the cover-story by Stu Taylor and Evan Thomas now on newsstands:

The issue of torture is more complicated than it seems. America brought untold shame on itself with the abuses at Abu Ghraib. It's likely that the take-the-gloves-off attitude of Cheney and his allies filtered down through the ranks, until untrained prison guards with sadistic tendencies were making sport with electric shock. But no direct link has been reported.

Let's unpack this. They start by telling the reader that "torture" is complicated. They paint a picture in which what happened was that Dick Cheney's "robust" attitude toward prisoners somehow filtered down and became much more extreme at the bottom. And so you have a sensible patriotic vice-president trying to save America, foiled by improvising sadistic amateurs at the bottom, who even went so far as to use electric shocks.

This narrative, to put it bluntly, is a lie.

There were no electric shocks, to my knowledge, at Abu Ghraib (or even Gitmo, so far as we know). There were just fake electric wires designed to fool a hooded, terrified prisoner that he was in danger of being electrocuted. But Taylor and Thomas introduce this cartoonish torture that never happened to contrast it with Cheney's allegedly more moderate measures. That way, they can bypass the bleeding obvious: there was no distinction between the techniques revealed at Abu Ghraib and what Bush and Cheney specifically authorized.

Most of the abuses at Abu Ghraib - forced nudity, use of dogs, mock executions, stress positions, sleep deprivation, repeated beatings - were all authorized SERE techniques, rendered an indelible part of America's value system by president Bush. They were inflicted on individuals who were subject to no due process, a vast majority of whom were innocent - again in line with the Bush-Cheney policy of seizing individuals without trial and torturing them for information.

A simple question: If these torture techniques brought "untold shame" on the United States, then why exactly is Newsweek effectively defending them? Look at the photo above. This is what Cheney and Rumsfeld authorized in order to soften up prisoners before interrogation. Does Jon Meacham, who continued to defend the Cheney line this morning, think that Lynndie England dreamed up this strange scenario all by herself? You think she figured "fear up" as a SERE technique out by telepathy?

Taylor and Thomas defend "enhanced interrogation." Therefore they defend the bulk of what happened at Abu Ghraib. There is no logical alternative. Over to Wikipedia:

Experts Marty Lederman, H. Candace Gorman, Arthur Bright, Scott Horton and Nat Hentoff have reported that blogger, political commentator and former editor of The New Republic Andrew Sullivan claimed that "enhanced interrogation" bears remarkable resemblance to the techniques the Gestapo called "Verschärfte Vernehmung," for which some of them faced prosecution in Norway after World War II and were "found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death."[21][22][23][24][25][4][26][27][28] Besides the similarity of the practices, the German term "verschärfte Vernehmung" itself literally translates as "enhanced interrogation". These techniques included the simplest rations, a hard bed, a dark cell, deprivation of sleep, exhaustion exercises, and blows with a stick.

A 1948 Norwegian court case[29] described the use of hypothermia identical to the reports from Guantanamo Bay. Sullivan and Gorman contend that the defense used by the Nazis for applying the techniques "is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration." Most notably the concept of unlawful enemy combatant is invoked avant la lettre to justify its implementation on "insurgent prisoners out of uniform", and notes the identical logic propagated by John Yoo today.[21][23] The so called "ticking time bomb scenario", as rationale for allowing torture, had its precursor in the Gestapo's "Third degree" measures.[26] According to The Christian Science Monitor:

But while the Nazis' interrogative methods were found to be torture, The New York Times writes that the Allies' methods at the time were far more effective and far less abusive than those the United States uses now.[4]

This is what Bush and Cheney authorized. Period. We see it all over the world, in obvious places and secret ones. It was set out in memos. It was pioneered at Gitmo and in secret sites and then it was transferred to Gitmo under Rumsfeld's orders. If Taylor and Thomas want to defend Bush's policies - and argue that they never amounted to violations of US law and the Geneva Conventions - then they have to defend the techniques at Abu Ghraib. I could respect their position more if they were candid about this. But the minute they are candid, their de facto support for abuse and torture of prisoners is unmissable.