Efforts to contain Abu Ghraib to a few bad apples “has failed” — let the meltdown begin

The “tsunami” to which Fred Kaplan refers in the previous post is gaining momentum today. Here’s a clip from UPI in total, which drives home this point. I recommend reading every word.

Efforts at the top level of the Bush administration and the civilian echelon of the Department of Defense to contain the Iraq prison torture scandal and limit the blame to a handful of enlisted soldiers and immediate senior officers have already failed: The scandal continues to metastasize by the day.

Over the past weekend and into this week, devastating new allegations have emerged putting Stephen Cambone, the first Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, firmly in the crosshairs and bringing a new wave of allegations cascading down on the head of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when he scarcely had time to catch his breath from the previous ones.

Even worse for Rumsfeld and his coterie of neo-conservative true believers who have run the Pentagon for the past 3½ years, three major institutions in the Washington power structure have decided that after almost a full presidential term of being treated with contempt and abuse by them, it’s payback time.

Those three institutions are: The United States Army, the Central Intelligence Agency and the old, relatively moderate but highly experienced Republican leadership in the United States Senate.

None of those groups is chopped liver: Taken together they comprise a devastating Grand Slam.

The spearhead for the new wave of revelations and allegations – but by no means the only source of them – is veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. In a major article published in the New Yorker this week and posted on to its Web-site Saturday, Hersh revealed that a high-level Pentagon operation code-named Copper Green “encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation” of Iraqi prisoners. He also cited Pentagon sources and consultants as saying that photographing the victims of such abuse was an explicit part of the program meant to force the victims into becoming blackmailed reliable informants.

Hersh further claimed in his article that Rumsfeld himself approved the program and that one of his four or five top aides, Cambone, set it up in Baghdad and ran it.

These allegations of course are anathema to the White House, Rumsfeld and their media allies. In a highly unusual step for any newspaper, the editorially neo-conservative tabloid New York Post ran an editorial Monday seeking to ridicule and discredit Hersh. However, it presented absolutely no evidence to query, let alone discredit the substance of his article and allegations.

Instead, the New York Post editorial inadvertently pointed out one, but by no means all, of the major sources for Hersh’s information. The editorial alleged that Hersh had received much of his material from the CIA.

Based on the material Hersh quoted, his legendary intelligence community contacts were probably sources for some of his information. However, Hersh has also enjoyed close personal relations with many now high-ranking officers in the United States Army, going all the way back to his prize-winning coverage and scoops in Vietnam more than 30 years ago.

Indeed, intelligence and regular Army sources have told UPI that senior officers and officials in both communities are sickened and outraged by the revelations of mass torture and abuse, and also by the incompetence involved, in the Abu Ghraib prison revelations. These sources also said that officials all the way up to the highest level in both the Army and the Agency are determined not to be scapegoated, or allow very junior soldiers or officials to take the full blame for the excesses.

President George W. Bush in his weekly radio address Saturday claimed that the Abu Ghraib abuses were only “the actions of a few” and that they did not “reflect the true character of the Untied States armed forces.”

But what enrages many serving senior Army generals and U.S. top-level intelligence community professionals is that the “few” in this case were not primarily the serving soldiers who were actually encouraged to carry out the abuses and even then take photos of the victims, but that they were encouraged to do so, with the Army’s well-established safeguards against such abuses deliberately removed by high-level Pentagon civilian officials.

Abuse and even torture of prisoners happens in almost every war on every side. But well-run professional armies, and the U.S. Army has always been one, take great pains to guard against it and limit it as much as possible. Even in cases where torture excesses are regarded as essential to extract tactical information and save lives, commanders in most modern armies have taken care to limit such “dirty work” to very small units, usually from special forces, and to keep it as secret as possible.

For senior Army professionals know that allowing patterns of abuse and torture to metastasize in any army is annihilating to its morale and tactical effectiveness. Torturers usually make lousy combat soldiers, which is why combat soldiers in every major army hold them in contempt.

Therefore, several U.S. military officers told UPI, the idea of using regular Army soldiers, including some even just from the Army Reserve or National Guard, and encouraging them to inflict such abuses ran contrary to received military wisdom and to the ingrained standards and traditions of the U.S. Army.

The widespread taking of photographs of the victims of such abuses, they said, clearly revealed that civilian “amateurs” and not regular Army or intelligence community professionals were the driving force in shaping and running the programs under which these abuses occurred.

Hersh has spearheaded the waves of revelations of shocking abuse. But other major U.S. media organizations are now charging in behind him to confirm and extend his reports. They are able to do so because many senior veteran professionals in both the CIA and the Army were disgusted by the revelations of the torture excesses. Now they are being listened to with suddenly receptive ears on Capitol Hill.

Republican members in the House of Representatives have kept discipline and silence on the revelations. But with the exception of the increasingly isolated and embarrassed Senate Republican Leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, other senior mainstream figures in the GOP Senate majority have refused to go along with any cover-up.

Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Pat Roberts of Kansas and John Warner of Virginia have all been outspoken in their condemnation of the torture excesses. And they did so even before the latest, most far-reaching and worst of the allegations and reports surfaced. Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, lost no time in hauling Rumsfeld before it to testify.

The pattern of the latest wave of revelations is clear: They are coming from significant numbers of senior figures in both the U.S. military and intelligence services. They reflect the disgust and contempt widely felt in both communities at the excesses; and at long last, they are being listened to seriously by senior Republican, as well as Democratic, senators on Capitol Hill.

Rumsfeld and his team of top lieutenants have therefore now lost the confidence, trust and respect of both the Army and intelligence establishments. Key elements of the political establishment even of the ruling GOP now recognize this.

Yet Rumsfeld and his lieutenants remain determined to hang on to power, and so far President Bush has shown every sign of wanting to keep them there. The scandal, therefore, is far from over. The revelations will continue. The cost of the abuses to the American people and the U.S. national interest is already incalculable: And there is no end in sight.

Finally, the little bratty boy who thought he could run roughshod over the Constitution is getting his comeuppance. The floodgates are opening, and this is all we’re going to hear about. Instapundit can shrug his shoulders all he wants and stick to his 7 bad apples excuse (as he’s still doing!), but that won’t stop the Watergate-like investigation that’s about to be set in motion.

This is usually the point when the worms crawl out of the woodwork, calling the media to tell their stories to make sure they don’t get implicated themselves. At the risk of being called an alarmist, I’m going to suggest we all hold on tight. It’s going to be a summer to remember.


Abu Ghraib: Worse than Watergate?

There are a lot of must-read articles and posts out there at the moment on Abu Ghraib, but this one by Fred Kaplan gets my vote for must-read article of the week. If anyone thinks this scandal is going to go away, with blame falling on “a few bad apples,” I suggest you check it out now.

The White House is about to get hit by the biggest tsunami since the Iran-Contra affair, maybe since Watergate. President George W. Bush is trapped inside the compound, immobilized by his own stay-the-course campaign strategy. Can he escape the massive tidal waves? Maybe. But at this point, it’s not clear how.

This is the grimmest piece I’ve seen yet on just how serious a mess Abu Ghraib is. “Read the whole thing,” as bloggers like to say. As much as Fox News wants you to think it’s all about 7 bad soldiers indulging in a little horseplay, there’s no way around the fact that this is going to dominate the news right up to election day. And as Kaplan notes more than once, there is nothing Bush can do; the wheels are in motion, and there’s no place to hide.

Update: Don’t miss Josh Marshall’s take on the Kaplan article. This was certainly the talk of the blogosphere today. Snippet:

The whole progression of the story has an odd doubled-up quality. On the one hand we have repeated claims from top officials insisting that the abuses were the isolated work of a few miscreants. Then, simultaneously, we have numerous stories showing specific policy decisions (often confirmed on the record by slightly lower-level officials) which sanctioned pretty close to all the stuff we’re seeing in those photos, even if not quite practiced with the same relish and glee.


Iraq was all worth it — traces of sarin gas found

You’d have to see Fox News to believe it. We all knew Saddam had used poison gas in the past, and that doesn’t even count as a weapon of mass destruction. But now that they’ve found some sarin gas in an artillery shell, it’s as though we’ve discovered nuclear missiles. Fox announcers are having multiple orgasms, interviewing crusty Republicans who are exclaiming how this justifies everything. It proves Bush was right all along. Now we know what a threat Saddam posed. Thank God for our brilliant invasion.

Of course, anyone who’s not severely intellectually challenged will have to wonder, if they have such awful weapons, how come they never used them against us over the past year? If this is as terrifying as Saddam’s mythological weapons get, the Fox News people have very little solid ground to stand on.

Update: Fox just interviewed their “military consultant,” convicted liar Oliver North on this startling news. He says the other media are ignoring it, possibly because it would force them to concede Bush was right about WMDs in Iraq. In that disarming Fox way, North also says he’s heard talk about new huge stockpiles of chemical weapons that “may” be buried in northern Baghdad. It’s just some BS gossip, but the way North couches it, he’s offering us exclusive insider information, and the gullible listener could easily walk away thinking it’s the truth. I’ve never seen anything quite like this — a news network that strives to elevate gossip and lies (if, of course, they serve to make Democrats look bad and Republicans look good).

North also referred dismissively to “the so-called Abu Ghraib scandal.” So-called? That’s lilke referring to President Kennedy’s “so-called assassination.”


North Korea condemns the US on human rights!

Is the pot calling the kettle black or what?

More countries joined the international community during the last few days in condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers and urging the punishment of the perpetrators.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Saturday described the United States as “the world’s worst human rights violator and a graveyard of human rights for its violation of international law and the Islamic ethics and culture.”

It said the United States should settle all its human rights issues before acting as the “world judge of human rights.”

Goodness. The US is the world’s worst violator, over Syria and Burma and Sudan? Maybe Kim Jong Il knows something I don’t. (And come to think about it, I’d heard that North Korea ranked pretty poorly when it comes to human rights itself. But that may just be a rumor.)

Among the other nations damning us in the article for our abysmal human rights record are Egypt, Morocco and Peru, none of which have won any recent awards in the human rights category, to the best of my knowledge.

What a mess.


Rare interview with Columbine killer Dylan Klebold’s parents

New York Times pundit David Brooks, whom I recently cited for a fine column on what motivated Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to murder 13 classmates and teachers at Columbine High School some 5 years ago, has pulled a real coup with his new article, in which he actually interviews Klebold’s parents.

One thing that I — and I suspect everyone else who followed the case — wondered about endlessly was how the parents of the two teenagers felt when they heard the news. What went on in their minds? How did they cope? Did they blame themselves? Were they shocked or was it a fuilfillment of their worst nightmare?

Finally, Brooks takes us into the minds of Klebolds parents, if only briefly. The column is an outgrowth of the earlier one, which elicited an email from the Klebolds and led to this interview. Brooks tells us:

That first night, their lawyer said to them, “Dylan isn’t here anymore for people to hate, so people are going to hate you.” Even as we spoke this week, Tom had in front of him the poll results, news stories and documents showing that 83 percent of Americans had believed the parents were partly to blame. Their lives are now pinioned to this bottomless question: Who is responsible?

They feel certain of one thing. “Dylan did not do this because of the way he was raised,” Susan said. “He did it in contradiction to the way he was raised.”

After the shooting, they faced a simple choice: to move away and change their names, or to go back and resume their lives. Susan thinks about leaving every day. “I won’t let them win,” Tom said. “You can’t run from something like this.”

So they live in the same house and work at the same jobs. Susan works in the community college system. “It’s amazing how long it took me to get up and say my name at a meeting, to say, `I’m Dylan Klebold’s mother,’ ” Susan says. “Dylan could have killed any number of the kids of people that I work with.”

More than anything else, they blame the bullying nature of Dylan’s classmates, but I find that inadequate. Lots of kids were bullied (including me), but they don’t conspire to kill en masse, let alone execute their sinister plan. Yet its clear that the Klebolds are truly mystified, and are secure in the belief that they did not fail their son as parents. And I’m convinced they are completely sincere.

Brooks ends:

My instinct is that Dylan Klebold was a self-initiating moral agent who made his choices and should be condemned for them. Neither his school nor his parents determined his behavior. Now his parents have been left with the terrible consequences. I’d say they are facing them bravely and honorably.

My heart has to go out to them. How does it feel to have your whole world come crashing down on your head? How do you carry on, knowing that all eyes are on you and hating you? I have to thank David Brooks, with whose political views I nearly always take issue, for his compassionate and revealing article.

UPDATE: Apparently the parents of the slain students aren’t showing the Klebolds nearly as much compassion as Brooks:

The Klebolds’ comments was criticized late Saturday by some of the victims’ parents.

“I’m horrified,” Dawn Anna, whose daughter Lauren Townsend was killed at Columbine, told The Associated Press. “I wanted an apology. I wanted a contribution to help us understand why it happened, so that it would never happen again. I didn’t hear it.”

Brian Rohrbough, father of victim Daniel Rohrbough, said he was outraged that the Klebolds likened the day of the shootings to a natural disaster in the interview with Brooks.

“This was murder,” he said. “In my opinion, what went on in their home led to Columbine.”

I certainly understand how they feel. Should the Klebolds have apologized? I don’t know.


Seymour Hersh’s 3rd New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib

It’s out, and it’s ugly.

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

So much for the “bad apples” theory, which every thinking person knew from the start was a load of crap. Hersh outlines how this program started, and how Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s Under-Secretary for Intelligence, helped codify it. No, this story isn’t going away, and eventually some heads will have to roll. Cambone is dead meat and he knows it.


Wild Swans is the UK’s “best-loved nonfiction book”

I’m a bit surprised, but that’s what the survey says.

Jung Chang’s epic family saga Wild Swans has been named Britain’s best-loved work of non-fiction after more than 5,000 participants in The Telegraph’s Real Read survey – held in conjunction with the book chain Ottakar’s – voted for their favourite non-fiction books.

Readers were given a list of 100 titles when voting opened last month, but could select any others they preferred.

The rest of the top 10 favourites were, in order of votes received: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson; Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie; Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals; The Diary of Anne Frank; Stalingrad by Antony Beevor; Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes; James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small; Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom; and Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’.

“I’m absolutely thrilled and very grateful to the readers,” Jung Chang said yesterday.

The popularity of Wild Swans, the Chinese-born novelist’s first book, has been more than borne out by its sales history. Subtitled Three Daughters of China, it has sold more than two million copies since its publication in 1991. It is believed to be Britain’s fastest selling non-fiction book.

With some reservations, I enjoyed Wild Swans, which I “reviewed” here last year. I wouldn’t put it on my Top 10 list for nonfiction, but I would strongly recommend you read it if you want to learn what life in China was like from the 1920s through the Cultural Revolution. (It certainly taught me just how awful a practice footbinding was, as I detail in my review.)


Yet more on China’s one-child policy

The topic — that China should end its controversial one-child policy — seems to be gaining traction.

China should change its one-child policy to allow couples to have two children as one of the ways to resolve the problems of a rapidly ageing society, a population expert has suggested.

That would slow down the ageing of the population at the macro level, according to Professor Gui Shixun. More important, it also meant that families would be better able to look after their aged elders financially and care for them.

His proposal, made at a conference on healthy ageing and socio-economic development, comes at a time when Chinese policy-makers are increasingly worried about the country’s ageing population.

On Wednesday, officials warned that China’s becoming an ageing country well before it had become affluent was creating pressures for both policy-makers and society.

Gui’s argument is based on an increasing concern that a huge surge in China’s greying population might soon offset economic development and place “an unsustainable burden on public budgets and extended families.”

I find this a very interesting topic, based on my converations with Chinese people who see the one-child policy as a necessity. Are we on the verge of witnessing a major shift in this attitude?


So how do people in China perceive the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal?

I’ve been wondering about that for some time, and this new article helps shed some light on their reaction to Abu Ghraib. It looks at what China’s Netizens are saying on the country’s message boards, and it’s very interesting.

The graphic images of Iraqi prisoners being abused have evoked condemnation of the US from almost every corner of the globe. That too would have been the predictable reaction from China. As a country which has been on the receiving end of regular American criticism for its human rights violations, the torture revelations present a clear opportunity to return the ‘favor’.

China’s official media and many of its citizens have lived up to that expectation. Surprisingly, however, many of China’s internet users have turned the Abu Ghraib prison scandal into a lesson in the value of a free press and government accountability – two features of the US system that are sorely lacking in China.

….[A]lthough the People’s Daily network chose to publicize only those internet postings that fit this established pattern of anti-U.S. criticism, the postings as a whole show a wide diversity of opinion among Chinese netizens. Many people have derided the US as hypocritical, but others have taken this opportunity to hint at China’s own difficulties in this area….

Far from eliciting a simple, one-sided anti-US stance, the US torture revelations are providing fodder for wide-ranging discussions on human rights, democracy, and the role of the media.

In the more than 500 comments on the Iraqi prisoner torture posted in the past week, about 45 percent expressed a clear anti-American sentiment. Yet one-fourth of the postings praised the US media for its role in exposing the abuse and criticized China’s press for not being able to do the same on problems at home. What’s more, over a third of all postings included some sort of praise for America’s democratic political system.

Lots of the posts were also highly anti-US, the article says, but that’s not surprising. And it was refreshing to read how many are responding to such comments by noting that at least in America the truth can come out and the government be held accountable.


Instapundit blogroll contest in full swing

If you haven’t heard about the contest over at MaxSpeak I recommend you get over there now. Some of the comments are beyond all belief. It certainly paints a most vivid picture of the company Professor Reynolds keeps. What an ingenious idea.