Was it torture?

It’s fascinating to see how different commentators are interpreting the abuses carried out by Americans against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. I’d just like to contrast what three right-leaning bloggers/pundits had to say about it. They are in different camps, but they all suffered a blow when this story broke, as they were all strongly in favor of the war and claimed America went into Iraq with a high moral calling, a calling we would live up to.

From Little Green Footballs (caution — brown people not welcome):

I’m really surprised (and increasingly irked) at how widespread the label of “torture” is becoming, to describe what took place at the Abu Ghraib prison. I expect this stuff from places like CounterPunch and Indymedia and buzzflash, but even some people who ought to know better are starting to use the term. As despicable as the acts were that these MPs are accused of, this is not torture.

If you believe otherwise, I’d like to know how you can equate the Abu Ghraib mistreatment with Saddam Hussein’s rape rooms, or with the iron maiden used by Uday to torture the Iraqi soccer team if they lost, or with the bastinado (caning on the soles of the feet) that was a regular punishment for Saddam’s underlings if they fell into disfavor, or with the countless acts of sheer horror that are perpetrated every day under Arab regimes.

From the prince of darkness, Rush Limbaugh (via Pandagon):

Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the skull and bones initiation and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You’ve heard of need to blow some steam off?

And finally, from Andrew Sullivan, who begins by listing the abuses — the tortures — highlighted in the Taguba report (and many certainly do fall under the category of torture). He’s to be congratulated for actually facing up to what happened instead of minimizing the crimes under a cloak of generalities. He then comments.

Like most of you, I’ve had a hard time coming to grips with the appalling abuses perpetrated by some under U.S. command in, of all places, Abu Ghraib. We can make necessary distinctions between this abuse and the horrifying torture of Saddam’s rule, but they cannot obliterate the sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach. Those of us who believe in the moral necessity of this war should be, perhaps, the most offended. These goons have defiled something important and noble; they have wrought awful damage on Western prestige; they have tarnished the vast majority of servicemembers who do an amazing job; and they have done something incontrovertibly disgusting and wrong. By the same token, this has been – finally – exposed. We have a chance to show the Muslim and Arab world how a democracy deals with this. So far, the punishments meted out have not been severe enough; and the public apology not clear and definitive enough. It seems to me that some kind of reckoning has to be made by the president himself. No one below him can have the impact of a presidential statement of apology to the Iraqi and American people. Bush should give one. He should show true responsibility and remorse, which I have no doubt he feels. I can think of no better way than to go to Abu Ghraib itself, to witness the place where these abuses occurred and swear that the culprits will be punished and that it will not happen again. It would be a huge gesture. But frankly there is something tawdry about a president at a time like this campaigning in the Midwest in a bus. His entire war’s rationale has been called into question. The integrity of the United States has been indelibly harmed on his watch. He must account for it. Soon. And why not in Iraq?

Sullivan’s impatience and frustration with his former idol, George W. is palpabe. Rush Limbaugh’s blithe dismissal of the whole thing as horseplay is despicable. LGF’s attempt to minimize it by saying, “Well, Saddam did worse things,” is foolish and cowardly; didn’t we go there on a moral high ground?

On Fox News, Sean Hannity, who I’m inclined to say is the most dangerous man on television today, also bristled at the word “torture,” though he wouldn’t spell out what his definition of the word is. Somehow I suspect that for Hannity it’s only torture when a brown person does it to a white person. When we’re doing it, it becomes “lack of familiarity with the Geneva Convention” or shit like that.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

Beating people to death, mauling them with dogs, raping them and taking triumphant photographs of the prisoners is wrong?

Who knew?

But seriously folks, I think the real argument is not whether what happened was torture, but whether it was perpetrated by a few bad apples or by an entire system of unaccountable imprisonment and institutional abuse.

May 5, 2004 @ 7:08 pm | Comment

On the subject of Andrew Sullivan, his saving grace is that he often posts mail from his readers, which tends to be informed, perceptive and critical. In this way he strikes a happy balance between a comments section filled with either yes-men or trolls as on some sites, or someone who never accepts alternative viewpoints, like the InstaPuppy.

If only he could actually *learn* from some of the criticism he receives, though…

May 5, 2004 @ 7:16 pm | Comment

But if you look at Sullivan’s tone today as opposed to the days leading up to the war, you’ll detect a shift, a sense of disillusionment and even despair. I admire his willingness to criticize those whom he deified, and his willingness to keep a relatively open mind. Of course, LGF and Limbaugh would see this a sign of weakness, of being “girly.”

As to your other point, I think everyone with an IQ above room temperature knows there’s guilt at the top, whether in terms of direct orders to abuse, or in terms of silent knowledge/approval of what was going on. I hope it’ll all come out in the wash. What I’m most afraid of is seeing the little guys at the bottom taking all the blame and serving prison time while the real instigators and those responsible walk away with nothing but a reprimand.

May 5, 2004 @ 7:28 pm | Comment

That is true; his endless groping for truth and his attempts to construct a rational viewpoint in an insane world are the only reasons to read Sullivan, despite or perhaps even because of the fact that he so frequently fails.

May 5, 2004 @ 8:10 pm | Comment


Very good piece by Christoher Hitchens.

May 5, 2004 @ 9:06 pm | Comment

I think it was very appalling to treat the prisoners like that. I felt enraged looking at the pics at Washington Post – To those stupid American arsehole soldiers. Rot in hell.

I can’t believe they took pictures and laughed it off?

May 6, 2004 @ 4:04 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.