Thursday, November 10, 2005

Abu Ghraib

I know we are pretty comfortable putting Abu Ghraib and what happened there out of our minds. It doesn't fit with our picture of what we, as a nation, are all about. But given the current debate over torture, perhaps we should keep it in our minds just a bit.

As it turns out, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who has been held responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib, has a book out abuot her experiences, and she sat down with Salon magazine for an interview. Some of what she has to say is clearly self serving (she largely shifts the blame away from herself), but she does paint a picture of an Iraq in chaos and a command unconcerned with the rights of Iraqi civilians.
In late August [2003] they started these very aggressive raids. The first operation, up in Mosul, resulted in 37 security detainees arriving in Abu Ghraib. Within about 30 hours, the military interrogation teams had interviewed each one of those 37 and determined that only two of them had value and needed to be held. The other 35 were eligible to be released. And that was a firestorm, because nobody was going to be released.

I was at a briefing over at [Lt. Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez's headquarters [as the head of coalition forces in Iraq] and the deputy commander, [Maj.] Gen. [Walter] Wodjakowski, turned around to me and said, "You are not to release any one of them, Janis." And I said, "Sir, that information came from the military intelligence." And he said, "Get me somebody from the military intelligence." So this captain comes over and is trying to explain that none of these 35 had any further value. They were in fact in the wrong place at the wrong time, [gathered] up with the target individuals. So, Gen. Wodjakowski now turns on this guy and tells him, "You are not to release any of them. Do you understand me? Am I making myself perfectly clear? You are not to release any one of them." And this captain tries valiantly to explain that we'll be holding innocent people, and Gen. Wodjakowski says he doesn't care.
Obviously one of the strongest arguments in favor of torturing people is suggesting that they would do the same or worse to us. "These are people who would like to kill as many Americans as possible and you feel bad that they have to go through a little discomfort?"

The dynamic changes when you think about them as innocent civilians, and you try to imagine what it would be like to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, going through this kind of abuse. Unless you don't see much difference between an Iraqi civilian and a terrorist, I suppose.

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