Monday, 14 June 2004
Christopher Hitchens - Speak for yourself, white man!
Christopher Hitchens. What to make of him - former leftie journalist for The Nation (who else knew and chatted with Che Guevara?), who transformed himself into a pro-Bush hawk (seeing Bush as dumb as a post but the man we need now, given the circumstances) - immensely well-informed (ask him about any minor Kurdish splinter group or who's who the secondary struggles for control of select and obscure areas of Cypress) - and amazingly articulate in his hard-drinking British way. Hyper-intelligent. Watch him on the cable news discussion shows make a blithering fool of Ann Coulter (smiling slyly) - then turn around a rail about our need to destroy the evil forces of odd Muslim thought in this world with a new Crusade. Well, his positions are far more nuanced than Ann's - as she has famously said she just wants us to convert all the leaders of the Arab world into Christians or kill them, one or the other, and she said Terry Nichols should have blown up the New York Times offices instead of that federal office building Okalahoma City. Hitchens adds other options and more subtle detail.
But he is getting a little worried about the Abu Ghraib scandal. Torture is on his mind.
See A Moral Chernobyl
Prepare for the worst of Abu Ghraib.
Christopher Hitchens - SLATE.COM - Posted Monday, June 14, 2004, at 1:46 PM PT
Chernobyl? Yep. Here's his set-up:
Yes, for the last week or more the word has been floating around the news sites on the web, and on the opinion sites, that there are stills and video of US soldiers raping Iraq women prisoners, a tape of the homosexual rape of an Iraqi pre-teen fellow by a enthusiastic male contractor, one of the interrogators we hired from a San Diego company, and various stills and videos of US soldiers beating Iraq prisoners to death.
In a recent public debate, so I was told, an American officer referred to the Abu Ghraib scandal as a "moral Chernobyl." You might think that this was overstating matters, even if in one important sense--because Chernobyl was morally an accident, albeit in some ways a "systemic" one--it is actually understating them.
But get ready. It is going to get much worse. The graphic videos and photographs that have so far been shown only to Congress are, I have been persuaded by someone who has seen them, not likely to remain secret for very long. And, if you wonder why formerly gung-ho rightist congressmen like James Inhofe ("I'm outraged more by the outrage") have gone so quiet, it is because they have seen the stuff and you have not. There will probably be a slight difficulty about showing these scenes in prime time, but they will emerge, never fear. We may have to start using blunt words like murder and rape to describe what we see. And one linguistic reform is in any case already much overdue. The silly word "abuse" will have to be dropped. No law or treaty forbids "abuse," but many conventions and statutes, including our own and the ones we have urged other nations to sign, do punish torture--which is what we are talking about here at a bare minimum.
As for the silent Senator Inhofe from Okalahoma, if you read Just Above Sunset - May 16, 2004 - Responsibility - Military Style... and legal issues - you see Inhofe said, at the initial hearings on all this, "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment ... These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.."
But the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Taguba report both point out sixty to ninety percent of those imprisoned were just picked up at random. Senator Inhofe seems to be claiming our Army and the ICRC are just flat-out wrong, or perhaps that it doesn't matter. If you are arrested, you must be guilty. That, to him, is common sense. These are bad people who would kill all Americans if they got the chance. How does he know that? Well, otherwise they wouldn't have been arrested - and that's the proof. And thus, QED, they do not deserve kid glove treatment.
Now he's saying nothing.
And for what Trent Lott had to say, see May 30, 2004: A whole Lott of love here... Conservative Thought.
Trent too has gone silent.
What up with that?
Hitchens points out that, so far, the press has focused on the questions "who knew" and "how far up did it go?" But he is equally interested in the question of how far down it has gone and how widespread it is, even though: " ... the original imperative for harsh measures came from a Defense Department, and by extension a White House, that was under intense pressure to get results in the battle against al-Qaida and felt itself hampered by nervous lawyers."
Yep. Just so.
But Hitchens is arguing that almost the whole of public opinion is complicit in this, "... as is shown by the fury over the administration's failure to pre-empt the Sept. 11 assault: a pre-emption that would almost certainly have involved some corner-cutting in the interrogation room."
We wanted this?
Speak for yourself, white man!
But here's his argument:
Many, many people must have fantasized about getting Osama Bin Laden into some version of an orange jumpsuit and then shackling him for a while to the wrong end of a large pig. It's not very far from that mass reverie to "Hey, Mustapha, you're gonna get to really know this porker" and similar or worse depravities. So in a distressing sense--of course you can all write to me if you like and say that you never even thought about it--we face something like a collective responsibility, if not exactly a collective guilt.
Speak for yourself, white man!
Anyway, everyone knows, as does Hitchens, none of what happened "produced any 'intelligence' worth the name or switched off any 'ticking bomb.' How could it? It was trashily recreational. But this doesn't relieve the security forces of democratic countries from their sworn responsibility to protect us -- yes us, the very people who demand results but don't especially want to know the full price of our protection."
Speak for yourself, white man!
Hitchens, true Brit that he is, then adds a curious historical illustration of the madness of all this:
... In the early 1970s, there was a gigantic scandal in England over the torture of Irish Republican detainees. (Harold Evans, then editor of the Sunday Times, deserves credit for printing the facts in spite of immense government pressure not to do so--or not to do so without being accused of "helping the terrorists.") The resulting outrage led to a commission of inquiry chaired by a judge named Sir Edmund Compton. His report took a dim view of some of the methods used but said that these did not amount to "torture," at least in most cases, because those inflicting them had not derived any pleasure from doing so. At the time, I thought this must be some kind of a sick joke, perhaps derived from Monty Python or the rigors of English boarding school. ("I didn't really enjoy it, Sir." "Oh well, that's all right, then. Carry on, Perkins.") However, the government did tell the army to stop it, and it pretty much did stop, and the terrorists didn't win.
They didn't win because their idea of bombing a large Protestant community into joining a united Catholic Ireland was a bit mad to begin with. And they also didn't win because security methods became tremendously more professional. Skill, in these matters, depends on taking pains and not on inflicting them. You make the chap go through his story several times, preferably on video, and then you ask his friends a huge number of tedious questions, and then you go through it all again to check for discrepancies, and then you watch the first (very boring and sexless) video all over once more, and then you make him answer all the same questions and perhaps a couple of new and clever ones. If you have got the wrong guy--and it does happen--you let him go and offer him a ride home and an apology. And you know what? It often works. Only a lazy and incompetent dirtbag looks for brutal shortcuts so that he can get off his shift early. And sometimes, gunmen and bombers even have changes of heart, as well as mind.
Fine. Too late now. Lazy and incompetent dirtbags rule.
... we shall be fighting a war against jihad for decades to come. And the jihadists will continue to make big mistakes based on their mad theory. And they are not superhuman: They can be infiltrated, bribed, and turned. You don't have to tell them what time of day it is, or where they are, or when the next meal will be served. (Though it must be served.) But you must not bring in that pig or that electrode. That way lies madness and corruption and the extraction of junk confessions. So even if law and principle didn't enter into the question, we sure as hell know what doesn't work. The cranky Puritan voice of Sir Edmund Compton comes back to me down the corridor of the years: If it gives anyone pleasure, then you are doing it wrong and doing wrong into the bargain.
I hate to agree with this man.
But I do.