Torture

Tortured Writing… In a previous post, I tried to figure out from the first day’s coverage of the new Schlesinger panel report on Abu Ghraib and a quick scan of the thing myself what the report actually says about the degree to which Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was responsible for the prisoner abuses. The question I couldn?t quite answer was whether or to what degree the panel thought Rumsfeld and other top administration officials screwed up by issuing policy directives that loosened the definition of acceptable interrogation techniques to include practices such as stripping prisoners nude and threatening them with dogs.

Believe me, the whole idea of such practices gives me the willies. But, call me callous, I can imagine that if I were a national security decision-maker I might find myself allowing them in certain very tightly-controlled circumstances. The danger of that attitude, of course, is that it is hard to keep such procedures under tight control. Once you allow them, enterprising subordinates are likely to apply them to circumstances you didn?t intend or in ways that go beyond what you intended. And mistakes like that can lose you a war. So if you?re going to even consider opening up this particular Pandora?s box, you?d better be listening to all points of view, and if you go forward, you?d better be concerned and attentive to the point of paranoia about how the policy is being implemented.

Well, let?s just say that this is not a characterization that applies to Secretary Rumsfeld. And it sure doesn?t apply to his boss, President Bush, who ultimately signed off on the change in policy. The Washington Post?s Jackson Diehl has waded through the whole report, finds it confusing on this point, but ultimately argues?convincingly I think?that from the report?s own findings that responsibility for the abuses runs directly to Rumsfeld and Bush.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.