SHIELDS vs. BROOKS….I caught a few minutes of the NewsHour tonight and saw Mark Shields about as emotional as I’ve ever seen him over the Abu Ghraib scandal. His voice practically cracked as he called it “a permanent stain on America that will never go away.”

Poor David Brooks tried desperately to put the best possible spin on the whole thing, but he just couldn’t do it. You could tell his heart wasn’t in it.

The most remarkable part of Brooks’ performance, though, was his insistence that this was all the work of a few rogue privates and corporals ? or maybe just a bit higher. But that’s it. Nothing systemic.

Shields swatted this delusion away with the contempt it deserved, noting that the stuff we saw in the pictures was obviously carefully designed to inflict the greatest possible humiliation on the prisoners. It wasn’t the kind of thing a bunch of noncoms dreamed up on their own, it was part of a carefully designed effort to soften up the prisoners and get information from them. The plan was put together by Army officers and intelligence officials and was pretty clearly encouraged and condoned by their superiors.

How high does it go? And how explicit was the policy? I don’t know, but based on what we’ve seen so far I’d guess (a) pretty high and (b) pretty explicit. The only question is whether the investigation itself will go that high, or content itself with a few low ranking scapegoats.