TORTURED LOGIC.. It’s hard to know which of the many, many cases of Bush administration incompetence is the most mind-bendingly awful. Ignoring eight months of warnings about al Qaeda until September 11? Actively misreading and misrepresenting the intel on Iraq’s WMD? Failing to plan for the aftermath of the invasion? Trusting Ahmed Chalabi?

Worthy candidates all. But Phil Carter thinks that the most scandalous screw-up, the one most likely to weaken our security and endanger our troops in the long run, is Abu Ghraib. He makes his case in a brilliant piece in the November issue of The Washington Monthly, a sneak preview of which you can read here.

Carter makes several important points. First, despite relentless attempts by the Bush administration and its allies to portray the torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere as merely the misbehavior of a handful of low-ranking soldiers, the truth is that this misbehavior was the direct and predictable result of policy decisions made at the very top, including by President Bush.

Second, even if you grant–as Phil does–that any president in Bush’s shoes would have been compelled to countenance a certain amount of extra-Geneva “smacky-face” to extract information from terrorists and insurgents, there were other easier-to-control methods of allowing such treatment in certain cases available to Bush than the disastrous course he chose–which was to essentially throw out the Geneva Conventions and delegate the decision of how to treat prisoners to front-line troops.

Third, for all the damage Bush’s decision has caused–including, most probably, encouraging average Iraqis to join or at least support the insurgents who are currently killing our soldiers–the name “Abu Ghraib” has hardly been mentioned in the last weeks of the presidential campaign. No one asked about it in the debates. The ever-cautious Kerry has never, as far as I know, brought it up himself on the stump. Amazing when you think about it. And sad, especially when you consider that every third day seems to bring a fresh new hook. Indeed, there’s this front-page revelation in today’s New York Times about more legal loopholes that the administration has created in order to deny Geneva protections to certain prisoners in Iraq. The Washington Post has been on the story, too. But politically I guess we’re just going to let this one slide until after the election. As I said, sad.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.