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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Musings on Abu Ghraib  | e-mail post

There is no denying that the Abu Ghraib prison abuse in Iraq speaks rather poorly of our nation. As if victory on the battlefield was not enough, our soldiers seemed to enjoy the sport of abusing and humiliating their captive POWs.

Presumably it was not for lack of entertainment. I have certainly heard and read about the prevalance of Playstations, XBoxes, and a variety of entertainment options available to the troops. While I used to worry that excessive video game play will make real-life too boring to our youth, obviously not even Halo can compete with the idea of stripping POWs naked and posing them in all kinds of demeaning poses or group masturbation (whoa!). One can only imagine the result if Robert Mapplethorpe was a GI. The amount of nudity, posing and group masturbation involved does certainly seem to make one wonder if our Army is taking up the traditions of the British Navy as described by Churchill ("The real traditions of the British Navy are rum, buggery and the lash.").

With so much ink spilled and bandwidth consumed about this issue, I will not write at length on the subject. I do have a couple of thoughts, however:

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves
First, I have been surprised by the apparently substantial involvement of women in the situation.
Now, while Kipling may have been right that the female of the species is more deadly than the male, I tend to think they are much less sadistic (although there are exceptions, of course). Maybe this is just a subtle form of chauvinism on my part, but I would think that, all things being equal, having a number of women involved in the detention system would have resulted in more humane, rather than less humane treatment.

Passing The Buck
The other thing that I found interesting is how the official investigations are playing out. The Schlesinger report [PDF Link] found a lot of problems with everyone other than Donald Rumsfeld. Given that Rumsfeld selected the panel, this struck me as unsurprising. Of course, I don't honestly think Rumsfeld had any blame in the matter anway, I really do think he has better things to worry about that what is happening on the night shift at a military prison.

The next day, in an incredible display of buck-passing, the Army's Fay report [PDF link] blames the CIA for the atmosphere they created. Now, the CIA is a great scapegoat when you think about it. Historically responsible for some questionable tactics in the furtherance of U.S. foreign policy and still viewed with suspicion by many, there is a certain prima facie credibility to claims of CIA blame.

They must be joking. While there do seem to be legitimate claims of interogation techniques that may have crossed the line of official Army protocols, it appears they were at least carried out as part of interrogations. And there doesn't seem to be any indication of any intelligence operatives engaging in anything close to the hazing of the prisoners by the MPs serving as guards. Were the guards just "playing CIA"? I found this a pretty weak excuse.

Now, the buck-passing onto intelligence has been going on for some time. Back in a NYT interview in May, Brig Gen Karpinski was already saying that the high-security cellblock was under the control of Army intelligence, not reservists under her command. She even threw her subordinates under the bus, saying any of the reservists involved were "bad people" deserving of punishment. I always love seeing managers in the private sector blame their subordinates as well; it's one of those things Blanchard forgot in the One Minute Manager (it was the whispered-about missing chapter: "The One Minute Scapegoat").

While that tactic frequently works in the private sector, the Army still wasn't too impressed, as a report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba accused her of poor management and lax oversight. I think we should all be able to agree with that assessment.

In any event, I'll be curious to see how the other reports stack up on this issue. I am also curious to see how the CIA responds to these accusations. I doubt they're worried, given Bush's executive order this week granting more power to the CIA director, their must be riding high with the big boss.

Odd trivia I encountered: Donald Rumsfeld owns a minature dachshund, Reggie. [Rumsfeld interview transcript].

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Saturday, August 28, 2004
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