In 2004 a group of lawyers and policy intellectuals gathered at Harvard, brought there by its Kennedy School, Law School, and the Department of Homeland Security, to draw up rules for coercive interrogation-"torture lite," as The New York Times Magazine would later call it in a respectful consideration of the subject. All but one of the discussants concluded that a little torture was sometimes necessary, provided it was accompanied by appropriate warrants, rules, and strict oversight. The Bush Administration rejected the Harvard team's regulatory proposals; niceties for the application of torture are superfluous once everyone agrees it needs to be done. But euphemisms-"coercive interrogation," "stress"-are appreciated. They allow George W. Bush to declare, "We don't torture."Donald Rumsfeld attempts to provide us all with a comfortable distance:
"I'm told that these photographs that are coming out now are nothing more than the same things that came out before, if not identical of the same type of behavior. That behavior was has been punished. The Department of Defense from the beginning of this conflict has had a policy that prohibits torture. It has not permitted it. We do not today,” Rumsfeld said.The Financial Times, interestingly, will have none of it. Noting that the response of the Administration is wholly defensive ("We've dealt with those who did this"; "Saddam was worse"), they reject that reasoning, and cut straight to the point:
Abu Ghraib should never have happened. But when it did, it should have been dealt with rigorously. But there was no independent investigation and no real accountability: the two most visible privates in the photos were jailed and a junior general was demoted. But responsibility lay - and lies - further up the chain of command, as far as Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, and officials such as Alberto Gonzales, now attorney-general, who devised a framework for circumventing the Geneva Conventions. It is they who should be held to account.But, as I say, none of this happens in a vacuum. No man, truly, is an island; much as we might sometimes wish some of them were.
The same applies in the British brutality case. It is not enough to cashier a few squaddies. Under whose command were they behaving in this sickening way, and is such treatment a pattern?
There are three broader points. The Bush administration - whether on wiretapping without warrant, the mistreatment of prisoners or Dick Cheney's quail-hunting misadventure - likes to operate in secrecy. This departs so far from US traditions of open government and accountability that it neither works nor, often, is it legal. And lawlessness gives real aid and succour to the enemy.
More photos, by the way, are available here, at Salon.com. These are extremely graphic. Be aware. Mark Benjamin, the reporter on this story for Salon, told Amy Goodman this morning that many in the military are angry over the obvious injustice of the handling of this case, knowing full well responsibility rises perhaps as high as the Financial Times says it does. Certainly as high as we all know it does.
There is much more to come. The bell is still tolling.