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January 6, 2005

Astonishment as a Disguising Fleece

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Responding (at least in part) to a question of mine that Jonah Goldberg conveyed in the Corner, another reader emailed him:

The stories on the FBI documents were front page news in every major paper. It is somewhat astounding to me that the folks at the Corner seem unaware that they exist.

Partial defense of my astounding unawareness can be found right at the beginnings of the first two articles to which the emailer links. One:

FBI Agents Complained of Prisoner Abuse, Records Say
* Documents obtained by ACLU show continued reports of mistreatment in Iraq and Cuba. ...

WASHINGTON — FBI agents have lodged repeated complaints of physical and mental mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba, saying in reports that military officials have placed lighted cigarettes in detainees' ears and humiliated Arab captives by wrapping Israeli flags around them, according to new documents released Monday.

The FBI records, which are among the latest set of documents obtained by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the federal government, also include instances in which bureau officials said they were disgusted by military interrogators who pretended to be FBI agents as a "ruse" to glean intelligence from prisoners.


At least 10 current and former detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have lodged allegations of abuse similar to the incidents described by FBI agents in newly released documents, claims that were denied by the government but gained credibility with the reports from the agents, their attorneys say.

Jonah puts it perfectly: "I don't think folks at the Corner were unaware of such reports, just that anecdotes seem to be translated into data pretty easily." Anybody who's paid attention has seen the various news reports about detainee allegations, NGO indignation, and accusations–cum–turf battles. (Although, it was entirely possible to miss one or the other amid the flooded zone of torture-related Bush hunting.) My question was in response to this from Andrew Sullivan's blog:

Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in "stress positions"), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns - all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib. I spent a week reading all the official reports over Christmas for a forthcoming review essay.

Rather than sift through myriad exercises in spin scattered over many months in order to find the details to which Sullivan does not point, I thought I'd ask whether the well-read folks at the Corner knew of something recent and/or comprehensive. Let's recall that Sullivan had quite a reaction when the Abu Ghraib story was new, and that he placed it right at the beginning of his May 12 New Republic piece, "That's the Ticket: The Kerry-McCain Dream."

Given the various reasons for careful parsing, I was asking for an "official report" of the sort to which Rich Lowry linked:

Since the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. military and security operations have apprehended about 50,000 individuals. From this number, about 300 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo have arisen. As of mid-August 2004, 155 investigations into the allegations have been completed, resulting in 66 substantiated cases. Approximately one-third of these cases occurred at the point of capture or tactical collection point, frequently under uncertain, dangerous and violent circumstances.

It is not moral callousness to suggest that it makes a difference whether the anecdotes about deformation via hot metal are to be found among the 145 incomplete investigations, among the approximately 44 substantiated incidents that did not occur under extreme conditions, or in some other status category. This is especially true when the discussion is taking place in the context of a contentious confirmation battle, which is itself playing out under extreme political conditions.

Posted by Justin Katz at January 6, 2005 10:48 PM

This is a simple post-hoc rationalization for glaring ignorance. The ignorance rises because conservatives have become reactionary about anythinig that might hurt Dear Leader. The fascistic impulse to put the Leader and His Character above all reason and evidence makes the non-issue status of the torture scandal a forgone conclusion. The evidence is also not yet in on Kofi Anan's role in the UN oil for food scandal. Are conservatives becing cautious and charitable in their interpretations so far? Of course not. The red-neck shit-kicker persona is a part of the latest conservative moment... when someone takes pictures of the effects of this attitdue in real life, just look away, and spin out some Liberal Media Conspiracy angle... It's that simple.

Posted by: Eli at January 7, 2005 6:45 PM

No, Eli. This is what it says it is. I'm not saying that "the evidence is not in." I'm saying that whole ranges of degree are being flung together, with circumstantial distinctions blurred. This is evident in your quick elevation of evidence of abuse to evidence of a dictator. Thus are events, mild and horrifying, built into a political weapon.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 7, 2005 7:14 PM