Friday, May 14, 2004

Blaming the Messenger
There's a significant stream running through the right wing press these days that says, in essence, "The media never should have released these photos because now the Arab world with really hate us." Mickey Kaus may have been one of the first, but I couldn't really tell you because, as I've said before, my personal bullshit threshold is set at about 30%. When I'm reading, watching, or listening to somebody, I make a mental note of "facts" to check up on later. And if more than 30% of their "facts" are wrong, I don't bother tuning back in unless they're extraordinarily entertaining. Most of the right-wing media (and a lot of the left) fails this test, and Kaus is particularly annoying with his "I'm a liberal, but the Republicans are right about everything, while the Democrats are wrong" schtick. Not to mention that he's way, way, way above 30%.

Anyway, I've been running across this idea that the media is to blame for Nick Berg's death because they published the photos, and they're to blame for every other bad thing that happens as blowback because apparently the Iraqi resistance all stays home on Sunday night to watch Sixty Minutes II. Here's my refutation. For the link impaired, it's a statue, carved in alabaster, of a naked prisoner with a bag over his head, bearing the inscription, "We are living American democracy". It was created over two months ago, well before the pictures came out.

Based on what's in the public record so far, we know that the torture has been going on for at least six months or so in Abu Ghraib and has probably been happening in Guantanamo and Afghanistan before that, based on the very similar stories told by people who have been released from those places, which tells us, if there wasn't already enough evidence, that this is a top-down problem, not a grassroots one. We know that individuals and organizations ranging from the Afghans to the Red Cross to members of the military have registered their objections at various points in the chain of command, but the torture kept happening. It's only since the pictures came out that there's started to be a public accounting.

We also know, according to the experts in the field, that torture doesn't get you more accurate answers, it just gets you the answers you want to hear. Given that the civilian official who put the guards under the command of the intelligence people, Stephen Cambone, was also leading the search for WMD, which we only thought existed because the Bush crew picked only the answers they liked out of a sea of dubious intelligence, there's a certain symmetry there.

You guys are smart enough to fill in the blanks, but I'll connect the dots in case you're having a slow day:

1. The Arab world already knew, in graphic detail, what was going on in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

2. The people behind the torture only stopped (if they've stopped) because of public pressure.

3. Setting morals aside, the torture has caused inestimable damage to our credibility and standing worldwide, and has likely made any rapprochement with the Arab world impossible for at least a generation. The gain? Little, if any.

Summation: Certain of our leaders were engaged in a course of action that was immoral, contrary to our values as a nation, and counterproductive to our goals and interests in Iraq and in the war on terror. They disreqarded numerous warnings and attempts to halt their behavior, increasing the danger to our military and civilian population, until these pictures were released to the media.

Rather Obvious Conclusion: The problem is the torture, not the pictures of the torture. To try and place blame on the media for this is not just wrong but completely ass backwards. But when you're trying to support a president who says the secretary of defense that oversaw all of this is "going a superb job", I guess "up is down" may be the only defense open to you.

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