Responsible Ones

EuroSavant is back now, from an extended period of travel to Segway in cities located elsewhere in Europe. Fortunately, the scandal that erupted last week over the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by American (and seemingly also British) military personnel in Iraq shows no signs of dying down soon. I write “fortunately” not only from the immediate consideration that there is still plenty of coverage and commentary in the European press, but also because indeed this matter should not “die down” until all has been investigated, all has been revealed, and all those guilty have been relieved of their positions and punished. Some say that that would mean no such “closure” until Election Day next November.

As I make my way back into the €S groove, I have to shoot first at the big, obvious targets and leave subtlety (e.g. finding that telling commentary in some otherwise-obscure journal appearing in a more-obscure country) for later. What more obvious source to go to for non-English-language comment than France’s leading newspaper Le Monde? With its editorial from Sunday entitled Responsible Ones, Le Monde certainly does not disappoint.

The article doesn’t exactly come to any ground-breakingly original conclusions. But the editorial writers do enhance their credibility with their even-handedness: for example, they term as “excessive” the title to the Friday’s New York Times editorial on the affair, “The Military Archipelago,” recalling the narrative of the horrors of the Soviet prison camps by Alexandr Solszenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago.” And they make sure to decry the crocodile tears of the leaders of Middle East regimes over the torture allegations, leaders who were “deaf for so long to the crying [hurlements] of Saddam Hussein’s victims,” as they were indeed also to those being tortured in their own prisons. They even lead with a variation on that classic statement of clichéd Gallic cynicism, attributed to Prince Telleyrand but supposedly uttered instead by the father of the modern police state under Napoléon, Joseph Fouché: these allegations of Iraqi prisoner torture are worse than a crime, they are a blunder.

They are a blunder, wrotes Le Monde as it proceeds to the substance of what it wants to say, because this prisoner abuse is not just about the misguided actions of some individuals, as the White House would have you believe, but instead calls into question “Washington’s strategy and philosophy.” “This is what can happen when a power – even though democratic – openly considers itself above the law [and] drapes itself in an ideological infallibility as the only one fighting for ‘Good’ against ‘Evil’ that only it is capable of defining.” The Bush team is finally paying a heavy price for refusing to admit that the rest of the world does not operate à l’américaine – in the American style.

That’s just the editorial; check out some of the related articles coming out in today’s (Monday’s) edition. Torture in Iraq: George W. Bush Tries to Minimize the Consequences: the president bravely asserts that the prisoner torment at the Abu Ghraib prison was nothing more than les méfaits d’une poignée: “the misdeeds of a handful.” This article then goes on to speculate on the possibility of the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among other things quoting Senator John McCain’s “disappointment” at Rumsfeld’s unwillingness to be very forthcoming during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Friday. And it quotes Senator Hillary Clinton to the effect that the Secretary of Defense’s inability or unwillingness to provide many answers raises legitimate questions whether he can truly continue to serve in that capacity.

Or another article: The Pentagon Approved 20 Stress Techniques. These twenty techniques were in fact approved by the Pentagon in April, 2003, for use first at the facility at Guantanamo Bay. Then they were approved for “prisoners considered important in Iraq.” These were methods of psychological pressure (to choose but one possible word), including sleep interruption, exposure to hot and to cold, and “sensory assaults” such as with music or sudden blinding light. The aim was to deprive prisoners of their sense of time, and particularly of their self-control when faced with demands for information. Now, supposedly the use any of these “20 techniques” required interrogators to apply ahead of time for permission from their superiors, and a medical follow-up for the prisoner was mandatory.

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