Thursday, September 29, 2005

Corrupts Absolutely

"'Berto, how 'bout you write me up one of them things… What do you call 'em?"

"A memorandum, Mister President?"

"Yeah, one of them."

"What do you want the memorandum to say, sir?"

"I want to be able to do what I want, you know, without any of that treaty and convention and constitution stuff getting in the way."

"You want me to write a memo that grants you absolute power?"

"Yeah. Absolute power. I like that sound of that."

"Have it for you by noon, boss."


Today in Iraq has the letter that Captain Ian Fishback wrote to Senator John McCain regarding prisoner abuse committed by members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq and Afghanistan.

…While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command…

Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq…

My strong sense is that this Captain Fishback is an intelligent, mature man and that he isn't coming forward now for the sake of calling attention to himself. And he sure as heck isn't doing it to enhance his military career (um, his military career is over). So it sounds to me like he knows what he's talking about and, more importantly, that he's telling the truth.

And what he's telling is just another symptom of what seems to be an encompassing break down in the military chain of command, a breakdown caused by an "optional" war initiated on fuzzy pretexts and conducted in a manner outside the accepted laws of armed conflict, and a breakdown that began at the very top with the Commander in Chief.


Snippets on the "torture memo" from the Center for American Progress:
According to Newsweek, the memo "was drafted after White House meetings convened by George W. Bush's chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Department general counsel William Haynes and [Cheney counsel] David Addington." The memo included the opinion that laws prohibiting torture do "not apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants." Further, the memo puts forth the opinion that the pain caused by an interrogation must include "injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions—in order to constitute torture."

"Laws don't apply to the President." Doesn't that make you all warm and safe?

And why don't they apply? According to Gonzalez:
the war against terrorism is a new kind of war…this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

The "new kind of war" meme is one of the most disingenuous notions that the administration and its echo chamberlains have palmed off on the American public. They have told us this war is "new" because it involves terrorism, asymmetric forces, propaganda, intelligence, law enforcement, non-state political entities, religion, and a host of other factors that have been integral factors of war throughout recorded history. There is nothing about our war on terrorism that Greek military historian Thucydides didn't write about in 400 B.C., and none of it was new then either.


The trail goes from Mister Bush to Donald Rumsfeld to General Geoffrey Miller who goes to Guantanamo then Iraq and then Afghanistan. The top echelons of command, including Army Chief of Staff and Rumsfeld crony General Peter Shoomaker continue to insist that the torture incidents have been "the actions of a few."

So it's little wonder that Captain Fishback got so little response from his superiors in the chain of command. Fishback's superiors know that culpability goes all the way up to "the actions of a few" at the very top of the food chain, and nobody has enough clout to take on those characters. They have absolute power.

Remember? 'Berto gave it to them.

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