Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Another superb essay from Tom Engelhardt today on America's global terror network. This one's a sequel to the Orwell/Kafka piece I linked to a couple days ago--and neither is to be missed: Water-boarding in the White House

EXCERPT: On Sunday, in part one of this dispatch on our global torture system, George Orwell… meet Franz Kafka, I wrote: "There will be so much more to learn. Already, when it comes to Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Pentagon keeps heaping investigations on top of one another, each subsequent one led by a figure with a higher rank and so more capable of investigating responsibility at higher levels, and I think it can be said with certainty that this will only get worse -- worse probably than anything we now imagine." As it happens, this administration is hemorrhaging documents. It took exactly twenty-four hours for my modest prediction to come true.

In the space of a day, we learned much more; it got significantly worse; and the Pentagon announced yet another investigation, this time of prisoner conditions at Guantanamo, where, it is rumored, much treatment and mistreatment was systematically and bureaucratically videoed, filed, and stored. Though this may seem but the next case of the criminal investigating the crime, there are numerous military men and intelligence officials angry enough, often disgusted enough, at what this administration has let loose to make even insider investigations dangerous for the administration these days.

Were the subject at hand anything but the creation of an American torture regime (and implicitly "high crimes and misdemeanors"), some of what's happened would be hilarious. For instance, Attorney General Ashcroft has stiff-armed Congress, refusing to declassify the memoranda that the administration's many legal minds produced justifying torture and the most literal sort of imperial presidency (to be presided over by a torturer-in-chief); and yet, in the last day or so, these memos have sprouted like so many wretched weeds at news sites all over the Internet....

What they make clear is that the Bush administration had torture on the brain. Its officials were fixated on the subject, which went so naturally with the President's new-style, no-holds-barred, we're-the-only-law-in-town, dead-or-alive, assassination-and-kidnapping "war on terrorism." It's no longer a matter of whether knowledge of the acts committed at Abu Ghraib prison reach the President and his advisors, but of what can only be termed a complete obsession with the subject of torture among those figures. The highest officials at the Pentagon, in the military, in the CIA, and at the Justice Department clearly couldn't stop thinking about torture -- as over the course of more than a year they requested legal memorandum after memorandum, all chewing over how to define torture so that various inhumane acts involving the infliction of mental and physical pain would not be considered such; over how far to go when too far was never quite far enough. In this sense, whether they were aware of the individual acts of horror at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere (and a number of them evidently were), they were certainly intensely aware that acts of this nature and worse were a "necessity" of their war (even if photos of them were not).

Engelhardt goes on to summarize the various news items. Again, if you're following the twists and turns of this scandal -- or if you'd like a good summary to bring you up to date -- these two essays aren't to be missed.

Also, we have a unique opportunity. There's a good chance Tom will stop by here within the next day or two. I extended the invitation, and he expressed interest. So, if you've got any questions or comments for him, click "Comments" just below, post your note, and hopefully Tom will have some time to spare.

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