Human Rights Watch has a new report on the widespread torturing of Iraqi detainees by US forces from 2003-2004.
I’ll be curious to hear the explanations, excuses, alibis from defenders of the war. Probably quite a few will try to kill the report through a thousand quibbles. I suspect many of them are just going to drop the pretense that this is isolated misconduct and try to actually justify it, either as the result of the understandable emotional reaction of US troops (which, you know, is why countries committed to human rights normally take formal steps to safeguard the rights of prisoners of all kinds, precisely because we understand that there will be a temptation) or even as a legitimate tactic of counterinsurgency.
Given that this was contemporaneous with Abu Ghraib, it’s also possible that some of this misconduct has ended or been checked. I’m fully prepared to hear convincing evidence to this effect. But that it happened at all, and on this scale, is a devastating blow to not just the war in Iraq, but the overall legitimacy and credibility of the United States in pursuit of its declared objectives in the “war on terror”. So if you care about that war in any way, or about the specific theater of Iraq, there’s really only one legitimate response to allegations like these: take them seriously, be gravely disturbed by them, demand that the people responsible (including at the very top, in the Administration) be held responsible–and ask yourself what it would take for the war you defend to be fought in terms which are a credit to the best of America’s possibilities. If you evade, doubletalk, or worse of all, legitimize, when confronted with this sort of evidence, you’re no defender of the struggle against terrorism, no defender of the global aspiration for freedom: you’re on the other side.