Prisoner abuse

Who’s really owed an apology?

Via Expat Yank, Joseph Lieberman is quoted in a Friday editorial in the New York Daily News:

“I hope as we go about this investigation we do it in a way that does not dishonor the hundreds of thousands of Americans in uniform who are a lot more like Pat Tillman and Americans that are not known, like Army National Guard Sgt. Felix Delgreco, of Simsbury, Conn., who was killed in action a few weeks ago, that we not dishonor their service or discredit the cause that brought us to send them to Iraq, because it remains one that is just and necessary.”

I don’t care for the title of the editorial, as we MUST apologize. Others’ failures to apologize for 9/11 or the POWs on television during the invasion of Iraq or the contractors killed and mutilated in Fallujah doesn’t excuse us from our obligation to apologize, investigate, correct, and move on.

At the same time, this shouldn’t be a sackcloth and self-flagellation exercise, either. We, as in the United States of America as represented by some of our soldiers, have screwed up in a royal way. The actions of a few are going to tarnish the accomplishments of the many, and our standing in the international “community”, already rickety, will suffer another blow. But we will address this issue and deal with it in an appropriate manner.

Donald Sensing has an excellent post up on this issue called There is no “but”:

Yes, the 9/11 attacks were terrible and all . . . but …. look at how badly the United States has treated the Third World, etc. etc. etc.

And I hear an echo of this “but” in some of the conservative commentary about Abu Ghraib: “Yes, the abuse and humiliation and battery of the Iraqi detainees was awful . . . but look how badly Saddam treated people in prison. Look what the Iraqis did to those four contractors on March 31, etc etc, etc.

There is no “but.” Period. As Secretary Rumsfeld and his accompanying high defense officials and officers have made abundantly clear, the acts were crimes and must be understood as such.

There is no but.

Exactly. This must be dealt with quickly. Examples must be made, though I’m not suggesting that anyone be punished simply for the sake of making an example. I think there are going to be sufficient numbers of genuine scapegoats without having to manufacture any.

I think that both Bush and Rumsfeld have been doing a fairly good job of presenting things since the story broke, and I certainly am not among those who think this issue should cost Rummy his job. But it had better cost some people, and not just guards and clerks, their jobs and their freedom for the next few years.

Many Conservatives aren’t thrilled with the idea of our leaders apologizing for anything. I disagree. In fact, two weeks ago I wrote a piece for Watchblog about this subject. I realize that public apologies or admissions of error will give the other side some ammo, but the lack of apologies and admissions of error does, too. If you screw up, you need to acknowledge it, explain what’s going to be done about it, and then move on. In a departure from previous policy, this seems to be exactly what the administration is trying to do with the Abu Ghraib catrastrophe.

Of course, even when you do step up, you won’t score points with everyone. Ross at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy has this to say:

“I take full responsibility.”

Donald Rumsfeld said this to Congress last week, during hearings. I never thought the phrase would be so empty of meaning. Can one utter the phrase, then do nothing? What else is being done? I do not necessarily mean that the only acceptable path is that Rumsfeld resign. It is this: When one takes full responsibility, some level of personal sacrifice is required; if none is proffered, then the acceptance is meaningless.

Why do I get the feeling that if Rumsfeld then cuts one of his fingers off as a personal sacrifice, we’ll hear “What’s one little finger compared to what happened on his watch?”. Then Rumsfeld will offer to kill himself, and we’ll hear “That should go for the entire administration — where is the honor of letting one man take all the blame?”

We need to apologize. We need to punish the perpetrators. We need to do everything in our power to make damn sure this never happens again. But we don’t need to fall on our swords.

UPDATE: Found via Opinion8 is this on Ace of Spades:

First of all, let’s disabuse ourselves of this idea that this was “just a few bad apples.” There may be a good reason to claim that — dishonesty towards the world at large is not only permissible, but required, during war; more on that later — but let’s not fool ourselves. This wasn’t “just a few bad apples,” and believing that is only going to set us up for heartbreak when the truth comes out later, as it almost certainly will. The press knows how to get to the truth, at least when it feels there’s a political advantage in doing so that inures to the benefit of Democrats/liberals.

As they say, go read the whole thing.


  1. You’re right, Murdoc – the samurai/yakuza method of dealing with failure doesn’t exactly fit with our idiom here in America. Ritually disemboweling yourself does not solve the problem, particularly when you (Rumsfeld, in this case) are not personally culpable. I have tried to resist the ‘but’ (no jokes, please. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) however, when I see many people using this incident to attempt to derail all the good things that we are trying to achieve, it is hard to hold back. Context for this issue is essential, lest we forget what we are doing, and what we have done right. This is isolated, and certainly does not mean that the occupation of Iraq is wrong, or run by sadistic madmen. We do punish the guilty. A year ago, someone doing this in Iraq would have been up for a Christmas bonus. We do have to discriminate between our conduct and the conduct of those who decided to be our enemies.

  2. Murdoc: It’s a fine line between ‘let’s not go overboard here, people’ and ‘screw it – who needs to apologize?’ You’re treading it well, by the way. James Taranto does likewise in today’s Opinionjournal/Best of the Web. He said: ‘The administration of criminal justice is a solemn duty of a civilized society. We hold criminals to account for their actions because they are human–because they can tell right from wrong and are responsible if they choose to do wrong. Criminals deserve to be punished, sometimes harshly. But stripping them of their humanity–treating them as objects for the perverse gratification of others–is an affront against the foundations of civilization.’ As many have correctly said, ‘There is no but.’ And there is no acceptable perverse gratification. As Ace also said on his site, there is no constitutionally protected stupidity, either. I don’t know whether the UCMJ contains a rule on that, though.