Monday, May 24, 2004


Regarding the Torture of Others

I want to comment on something in this article by Susan Sontag, in the New York Times on 23 May 2004, quite interesting.

Even when the president was finally compelled, as the damage to America's reputation everywhere in the world widened and deepened, to use the ''sorry'' word, the focus of regret still seemed the damage to America's claim to moral superiority. Yes, President Bush said in Washington on May 6, standing alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan, he was "sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families." But, he went on, he was "equally sorry that people seeing these pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America."

Indeed, but:

Sontag continues, and makes a very good point.

To have the American effort in Iraq summed up by these images must seem, to those who saw some justification in a war that did overthrow one of the monster tyrants of modern times, "unfair." A war, an occupation, is inevitably a huge tapestry of actions. What makes some actions representative and others not? The issue is not whether the torture was done by individuals (i.e., "not by everybody") -- but whether it was systematic. Authorized. Condoned. All acts are done by individuals. The issue is not whether a majority or a minority of Americans performs such acts but whether the nature of the policies prosecuted by this administration and the hierarchies deployed to carry them out makes such acts likely.

*Emphasis added.

That should be the argument here. Not that 7, 10, or 20 soldiers and "contractors" carried out the abuse of prisoners, but whether the Bush Administration created a policy climate that allowed such abuse to happen.

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