The Politics Of Torture
By Scott C. Smith, Fri Dec 9th
When the now-infamous photographs of Iraqi prisoners beingsexually humiliated at the hands of U.S. military police weremade public, reaction was nearly unanimous: disgust and outragethat the U.S. military were abusing prisoners at the same prisonSaddam Hussein used to torture Iraqis. President George W. Bush,Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and others in the Bushadministration quickly condemned the photographs, with Bushpromising an investigation. In his May 15 radio address, Bushsaid, “My administration and our military are determined thatsuch abuses never happen again.”
Curiously, right-wing pundits took a different view of thephotographs. Rush Limbaugh proclaimed the abuse was nothing morethan the troops “blowing some steam off.” Limbaugh also comparedthe abuse to fraternity hazing rituals, and finally, in whatmust be the most tenuous leap of logic in radio history, blamedthe whole abuse scandal on Bill Clinton. On May 14, Limbaughsaid, “So while all this is going on, the Democrats are claimingthis is a chain-of-command thing, and they're trying to get thislinked all the way to Bush, this is happening because of Bush'sexample, this is happening because Bush doesn't care, this ishappening because Bush doesn't use any discipline, this isbecause it comes from the top. I would believe that if BillClinton were still in office. If Bill Clintonwere still inoffice, I could accept the notion this might come from the topand, in fact, depending on the age of these soldiers over therethey may in fact be. How many stories have we had lately, oralsex is a great way to stop teen pregnancy? That oral sex is agreat way to have safe sex, just had one this week. Whopopularized oral sex for the nation? And who was defended day inand day out royally for doing so? Bill Clinton. And who defendedhim? The Democrats who now find all kinds of atrocities in thesephotos coming out of Abu Ghraib prison.”
Brilliant! The real reason the prisoner abuse occurred hadnothing to do with a breakdown in the chain of command. It wasbecause of Bill Clinton’s sexual activities!Other conservatives pointed out that the Iraqi prisoners at AbuGhraib were not “boy scouts” and, apparently, deserved to besexually humiliated.
As the conservative position on the Abu Ghraib abuse scandalshifted away from reality, I’m sure some began to see that theiraudience was not agreeing with their positions, which werepretty much out of step from the reaction of most Americans.Conservative pundits, I
believe, have a need to protect GeorgeW. Bush. They know deep down that Dubya isn’t the greatestpresident in the world, but since he’s Republican, they will dowhatever they can to deflect attention away from Bush and hisadministration.
I don’t know if these conservatives were praying or rubbing alucky rabbit’s foot, but it appears they got their wish on May11, when the horrifying footage of the murder of Nick Berg wasreleased to the world. Since most conservatives areintellectually dishonest, they needed something to misdirecttheir audience’s attention from the Abu Ghraib photographs.Conservatives like Michael Reagan condemned Democrats for“politicizing” the Abu Ghraib photographs. Only nowconservatives have politicized the Nick Berg photographs, as acounter to what happened at Abu Ghraib.
Indeed, now people like Sean Hannity could make anapples-and-oranges comparison to what happened at Abu Ghraib towhat happened to Nick Berg.
On the May 12 Hannity and Colmes, Sean Hannity made the case:“We’ve learned the difference between mistreatment, which iswrong, and atrocities. Because this is an atrocity what they didto this guy (Berg).” See? While the “mistreatment” of prisonersis bad, it’s not as bad as an American being killed byterrorists. Guest Oliver North did his best to minimize what hadhappened at Abu Ghraib: “…for 13 or 14 days now, all we haveseen on the front pages of America's newspapers is a group ofobviously twisted young people with leashes and weird sex acts,the kind of thing that you might find on any college campusnowadays, being perpetrated by people in uniform.”
Obviously there’s a difference in volunteering for a hazingritual and being forced to participate. I think North is hopingthe audience isn’t paying attention. And yes, what happened toNick Berg was horrible, but his death shouldn’t be used as a wayto minimize the abuse at Abu Ghraib or dismiss it as much adoabout nothing. One thing we can count on is conservatives usingNick Berg’s death for their own political gain.
About the author: Scott C. Smith is a freelance writer fromBeaverton,
Oregon. Scott’s columns have appeared at theDemocratic Underground
and The Smirking Chimp web sites.