Monday, March 20, 2006

America's Black Room: Iraq, terrorism, and the culture of abuse

Must-read of the day:

The New York Times has published an extremely disturbing report on the activities of a secret military unit known as Task Force 6-26: "As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room... The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib."

Make sure the read the whole thing.

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Yes, some who were involved with Task Force 6-26 have been disciplined, yes, the Justice Department is conducting some sort of investigation -- but what kind of a culture, military and political, allows this sort of thing to happen?

It's not enough to say that American abuses are fewer and less brutal than Iraqi abuses under Saddam. As I've argued before, America must be held and must hold itself to a higher standard than that. It must live up to its own principles. And its civilian and military leaders need to be held fully accountable for the abuse of detainees. They, after all, shape the culture of abuse.

The conduct of the Iraq War has been bad enough. How can America possibly present itself as a force for good in the world, how can it possibly hope to win over the hearts and minds of its skeptics and critics, when its very principles are mocked by the perpetuation of such abuse?

If you were on the other side, if you were in their shoes, would you trust the United States?

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