Friday, June 11, 2004

Tortured truth: Who's the leaker?

Joshua Marshall has argued that the Abu Ghraib photos now tend to obscure reality. "In fact," he writes, "the prison abuse and torture story itself has become a perfect example of how two separate media storylines -- ones that clearly contradict each other -- can coexist and yet seemingly never cross paths."

I agree. Just as repeated exposure to the Rodney King beating video allowed (some) members of the public to rationalize what they saw, repeat viewings of the Abu Ghraib photos can desensitize us into a Limbaugh-esque moral relativism. Worse, those images do not tell anything like the full story as we now know it.

It's not just a tale of sexual humiliation. It's a story with corpses. It's a story in which one Iraqi prisoner saw his father tortured to death in front of him, and another had his toenails pulled off. It's a story of unmuzzled dogs loosed on the naked and the helpless.

It's a story Limbaugh and his ideological confreres keep carefully hidden from their audience.

And yet some un-named party seems intent on lifting the veil. The see-no-evil conservatives who insist on limiting the scandal to a handful of low-level perpetrators now have a much more difficult time.

How to explain away the fact that the White House directly ordered that interrogators of the loopy John Walker Lindh "take the gloves off"? (We all know what that means.) Lindh later claimed that he was tortured, though he eventually dropped that accusation pursuant to a plea bargain arrangement.

How do we explain away White House counsel Alberto Gonzales' apparently contradictory arguments vis-a-vis torture and the Geneva convention? On the editorial pages, Gonzales stipulates the supreme importance of Geneva -- yet privately, in a memo dated January 25, 2002, he argued that prisoners captured in Afghanistan did not have the rights accorded under that convention.

How do we explain away the 100-plus page Justice Department draft memo of March 6, 2003, which justified the use of torture and the administration of mind-altering chemicals in Iraq and elsewhere? We are told that Rumsfeld signed off on the complete version of this report, delivered in April.

And now we have this from the Washington Post:

In Army memos regarding interrogation techniques at the prison, the use of military working dogs was specifically allowed -- as long as higher-ranking officers approved the measures. According to one military intelligence memo obtained by The Post, the officer in charge of the military intelligence-run interrogation center at the prison had to approve the use of dogs in interrogations. There is no explanation in the memo of what parameters would have to be in place -- for example, whether the dogs would be muzzled or unmuzzled -- or what the dogs would be allowed to do.
Have you noticed the pattern?

I'm not referring to the torture per se. I'm referring to the manner in which we learn of it.

Classified military intelligence memos -- leaked.

A memo from the White House counsel's office -- leaked.

A memo from the Justice Department -- leaked.

White House interest in Lindh -- leaked.

The subject of torture forces us to confront so many moral and legal questions that we lose sight of the political forces motivating these revelations.

Who is doing the leaking? Before the Iraq war started slipping away from Bush's control, leaks of this sort were unthinkable in an administration marked by extreme loyalty. Now, every week (at the very least) we get something new. Drip, drip, drip...

I've long seen current politics through a neocons-versus-CIA prism. Consider these leaks as shots in a silent war.

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