The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Thursday, May 13, 2004


Breaking news:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq on Thursday as the United States struggled to quell criticism over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American military guards.

The embattled secretary, travelling under tight security to a country where more than 700 U.S. troops have died since last year, landed at Baghdad airport and later began meetings with senior U.S. military officers in the capital.

Rumsfeld denied on a 15-hour flight from Washington that the Pentagon was trying to cover up the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

"If anybody thinks that I'm (in Iraq) to throw water on a fire, they're wrong," he told reporters aboard his aircraft.

"We care about the detainees being treated right. We care about soldiers behaving right. We are about command systems working," he added.
No doubt, this is a good PR move on Rummy's part. The quickest way for one to appear proactive about an issue is to be right there, talking to the people most directly related to the issue.

It doesn't change any of the current facts, though: Don Rumsfeld, as Secretary of Defense, has horribly mangled and mismanaged the war effort in Iraq. I'd say the "we can do it with only X amount of troops" fuck-up is just as big as Abu Ghraib, but either one is grounds for resignation. As details continue to come out, it's pretty clear that we're taking our Gitmo methods -- also under Rummy's leadership -- and applying them to Iraqi detainees who, as the International Red Cross reported were mostly arrested "by mistake". We also know that they've been "outsourcing" detainees to nominal allies like Egypt whose rules on torture "coercive interrogation" are more lax.

When you embark on these tactics, you run the risk of having them exposed. This is especially true in Iraq, where a big component of our effort is ideological and "hearts and minds" oriented in a very explicit way.

The fuck-up was not that all this horrific abuse was exposed. The fuck-up was that we resorted to this in the first place, and not only did we, but we did so in a casual, lax way with not a hint of oversight (including efforts to avoid any oversight) for a long time. Whistleblowers are a great American tradition, they are heroes. Please don't shoot the messengers. We live in an open society, and it's ironic that those who trumpet how free and great and open America is are often the same ones who tell us that we've made too big a deal out of secretive torture, that we're "overracting", as Tom the Bug Exterminator put it.

No doubt, the soldiers who did this share the responsibility. But if we are to repair damage around the world, including in Iraq, then there must be accountability further up the chain than that.

Anyway, Rummy going to Baghdad sounds like a good move on his part. As a PR stunt, if it works, it works. But the facts remain...


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