The current shock and outrage at the White House and the Pentagon are as phony as a $17 bill. The president might not have known what was happening specifically at Abu Ghraib, but had to know in general how the CIA and military intelligence were "softening up" prisoners for interrogation. Could he have been so stupid to think that captured al-Qaida leaders had a change of heart and freely revealed their secrets?
A couple of months ago, Atlantic Monthly published a chilling article on new methods of interrogation, which softened up prisoners by mental torment. Perfected by the British in Northern Ireland, such interrogations did not need electrodes or truth serum or clubs or torture machines to break the human body. Rather, they use more sophisticated techniques of psychological assault: sleep deprivation, humiliation, temperature manipulation, sensory deprivation (hence, hoods over the head), erratic feeding and endless cacophony to break the human spirit. A person would be broken by such assaults without a single mark on the body. The article raised the question of whether in the struggle with terrorists such tactics might be tolerable.
Abu Ghraib added to the mix the use of women for sexual humiliation and someone with a digital camera. There are several interrogation centers around the world like Abu Ghraib. Any credible investigation should look at all of them.
It is unthinkable that the top brass in the government were not aware that the CIA was playing such games with captives in many detention centers. It is also unthinkable that congressional leaders and senior journalists did not know about this interrogation of captives in the search for weapons of mass destruction. If the president did not know, then he was guilty of what we used to call in the seminary "vincible" ignorance. He should have known, and there is no excuse for him not knowing. One can bet on it: The low-level grunts will be blamed, and the CIA and the MI brass will go unscathed. Also, poor Don Rumsfeld might have to take the fall to cover for the president.
Is there any chance of winning the war in Iraq? Ought not we support the troops by insisting that they be brought home? Should not the United States specify the day -- Jan. 1, Feb. 1, whenever -- that we're out of there? Is there any other way it can end? All right, there will be national humiliation like the helicopters taking off from the roof of the embassy in Saigon. But that's going to happen anyway.
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The Iraqis don't like us and don't want us around. In the copyrighted Gallup survey of Iraqi attitudes, 58 percent of the respondents said that U.S. troops had behaved badly even before the Abu Ghraib pictures appeared -- 81 percent in Baghdad. Seventy-one percent of them see the Americans as occupiers, not liberators; 40 percent think that attacks on the Americans are justified, and only one-third of the Arabs think they are better off under the Americans than under Saddam (87 percent of the Kurds do).
Chairman Mao said that guerrillas swim in the sea of the people. Patently, the sea is big enough in Iraq to support a prolonged ''insurgency.'' The enemy now are not the ''few thugs and foreign agitators'' whom the president denounces, but the Iraqi people. They don't want us in their country, they don't like us, they want us out. They indeed want democracy (the Gallup data show), but not at our hands.
Our troops are not to blame for Iraqi hostility. Rather, the Bush administration, which sent them into the war untrained and unequipped to be an occupying army, much less a counter-insurgency force, is responsible. The troops do not speak the language, do not understand the culture and religion, and cannot distinguish the harmless Iraqi from someone who wants to kill them. It is unfair and cruel to force young soldiers -- and even worse, older reservists and National Guard members -- to struggle in such an impossible situation.
The president is the responsible person in this country; the buck stops at his desk, as Harry Truman said once and forever. He may scapegoat others, he may duck and weave, but either he knew what was going on or should have known. Those Americans who will vote to re-elect him will support the man responsible for Abu Ghraib.