Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The scandal of Abu Ghraib

Phillip Carter, writing in the washington monthly, makes a compelling case that of all the scandals to come out of Iraq, Abu Ghraib will end up costing the US the most.

If his piece focuses much more on the pragmatic consquences of the atrocity than on moral principle, well, that's only to be expected from a former US army officer and current writer on national security issues. It's all the more damning for coming from someone from inside military culture.

A few points are worth hilighting. Carter is right, of course, to note that the tattered Geneva conventions pertain to warfare of a far older kind. And alas that has been used as a pretext for the US to throw away all moral and legal constraints on its conduct during the war on terror. His argument is, esssentially, that there was a middle course, which allowed "stressful" interrogation and treatment beyond what is permitted under Geneva convention laws, but which falls short of the depravity the Bush administration countenanced. Though even Carter is aware that he is talking about a very, very slippery slope.

Paul Glastris is right to notice the silence of John Kerry on Abu Ghraib. It's depressing, although understandable. Kerry as a young anti-war firebrand would have been all over this issue. Kerry as a semi-hawkish presidential candidate has to be far more moderated. Neither Presidential candidate wants to bring up the ghost of torture camps during the campaign.

But there's one person who is willing to talk about it, and that's our old friend Al Gore:

Moreover, America's honor and reputation have been severely damaged by President Bush's decision to authorize policies and legal hair-splitting that resulted in the widespread torture by U.S. soldiers and contractors of Iraqi citizens and others in facilities from Guantanamo to Afghanistan and elsewhere. Astonishingly and shamefully, investigators also found that more than 90 percent of those tortured and abused were completely innocent of any crime or wrongdoing whatsoever.

Taken off his leash, and allowed to speak his mind, Al Gore has become a singularly impassioned speaker. On the leash, Al Gore was considered the dullest man alive. Such is the price of politics, where every candidate, from all sides, must tie themselves in verbal knots to keep up coalitions and straddles.

Real journalism versus blog journalism

Tegan Goddard gives Kerry the Gore treatment with her piece wondering how on earth John Kerry could have made game 6 of the baseball world series playoffs on October 25, 1986, when a Boston Globe story puts him at an awards banquet at the time.

Turns out, according to a Kerry spokesperson, he attended both events, reaching the Red Sox game in progress. Now, there's no way to disprove it, but also no reason to doubt it.

(The other possibility was that the story is simply inaccurate, since these stories are often written up from press releases with no journalist there to actually mark off the roll.)

A journalist would, I suspect, be alert to both of these possiblities. And have actually checked with someone before running it.

A small thing, but of such small things large urban myths are spun -- such as the infamous Gore "Love Story" myth. Bloggers are good for many things, but as for nailing down stories -- best left to real journalists.

Alas, as we are seeing, real journalists are few and far between, as blog values take over. Take CNN's take on the Al Qaada explosives story. Like anxious twitchy fingered bloggers, a single report has had the network spinning for days -- in this case, the NBC news report from a reporter who was on the scene with the 2nd brigade of the 101st airborne, which indicated that the 380 tons of explosives had already gone by the time American troops reached the scene on the 10th of April.

Turns out that the troops indeed didn't find the explosives -- because they didn't look for the explosives. It's a huge facility, the soldiers were there on the way to somewhere else, and they hardly had the time to properly survey the place.

They did, however, find a whole lot of explosives lying around....