The Politics of Torture

When photographs of now-notorious Iraqi prisoners being sexually humiliated at the hands of US military police were published, the reaction was almost unanimous: disgust and anger that the US military abused prisoners in the same prison that Saddam Hussein used to torture Iraq. President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and others in the Bush administration were quick to condemn the photos, with Bush promising an investigation. In his May 15 radio address, Bush said, “My administration and our military are determined that such violations never occur again.”

Surprisingly, the right-wing pundit takes a different view from the photos.

Rush Limbaugh stated the harassment was nothing more than troops “blowing some steam off.” Limbaugh also compared harassment to fraternal hazing rituals, and ultimately, in what has to be the most powerful leap of logic in radio history, blamed the entire abuse scandal on Bill Clinton. On May 14, Limbaugh said, “So while all this is happening, Democrats claim this is a chain-of-command thing, and they’re trying to get this linked all the way to Bush, this is happening because of Bush’s example, this is happening because Bush doesn’t care, this happens because Bush doesn’t use any discipline, this is because it comes from above. I would believe that if Bill Clinton were still in office. If Bill Clinton were still in office, I could accept this idea might come from above and, in fact, depending on the age of the army this there they may actually be. How many stories do we have lately, oral sex is a great way to stop teen pregnancy? Oral sex is a great way to have safe sex, just had one this week. Who popularized oral sex for the nation? And who is defending day after day liberally to do it? Bill Clinton. his? Democrats who are now finding all kinds of cruelty in these photos are getting out of Abu Ghraib prison. ”

Brilliant! The real reason prisoner abuse occurred has nothing to do with disruption in the chain of command. It’s Bill Clinton’s sexual activity!

Other conservatives pointed out that the Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib were not “scouts” and, apparently, deserved sexual humiliation.

As the conservative stance on the Abu Ghraib harassment scandal shifts away from reality, I’m sure some begin to see that their audience disagrees with their position, which is pretty much out of step from the reaction of most Americans. Conservative pundits, I believe, have a need to protect George W. Bush. They know deep down that Dubya is not the greatest president in the world, but because he is a Republican, they will do whatever they can to fend off the distant attention of Bush and his administration.

I don’t know if these conservatives pray or rub the lucky rabbit’s feet, but it looks like they got their wish on May 11, when the gruesome footage of Nick Berg’s murder was released into the world. Since most conservatives are intellectually dishonest, they need something to misdirect their audience from Abu Ghraib’s photographs. Conservatives like Michael Reagan have condemned Democrats for “politicizing” Abu Ghraib’s photographs. It is only now that conservatives have politicized Nick Berg’s photographs as a counter to what happened in Abu Ghraib.

Indeed, now people like Sean Hannity can make comparisons of apples and oranges to what happened in Abu Ghraib to what happened to Nick Berg.

On Hannity and Colmes May 12, Sean Hannity made the case:

“We have learned the difference between mistreatment, wrongfulness, and cruelty. Because this is what cruelty they did to this man (Berg).” Look? While the “mistreatment” of prisoners was bad, it was not as bad as Americans who were killed by terrorists. Guest Oliver North did his best to minimize what had happened in Abu Ghraib: “… for 13 or 14 days now, all we have seen on the front pages of American newspapers is a group of young people who are clearly being twisted on a rope and odd sex acts, the things you might find on any college campus these days, done by people in uniform. ”

There is clearly a difference in volunteering for a hazing ritual and being forced to participate. I think North hopes the audience doesn’t pay attention. And yes, what happened to Nick Berg was terrible, but his death shouldn’t be used as a way to minimize harassment at Abu Ghraib or me. Ignore it as much ado about nothing. One thing we can count on is that conservatives are using Nick Berg’s death for their own political gain.

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