The pictures of Iraqi prisoners being tormented and humiliated are appalling, as are the incidents (third item) they record. Appalling and inexcusable. They are also a betrayal, by those responsible, of the aims of the Coalition in Iraq. That responsibility is shared between the soldiers actually involved in treating the prisoners in so brutal a way and whoever is directly accountable for the internal prison regime in which this treatment was allowed to occur. It is to be hoped all concerned will be made to answer, to pay the appropriate penalty, for what they've done.
Round and about the comments boxes today I've seen some speculation of a would-be sociological kind as to what sort of factors might explain these abuses. I don't pretend to offer an explanation myself. I simply outline here one piece of academic research that is relevant, or so it strikes me. This does not exonerate anyone - a point to which I'll return.
There is a famous experiment, conducted under the direction of Philip Zimbardo, in which student volunteers - screened to eliminate overly aggressive or cruel people - were invited to play the roles of prisoners and guards, with the volunteers all ignorant, at the point of volunteering, of which would be their own role. The guards were to enforce certain rules without the use of physical violence, but they were otherwise free to exercise their discretion. The results? Some 'guards' were firm but fair; others, however, began to behave in aggressive and sadistic ways, resorting to creative forms of cruelty and harassment, insults, humiliation and so forth. Several 'prisoners' had to be released from the experiment early on, suffering from severe depression; and the experiment itself was terminated before it had run its course, because those overseeing it became alarmed at what was developing in the playing out of these roles.
The results tie in with those from the famous experiments carried out by Stanley Milgram, in showing that irrespective of any wider background sociological influences, micro-situational factors also matter. People with immediate power over others may be tempted to abuse it. Not all, but some, of them. Drawing attention to this does not exonerate anybody. It does not excuse or mitigate. On the contrary, it shows there is a body of knowledge, available to anyone in charge of a regime of incarceration, sufficient to have alerted those responsible for the Abu Ghraib prison regime to the need to have precautions and restraints in place against the very contingency of what took place there. The research also shows, as does the case of the Abu Ghraib incident itself, that there are nearly always actors in the micro-vicinity who do not fall in with such abuses, so giving the lie to excuse-making forms of 'understanding'.
(See the article by Craig Haney, Curtis Banks and Philip Zimbardo, 'Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison', International Journal of Criminology and Penology 1, 1973, pp. 69-97.)
Over the coming period I shall be putting up a series of posts about the Iraq war, arguing once more why it was right to support that war. I don't know how many posts it will be or over how long a period exactly, but in any case this post is by way of introductory explanation.
I've been meaning for a while now to write a longish piece in which I could deal with counter-arguments to the view that we on the pro-war left have taken, or merely considerations that have occurred to me but which I've not previously written about. It would also give me the opportunity to respond to specific points that have been made by other bloggers in response to posts of mine and which I've had marked down for a reply but not yet got around to. (For an earlier expression of this intention, see here.)
Two related reasons now make the series timely. First, the evident and mounting difficulties for the project of liberation and democratization in Iraq inevitably prompt, for anyone who supported that project (as I did and still do), a reconsideration of his or her reasons for supporting it and the reasons that have been put forward to counter these. Second, in case any of us who supported the war may have overlooked the problems now facing the Coalition, there have come voices from amongst those who opposed the war calling us out - with a 'Where are they now?' or some version of 'So what have you got to say for yourself?' Though I don't feel especially compelled by these questions in that distasteful form, it just happens that in meeting my own sense of obligation to reconsider my reasons - including in response to civil debate and criticism - I shall give them an answer: a here (is where I am), and a this (is what I have to say for myself).
The projected essay has been repeatedly postponed by me just because a long blog essay covering many issues, and of some complexity, needs substantial time; and on any given day I have always had - or at any rate found - reasons why this wasn't the day to start. So I'll write it as a series of discrete but linked posts, more manageable amidst the other demands of life. Note that it's in the nature of this conception that I may sometimes begin, or merely allude to, an argument in one post, but only get to go into it thoroughly later on, in another post.
All posts in the series will be titled as this one is - 'The argument over Iraq #n'. There will continue to be other posts on Iraq that are not part of the series.
Martin Woollacott has written his last regular column for the Guardian. I'm sorry to see him finish. I've always found his articles informative, balanced and carefully reasoned, and especially in recent times when much else on the page where they appeared has been unworthy of anyone's admiration, his writing stood as one of the reasons to carry on reading that newspaper. In his valedictory piece today, Woollacott also has things to say about the typical worries of the newspaper columnist which rang a bell with me - as a mere blogger and of less than one year's experience.
... which, as I've said once before (old site, 'Meems', August 4), I don't do. But here's a story about a woman who, seven years ago, lost her cat Cheyenne in Bradenton, Florida, and has now been reunited with it after it was found in San Francisco.
Andrew Sullivan writes a column for Time, the New Republic, the Sunday Times of London and the Advocate. He is the editor of the up-coming Same-sex Marriage: Pro and Con - A Reader (2004). He blogs at andrewsullivan.com.
Why do you blog? > It's fun to think out loud.
What has been your best blogging experience? > The relationship with my readers.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > Having to defend my private life in public.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Michael Oakeshott, Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich Hayek, George Orwell.
What are you reading at the moment? > Father Joe - a memoir by Tony Hendra (not yet published).
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Madame Bovary.
What is your favourite poem? > 'Faith Healing', by Philip Larkin.
What is your favourite song? > 'Left to My Own Devices' - The Pet Shop Boys.
Who is your favourite composer? > Olivier Messiaen.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > Abortion. I've gone from being resolutely pro-life to being reluctantly pro-choice in the first trimester.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Individual liberty.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Post-modernism.
Who are your political heroes? > Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > Never surrender.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > A flat tax.
If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be President, who would you choose? > Arnold.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Islamist terrorism.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Try to believe that you are worthy of God's love.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Of course. The sex would be great.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Generosity of spirit.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Cruelty.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > Answering questionnaires.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > Built-in bias against Anglicans.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Skiing.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > Catching planes on time.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > I'd try not to get HIV. I did try, of course. But obviously not hard enough.
What would your ideal holiday be? > A sunny day in the distant dunes on Herring Cove beach in Provincetown with nothing to do.
What is your most treasured possession? > My friends.
What talent would you most like to have? > To play a musical instrument.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > South Park; the Simpsons; Abfab; Alan Bennett; Monty Python.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > The ability to be invisible.
What animal would you most like to be? > A beagle.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of previous profiles, and the links to them, can be found here.]
It's the story of Private First Class Chris Roemhildt, 18, from Cloquet, Minnesota, told in a matter of fact way.
At the time Roemhildt had enlisted, the United States was not even yet in Iraq, so the thought of being deployed there wasn't something he even considered.
"The thought didn't even occur to me," he said. "The way the recruiter told me, being in the Army is just a nine-to-five job where you do your job and then go home at night and do what you want to do. I thought, 'Hey, you know, why not? Let's do it!' But then all this Iraq stuff happened after I'd already signed. And then, after I got to basic training, everyone told us, 'You're going to end up in Iraq - at least once!'...
"I was scared. I was frightened. I'm not going to lie about it," he said. "That's a scary thought, that we were going to go to war..."
US marines announced the end of the bloody, near four-week siege of Fallujah today and will hand the city over to an all-Iraqi force, commanded by one of Saddam Hussein's generals .
The deal came after intense international pressure on the United States to find a peaceful resolution to the stand-off.
Under a deal reached last night, a new Iraqi force known as the Fallujah Protection Army is to start moving into the Sunni city to impose security on Friday, marine Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne said.
Fifty-five nations at an international conference have pledged to suppress rising anti-Semitism and agreed that the Middle East conflict cannot justify attacks on Jews.
Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from North America, Europe and Central Asia concluded their two-day meeting with the "Berlin Declaration" condemning all manifestations of and attacks motivated by anti-Semitism.
"(The states) declare unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism," the text of the final agreement said.
A US general has been suspended in Iraq over the alleged abuse of prisoners by US troops in jails she ran.
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski is among seven officers being investigated following claims that soldiers under their command mistreated detainees.
The army announced last month that 17 soldiers had been suspended over the allegations of abuse of prisoners.
Six of them - military police - are facing court martial.
The head of the Iranian judiciary issued an order yesterday banning the use of torture and other abuses: an unprecedented acknowledgement of the regime's record of repression.
"Any torture to extract a confession is banned and the confessions extracted through torture are not legitimate and legal," Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi's order to the police, judges and intelligence officials says.
The order merely reiterates rights contained in the Iranian constitution, but it amounts to confirmation by a leading member of the theocracy of rampant legal abuses.
"There have been some implicit words before, but explicitly in an order, this is the first time," said Reza Yousefian, a reformist MP in the outgoing parliament.
"We should welcome this kind of order, regardless of the motivation behind it."
He said it seemed that the conservative establishment, which won back control of the parliament in the disputed elections in February, wished to present a more moderate face domestically and to European governments.
Echoing the view of human rights lawyers, he said he doubted that the order would be fully carried out. But the public declaration represented some kind of step forward.
[A] growing proportion of social science departments are not doing social science at all.
Many are actively opposed to science in any form, especially when it comes to studying social matters. Instead, they engage in what they think of as literary or philosophical activity, but it is practised at a level so pitifully low that it would not be tolerated in any serious department of philosophy or literature.
Practitioners of this type of "pretend" social science try to make out that there is no such thing as knowledge, and that all opinions are equally valid.
If they do think all opinions are equally valid I don't suppose they'll be taking Max Steuer to task for what he says. But they'll have a comeback of some sort, don't you doubt it. There'll be a language game according to the rules of which it's possible to challenge him. As the man said: