A few days ago, I tried to draw a distinction between the perverted prison frolic, the pictures of which we’ve been seeing on the odd occasion lately, and the general issue of prison conditions in Iraq. The first issue is not controversial — there is no dispute that the perverted frolic occurred and that it is unacceptable. The second issue is controversial and complex, turning as it does on legal distinctions about how various categories of prisoners are to be treated, what the precise rules for the treatment of each category are, and the facts of particular cases. The left would like the U.S. to err on the side of protecting the rights of the thugs, terrorists, and thug/terrorist wannabes who are imprisoned, in Iraq and elsehwere. However, most Americans probably would prefer that we err on the side of protecting Americans in Iraq and elsewhere from these prisoners and their friends on the outside. Most probably would also prefer that we concentrate on fighting the bad guys, rather than adjudicating prisoner grievances. In short, the left has been on the losing side of this controversy.
The scandal over the perverted frolic is changing this dynamic. As I noted in the link above, that scandal offers the anti-war left (and its mouthpiece, the news pages of the Washington Post) the opportunity to mix applies and oranges, and thereby tar our entire policy of prisioner treatment in Iraq and elsewhere. Doing so serves several related purposes. It gives traction to deeply held civil libertarian views that have been previously failed to resonate. It provides a basis for attacking Donald Rumsfeld, who can’t reasonably be blamed for the perverted frolic, but can more plausibly be criticized for “systemic abuses.” And it provides the prospect of curbing our ability to obtain information, and hence our power.
The rumblings that I previously detected in the Washington Post have now become a roar, as this story “Mistreatment Of Detainees Went Beyond Guards’ Abuse,” demonstrates. Unfortunately, because of recent events, our government now lacks the high ground from which to defend its overall practices. If it cannot find the will to make that defense, and begins to err on the civil libertarian side, it will cost American lives.
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