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January 12, 2005
Man, Myth, and MagicBy Greyhawk
"The Torture Myth" - that's the headline over Anne Applebaum's Washington Post piece, and I confess to a moment of unguarded optimism on seeing it. Would she be "exposing" the Abu Ghraib fallacies that she furthered last week? Alas, no. The myth she exposes is that physical torture routinely produces usable results. It doesn't - and that, of course, is one of many reasons why the option is discouraged. But that fact undermines the foundation of her commentary. The starting point of her thesis is that torture is being used for the desired purpose of gaining usable intel, but that's a flawed basis for the start of a usable discussion. The fact is that while she produces quotes from a number of informed sources supporting her argument it is in opposition to no one. That's a clever headline indeed, but the real torture myth is that the US has embraced torture as official policy. Reality is that virtually every credible report of torture perpetrated by Americans seems to boil down to pure sadism on the part of the accused, as is becoming increasingly clear from the
Lawyers for Specialist Graner have said the soldiers were following orders from military superiors who were under pressure to obtain better intelligence from the detainees. Guy Womack, his civilian lawyer, said he would provide taped testimony on Wednesday from a detainee who will say that military interrogators gave Specialist Graner orders to rough up prisoners. An Army major, Mr. Womack said, will testify that there was pressure from superiors.
That from The NY Times coverage of the trial (although you have to read a few paragraphs to find it). It seems even Graner's attorneys have fallen for the real "torture myth" - but the "orders of Intel" line of defense seems odd in light of the testimony of the car thief who was being punished for fighting in the prison. This perplexing clinging to an absurdity could be credited to attorneys expecting assistance in the form of slanted "old media" coverage. If so, to their credit the Times seems unwilling to beat that particular drum. Read the whole thing, not one mention of Donald Rumsfeld can be found.
But Reuters still works a bit of journalistic magic in their coverage:
FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A former inmate at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison forced by U.S. guards to masturbate in public and piled onto a pyramid of naked men said on Tuesday even Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did not do such things.
Over which we see this headline: "Iraqi Victim Says U.S. Torture Worse That (sic) Saddam"
Did you catch the "car thief" reference?
In closing, I note that reporters and commenters can be misled on topics as easily as anyone else in the general population, and I'm not accusing Anne Applebaum of anything other than being unfortunately misinformed. Like her I find the use of torture abhorrent, and would prefer a world where such things don't happen, and I'm sure we'll all agree to hope and pray that the torturers of Abu Ghraib receive better treatment as prisoners than they gave as guards.
Posted by Greyhawk / January 12, 2005 5:59 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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