Torture and Responsibilty

I’m glad the NYT gave Antony Lagouranis a chance to explain how abuse and torture of detainees was a function of Bush-Cheney policy and not some improvised gambit on the part of a few rogues on the night shift. But the important point Lagouranis makes – and it’s one not made enough – is that the military command structure insists that superiors take responsibility for abuses on their watch, even if they were unaware of them. What we’ve seen in the Bush administration is a betrayal of that command responsibility, in which underlings take responsibility for the decisions and incompetence of their superiors. We’ve seen a calculated political bid to up-end a fundamental ethical principle in the U.S. military. Meanwhile, a reader writes:

"The backwardness and uselessness of the administration’s torture policy really hit me hard during a recent trip to Cambodia. I visited Cambodia’s most notorious prison, S-21 or Tuol Sleng, in Phnom Penh. Everyone sent to this prison during the worst days of the Khmer Rouge, with the exception of around a dozen people, were eventually murdered in a nearby killing field. There were at least 8,000 victims. Among other horrors that these people endured before finally having their skulls bashed in out in the killing field was a torture technique that looked a lot like water-boarding. When I saw the Tuol Sleng museum’s illustration of this tactic, surrounded by a haunting exhibit of pictures of the inmates, tears filled my eyes. My tears were for the victims and also for my country and its victims. I had never felt so ashamed of being American. I couldn’t believe that my country is engaging in the same tactics the Khmer Rouge used during its darkest days."

In the past, a soldier caught waterboarding a detainee was subject to a court martial. These days, the defense secretary sanctions it.