Commentary Magazine


The Big Blur

Noted Churchill scholar Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s a question for Abe Greenwald. Since he seems to believe that none of the Bush-approved interrogation techniques are torture or abuse or barred by Geneva, and “no decent person wants to see a picture of Lynndie England for the umpteenth time,” does he favor pardoning those who were scapegoated? If not, why not?

That comes from a post entitled “Pardon for Graner?” which one needs to know when translating from the original Torturese. In other words, does my defense of CIA enhanced interrogation meld into a defense of Abu Ghraib abusers Lynndie England, Megan Ambuhl, Sabrina Harman, Charles Graner, and company?

If Sullivan really wanted to know the answer we’d be getting somewhere. But that involves making the kind of distinctions that would leave his outrage slightly less complete.

The answer is “no,” for two reasons. First, the legal: the Abu Ghraib sadists were not authorized to do any of the things they did. It was a case of not following orders (hence the Dereliction of Duty charges). Second, the moral: Graner and his friends strangled, burned, punched, and sexually abused prisoners. CIA interrogators did none of these things.

It is intellectually dishonest to lump CIA interrogations together with Abu Ghraib and call it all official Bush policy. Doing so has obscured the whole discussion, and made it harder both to keep the country safe and to nail down the acceptable limits of needed interrogation techniques. Moreover, it has sunk the anti-enhanced interrogation side of the debate.