Okay, I’m dull. Explain it to me slowly.

Sorry, Hitch. Could we have that again, please?

Can anyone extract any meaning from Hitchens’s latest screed? I’m not playing dumb here; I really can’t figure out what he’s saying, except that he’s wonderful and the anti-war folks are awful.

Hersh claims (now with lots of backup from Newsweek) that Rumsfeld was so frustrated when the need to get legal approval caused is to miss several opportunties to bag key al-Qaeda/Taliban targets that he approved the creation of a “black” (covert)program that would operate outside the rules, then expanded that authority to include prisoner interrogations in Iraq, which then led to Abu Ghraib.

Hitchens replies that (1) torture is wrong; (2) Michael Moore probably wouldn’t have cheered if we’d managed to kill the al-Qaeda targets.



A reader responds:

I think he is making a valid point. In his zeal to criticize Bush for everything, Michael Moore (and

many more on the left) are being hypocritical. They argue that Iraq diverted the country’s attention from the true terrorism problem and allowed 9/11 to happen and Bin Laden to get away, etc. At the same time, it’s most likely that if Bush (or for that matter Clinton) had really gone after these guys, Moore and his ilk would have complained about their brutality and America’s sick fascination with violence.

The left wants to “eliminate” terrorism without getting their hands dirty. So, the Administration is damned if they do and damned if theydon’t. I’m not a Bush fan, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable argument. Of course, I despise Michael Moore, so I would probably agree with anything negative said about him.

This is more or less in line with the response of James Joyner of Outside the Beltway (who thinks that Hitchens is “one of the two or three best journalisic writers of his generation”).

I more or less agree about Michael Moore and his buddies. But so what? Seymour Hersh is hardly one of them, and the ostensible subject of the piece is the flaws in Hersh’s account. Joyner replies to a query by Ted Barlow on that point by saying:

The flaw in Hersh’s piece is the unestablished causal link. Clearly, there were policies set at OSD level that allowed more aggressive action at the operational level. Perhaps they even contributed in some way to the climate at Abu Ghraib. But the specific actions that we’re seeing depicted are a quantum leap from giving Special Forces types the ability to shoot terrorist leaders without a note from their lawyers. Further, as Hitchens points out, decent people wouldn’t interpret an order to soften people up—assuming such actually was in place—to mean that they should sexually abuse them, let alone carry out that action with apparent sadistic enthusiasm.

If that’s what Hitchens is trying to say, he’s a less good expositor than Joyner. But if that is in fact Hitchens’s his point, it seems to me that Hitchens fails to provide any actual evidence to back it up.

Hersh provides a convincing bureaucratic blow-by-blow of how Rumsfeld no only set up the “black” program but expanded its scope until it covered interrogations in Iraq. No one has suggested that Rumsfeld ordered the stupid pet tricks carried out by some of the MPs at Abu Ghraib, but Hersh makes a solid case that Rumsfeld gave orders to interrogate captives more harshly without making any attempt to prevent the predictable degeneration of harsh interrogation into obscene torture.

If Rumsfeld was operating on the assumption that no one in the Army would behave badly when given instructions to be rough on captives without any supervision to control that roughness, he must be stupid, which seems inconsistent with every other account we have of Rumsfeld. More likely, he was criminally negligent and indifferent.

If Hitchens wants to argue that there are flaws in that account, he needs to start by understanding what that account was, rather than raving about Michael Moore.

[ Strange Doctrines has more.]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “Okay, I’m dull. Explain it to me slowly.”

  1. Explaining Hitchens

    Mark Kleiman has asked for someone to explain Christopher Hitchens’ latest Slate article to him. Since Kleiman doesn’t have a comments section and doesn’t live…

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