Presidential leadership and torture: What a coinky-dink!

Was there some event that happened just before 2009 that might explain why we went from “shrugging” at torture to caring about it?

From Marc Ambinder:

The big reveal from the hundreds of thousands of documents posted on Wikileaks today is probably going to be the incredibly awful reports of systematized detainee abuse by Iraqi soldiers and security forces right under the noses of the American-led coalition, which appears to have had virtually no incentive to put a stop to them.

An operational order called Frago 242 was sent to commanders in 2004, ordering, in essence, that only detainee abuse allegations involving coalition forces would be investigated. The rest would merely be noted. And noted they were, in horrifying detail. The New York Times correctly calls this an “institutional shrug.” By 2009, the coalition policy had evidently changed, and allegations were investigated.

Gee, I wonder what was different between 2004 and 2009? Was there some event that happened just before 2009 that might explain why we went from “shrugging” at torture to caring about it?

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:

3 thoughts on “Presidential leadership and torture: What a coinky-dink!”

  1. Let me guess: We got a new secretary of defense! Is that it? A new commander?

    Really, though, there's nothing in the linked article that supports Ambinder's supposition. The article says that in February 2009–that's after the change in administration in Washington–that a "senior Iraqi officer was asked to investigate" allegations of abuse of 33 prisoners. That's exactly what the policy always was. Similarly, in June 2009 coalition forces logged the report of a prisoner who said he'd been abused by Iraqi soldiers. The log noted that the abuse was discussed that day, with the coalition forces reporting the allegations to the Iraqi commanders, who of course claimed ignorance. There's no suggestion that the US forces conducted any other investigation of the abuse, or took any steps to stop the abuse. And in fact the reports all suggest that the abuse continued throughout 2009 and since.

    Worse for your position, the NY Times talked with a Pentagon spokesman: "Current rules, he said, require forces to immediately report abuse; if it was perpetrated by Iraqis, then Iraqi authorities are responsible for investigating." Which is what the policy has been since 2004.

    I know that you'll ignore the evidence on this one–you didn't need evidence to grandstand, so why would contradictory evidence cause you to reconsider your views?

  2. I don't believe Frago 242 represents something that insulates or exempts American forces from the law of war, the Geneva Conventions, or the Nuremberg Principles, all of which they have a proactive duty to prevent, end, and investigate just the same as with any other crime they might encounter in the course of their duties.

    Has President Obama ordered Frago 242 annulled? Unless he has, then nothing's changed, except that Wikileaks dropped the shoe on his watch. That is kind of embarrassing.

    But not nearly as embarrassing as not having a president whose actions might make the issues with Wikileaks irrelevant — taking legal action against those implicated in the war and other crimes described in the documents.

Comments are closed.