The Iraq torture story

I’m glad the U.S. objects to torture in Iraq. But if Iraq is a sovereign nation, why are we acting as if we’re in charge?

The news of torture in Iraqi prisons suggests several questions and comments, not all of them with the same ideological valence:

1. The Iraqi Interior Minister says the reports are exaggerated. Sound familiar? No doubt just a few bad apples.

2. Why is the Bush Administration giving aid and comfort to terrorists by blowing the story out of proportion? Who knew that Amb. Khalilzad was part of the unpatriotic liberal media?

3. How do we know that no valuable information was extracted under torture?

4. How do we know that systematic torture doesn’t deter terrorists? Don’t the critics understand the nature of the totalitarian enemy we face?

Seriously, though:

5. I’m delighted that the U.S. objects to torture in Iraqi prisons.

6. I wish there were the same objection to torture in U.S. facilities.

7. Note that it’s not just torture: apparently there are mass “disappearances” of Sunnis by Shi’a militiamen wearing Interior Ministry uniforms.

8. If Iraq is a sovereign nation with an elected government, what right does the United States have to interfere with its domestic law enforcement arrangements? Not that I think there’s any doubt that we did the right thing, but if there was any ambiguity about who actually calls the shots in Iraq, this should settle them.

9. Note that if we pull out our troops and turn things over to the Iraqis, there won’t be anyone left to object to torture in Iraqi prisons.

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: