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Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terrorby Mark Danner
Synopses & Reviews
In the spring of 2004, graphic photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by American soldiers in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison flashed around the world, provoking outraged debate. Did they depict the rogue behavior of "a few bad apples"? Or did they in fact reveal that the US government had decided to use brutal tactics in the "war on terror"?
The images are shocking, but they do not tell the whole story. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were not isolated incidents but the result of a chain of deliberate decisions and failures of command. To understand how "Hooded Man" and "Leashed Man" could have happened, Mark Danner turns to the documents that are collected for the first time in this book.
These documents include secret government memos, some never before published, that portray a fierce argument within the Bush administration over whether al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were protected by the Geneva Conventions and how far the US could go in interrogating them. There are also official reports on abuses at Abu Ghraib by the International Committee of the Red Cross, by US Army investigators, and by an independent panel chaired by former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger. In sifting this evidence, Danner traces the path by which harsh methods of interrogation approved for suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and GuantÃ¡namo "migrated" to Iraq as resistance to the US occupation grew and US casualties mounted.
Yet as Mark Danner writes, the real scandal here is political: it "is not about revelation or disclosure but about the failure, once wrongdoing is disclosed, of politicians, officials, the press, and, ultimately, citizens to act." For once we know the story the photos and documents tell, we are left with the questions they pose for our democratic society: Does fighting a "new kind of war" on terror justify torture? Who will we hold responsible for deciding to pursue such a policy, and what will be the moral and political costs to the country?
"This stout and valuable instant book presents a documentary history of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-torture scandal. The paper trail includes policy statements concerning prisoner treatment signed by Attorney General Ashcroft and President Bush, reports on prisoner mistreatment generated within the United States armed forces themselves and material (including photographs) from outside agencies. The sheer mass of data requires some background knowledge about the military and the situation, if only to free the reader from dependence on the author's commentary, although New Yorker staff writer Danner (The Massacre at El Mozote) was in Iraq during 2003, and his opinions, when they come to the fore, are backed up with observations. While the publisher admits to having rushed the book into print, it emerges as a book of permanent value for the study of the Iraq war and of how apparently reasonable policies can be swept away by intense pressure, political or military, to produce a particular result. Abu Ghraib raises issues that will form part of the debate on American military policy long after Iraq is out of the headlines; at the very least, this book provides the information necessary for the public's involvement in that discussion. (Nov.) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Y]ou can see exactly how this horror came about — and why it's still going on. As Danner observes, this is a scandal with almost everything in plain sight." Andrew Sullivan, The New York Times
Book News Annotation:
The American television media tended to treat the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib as the only important evidence of military wrongdoing, allowing the construction of the "few bad apples" narrative to gather continued legitimacy. In his reporting on the scandal for the New York Review of Books, foreign affairs correspondent Danner sought to show how the story was ultimately political. He includes those reports here, along with others he wrote providing context on the greater scope of the American war in Iraq, but the real meat of the work comes in the form of the appendices, which provide original source documents from the U.S. government, reports from the Red Cross, and other materials detailing the wider scope that allowed for the abuses.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, officials of the United States...from Bagram in Afghanistan to Guantanamo in Cuba to Abu Ghraib in Iraq, have been torturing prisoners," writes Mark Danner. "This is a simple truth, well known but not yet publicly admitted in Washington."
The torture was essentially given institutional approval by the U.S. government, through memoranda from the President's White House counsel, among others, opining that the Geneva Conventions need not apply to prisoners. In Iraq, at least three different interrogation policies were used. Many soldiers and outside organizations were aware of these torture sessions.
Torture and Truth includes documents outlining acceptable interrogation techniques and reports revealing prisoner abuse and torture — including a memo signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld concerning "Interrogation Techniques," the reports by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, and the report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
About the Author
Mark Danner is the author, most recently, of Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War. He is Chancellor’s Professor of English, Journalism and Politics at the University of California at Berkeley and James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs, Politics and the Humanities at Bard College and is currently teaching at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. His book Torture and the Forever War will be published in the spring of 2013. His writing and other work can be found at markdanner.com.
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