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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Dangerous Triumphalism


As any psychiatrist or consumer of pornography will testify, the kinds of tortures (abasement rituals) documented in photographs at Abu Ghraib prison are familiar in sadistic fantasies and their representation in domination-and-bondage culture. They are deeply rooted in the psyche and readily accessible in the society, but they normally remain confined to imagination or bounded by consensual relations.

In order to have such scenarios be acted out with impunity on unwilling subjects, there must be a climate of permissiveness created by authority figures. Such permission can be granted through direct orders, condoning the behavior, or an attitude of dismissive negligence.

Whether or not the abasement rituals were a matter of explicit or suggestive policy, they occurred within an environment of dismissive negligence. Treatment of prisoners according to international standards was not a top priority of military leaders and bureaucratic defense intellectuals who conceived and have managed the occupation of Iraq. Regarding the consequences of their neglect of their own power and interests, the leaders were short-sighted.
The abasement rituals at Abu Ghraib were most generally conditioned by the climate of impunity created by triumphalist strategy, ideology and rhetoric, which led, at least, to dismissive negligence and then cover-ups by authorities. The instigating cause of the practices appears to have been an ad hoc adjustment to policy failure -- importing the stress-and-duress regimen from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib in order to extract intelligence from prisoners in the wake of rising resistance to the occupation in the Sunni Triangle in the summer of 2003. As can be expected from ad hoc adjustments, the stopgap measure led to a new problem -- the "scandal" of the trophy photographs and the behavior that they document, and the consequent delegitimation of the occupation.

This illustrates the very real problem at the heart of Operation Iraqi Quagmire: arrogance of power. Once we decide we're better than other people at determining their own country's fate, we start down a road that ultimately ends in our negating whatever lofty goals we might have had in the beginning. Not only that, but BushCo's triumphalism has sown the seeds of terror and harmed our security in the end.


June 2, 2004 | Permalink


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