Monday, May 03, 2004

I once had someone describe to me what it's like to go insane -- not just to get angry, or drunk, or do something rash, but to completely lose touch with reality. I asked a bunch of dumb questions about support systems and external checks. None of which work, because it's your capacity to remember that you ought to rely on these things that itself goes awry. You're so captivated by the world inside your own head that you literally no longer believe your eyes. And the same thing can happen at the level of societies.

Might it be happening to us?

I'm not talking so much about the folks who sent hate mail to CBS, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib revelations, saying in effect that if people would not talk about this stuff, then it wouldn't matter because no one would be worrying about it. Nor even the Pentagon's attempts to pin the problem on a "few bad apples", which Sy Hersh destroys in the current New Yorker -- he's got Pentagon's own internal report, which says the abuse was widespread and systematic.

Instead, I'm talking about Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was on the Sunday Morning Follies talking about, among other things, that very Sy Hersh article: Or rather, not:

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about something a lot less happy, and those are those terrible pictures that we all saw this week of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. We have some of the pictures on the screen.

The U.S. military brought charges in March against six soldiers, but there are press accounts today of an internal Army report that alleges that it went a lot higher than just six Army Reservists, that military intelligence officers and CIA agents urged the troops of the prison, quote, "set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses."

General, that Army report was completed back in February. Is it true?

MYERS: It's working its way to me. I have not seen it yet. Setting physical and mental conditions for interrogation, by itself, obviously that's something you do. But one thing we don't do is we don't torture.

The report says we do. But never mind that. What's this about the report, which had already reached Sy Hersh, still "working its way" to Myers? Its existence, and Hersh's quotes, were already public knowledge -- Chris Wallace was, after all, asking the obvious questions about it. You'd think that Myers would want to know about it, if only so he could avoid being caught, say, making obviously false statements about it on national TV. This is the Army. He's a general. Can't he just order someone to send him a copy?

But then again, maybe Myers just doesn't have a problem making transparently false statements. On other shows, Myers had some truly remarkable things to say about action in Falluja. He said that important events which have been widely covered in the American and world press simply hadn't occured.

The accession of the old Iraqi general, Jasem Salih, to command of the new Iraqi Falluja force? As on Fox, Myers said that was not decided yet, despite the widely reproduced snapshots of his triumphant entry to the city.

More importantly, withdrawal of American troops from the city of Falluja itself? Never happened, despite images on CNN. He was harshly critical of the press who said otherwise, in the mistaken belief that merely being on the scene gave them a better view than his. And in this, he was echoed by his own guy on the scene:

Speaking to reporters for the first time since the decision to forgo an all-out attack and install the proxy force, the Marine in charge of U.S. operations in western Iraq bristled at characterizations that the Marines had "retreated" or "withdrawn" from the city.

"Both of those are dirty words in the vocabulary of a Marine," said Lt. Gen. James T. Conway of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He described a realignment of forces that should allow Marines to go inside with convoys and to spend millions of dollars on reconstruction projects.

He has a captivating vision in his mind of a glorious occupation, where we rain down benefits onto a grateful populace. What would be better for him to believe -- that or his lying eyes?

Further reflection: Or maybe he's just lying, either to provide rhetorical cover to cock-eyed superiors, or just to try to keep them out of his way. Which leaves Myers... if he was going to choose to tell a lie about that report, why choose one so transparently ridiculous?

By the way, people who wanted courts martial for even the half dozen soldiers on film torturing prisoners apparently won't get them. But the army has a nifty consolation prize -- stern written reprimands. In writing, even!

Meanwhile, another pole star of the American establishment, Tom Friedman, considers grand global strategy. Iraq isn't necessarily going so well at the moment, but that is not the only thing in the world within the scope of his magisterial vision. Other world arenas must also get their due. So it is that, as an occupation he advocated on more or less humanitarian grounds spirals out of control, he is writing up a column which says that we ought to just stop whining about China's abysmal human rights record...


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