Monday, March 20, 2006

JEANNE D'ARC'S POST FROM YESTERDAY, on missed connections in the New York Times's account of Camp Nama -- a torture room set up by Special Ops soldiers near Abu Ghraib -- and her piece today about the dishonest coverage of the trend toward increasing Iraqi casualties while American casualties have been going down; are insightful and important reading.

On Camp Nama, Jeanne points out that the NYT's suggestion that the CIA and high-ranking defense officials were outraged by the treatment of prisoners there is not credible:

The suggestion that the torture at Camp Nama was too harsh for the CIA doesn't make sense on its face, and even less so when you read the details in the NYT story. Camp Nama showed an Abu Ghraib-like mixture of classic physical and psychological torture of prisoners, combined with sadistic delight in power. Soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, constricted their breathing and senses with hoods, subjected them to horrible smells, noise, and cold, kicked them, burned them, poured water on them to make them believe they were drowning. And then they got creative, using prisoners as targets in a paintball game.

Once you let people torture, someone always discovers its fun side.

Horrendous abuse, to be sure, but nothing that would shock the conscience of anyone's whose job it is to do this.

On August 3, 2003, the CIA objected to something going on at Camp Nama, but it wasn't the harshness of prisoner treatment. That simply makes no sense.

Jeanne's critique of the USA Today article on the inverse relationship of Iraqi and U.S. casualties takes note of the deeply misleading explanation given for why fewer Americans but more Iraqis are being killed. The article attributes the increase in Iraqi deaths to "an insurgency that increasingly targets Iraqis and the growing presence of Iraqi forces on the front lines." What is conspicuously left out is the corresponding increase in U.S. air strikes during this same period:

Last week, Knight-Ridder reported a fifty percent increase in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq over the past five months. The chart to the left, illustrating the number of American troops killed in the 30-day period preceding the date shown, suggests that the increasing air war is having its intended effect -- decreasing American casualties. American deaths have declined steadily since mid-November. That's the good news.

But air wars kill huge numbers of civilians, and the linked USA Today article -- headlined Deaths fall for U.S., rise for Iraqis -- suggests that it's having that unsurprising effect as well. ...

Actually, that suggestion would only be apparent to people, like Jeanne, who know about the sharp increase in airstrikes -- because the USA Today article does not say a word about airstrikes. I read through the article several times; and unless my eyesight is worse than I thought, there is absolutely no mention of airstrikes at all, much less of the fact that there have been many more of them over the past five months.

Jeanne writes:

Instead of an honest article on the effect a change in war strategy has on Iraqis (which I think is what the headline promised), we end up with spin that minimizes the importance of the change. The Iraqi military is stepping up and taking over dangerous missions (that's a good thing, right?). Insurgents are targeting Iraqis (that isn't our fault, is it?). The article acknowledges that more Iraqis will be dying, while making sure culpability doesn't land anyplace inconvenient.

But it's difficult to have an honest account of the effect changes in war strategy have had on Iraqis when a key element of that strategy is entirely omitted from the discussion.

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