The Price of Victory

The pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib have put the Bush Administration into full damage control mode. That is evident by the fact that President Bush made an appearance on Arab TV. Normally, Bush would never lower himself to express his concerns to the Muslim world. That is why his statement was so carefully worded with the intention of avoiding any kind of apology.

Real men don’t apologize; especially not to Muslims.

Bush’s appearance gives us a fair idea of what “damage control” means in the current White House. The public relations team (Bush, Condi Rice and Collin Powell) are dispatched to the various morning TV shows (and the Sunday news programs) to provide their audience with the feigned sincerity we have come to expect as part of a well rehearsed performance. The most important part of this routine is heading off the problem by reducing it to “catchy” sound bytes that will change public perceptions. This was done quite effectively in both the 9-11 investigation (“There’s no silver bullet”; the memo was purely “historical”) and the WMD investigation. (The Iraq war was precipitated by “faulty intelligence,” not an Administration bent on war)

In the case of Abu Ghraib the White House story line has already been written. The incidents of torture are the “abhorrent” behavior of a few rogue agents who will be duly punished. “Abhorrent” of course is the operative word that has been reiterated non stop through all the American media, and it is crucial to understanding the real intentions of the White House. It implies that the crimes at Abu Ghraib were just one big mistake; just an oversight that can be fixed by slapping a few low-level soldiers on the wrist.

This is completely at odds with everything transcribed in the report of abuse made by Maj Gen. Antonio Taguba. For the sake of brevity, we will reduce Taguba’s report to one word; “systemic.” This is the sound byte for those who want to really appreciate what has been going on at Abu Ghraib and all the other stars in the constellation of prison camps and torture chambers in the Rumsfeld cosmos.

Systemic; one word tells the whole story and savages the nonsense being spewed from the Oval Office PR team.

The activities at the various American concentration camps around the world are the full flowering of the Bush war on terror. They are not the exception. Prisoners were being “softened up” for interrogation with clear directives up the chain of command all the way to the office of the Secretary of Defense.

No wonder the administration wants to disguise what’s really going on.

From the very beginning the Bush Administration has been openly contemptuous of international norms for the treatment of prisoners; refusing access to human rights groups and the Red Cross, and even insisting that those in their charge have no rights whatsoever.

Finally, a brave soldier with a camera photographed the barbarity that most of us already expected. Now, the administration must indulge us with their fanciful displays of concern until the dust settles and they can get back to the serious work of extracting information in any way possible.

This is a “systemic” problem; a problem that arises from a pervasive attitude of tolerance for any activity that advances the overall goals of the Administration. It is a tactic endorsement of brutality, humiliation and torture.

It is not an aberration; it is policy.

The President is already on record in his 2003 State of the Union Speech as authorizing the extra-judicial murders of terror suspects around the world. He boasted, “More than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries, and many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.”

Does this sound like a man who would be squeamish over a little torture?

The next predictable phase of the “torture scandal” is the calling for an independent investigation. As always, this will involve “hand picked” party loyalists who will obfuscate the facts and spread the Administration’s message. Much “sound and fury,” accomplishing nothing.

Haven’t we done this before? We all know the drill.

The more we watch the Bush administration, the more we can admire the level of sophistication they have brought to Washington. America has never seen a more well organized, competent and competitive group of business people, able to work all the levers of power at their disposal with incredible deftness and precision.

With their uncanny ability to “control the narrative,” (media control) shift blame (“faulty intelligence” or “abhorrent behavior”) and, still move inexorably towards their ultimate goal of global domination; it’s looking more and more like they might succeed.

The inexcusable abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib is just another minor obstacle in their path. They seem to be managing the problem with their characteristic adroitness and professionalism. After all, if the price of achieving their objectives is nothing more than tormenting a few Muslims; that’s a price a price they’re willing to pay.



MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at