Source : http://www.lorient-lejour.com.lb/page.aspx?page=article&id=350038
Six Questions for Tara McKelvey on Detainee Abuse
Ken Silverstein, Washington Babylon, Harpers’S magazine, May 9, 2007
Tara McKelvey is the author of the new book Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War, which tells the story of the Abu Ghraib scandal and, more broadly, examines the pattern of detainee abuse in Iraq. McKelvey, a senior editor at The American Prospect and a research fellow at the NYU School of Law’s Center on Law and Security, lives in Washington, D.C. I recently asked her six questions about what she learned while researching her book.
1. The general story of the abuses at Abu Ghraib has by now been well covered. What has the media missed?
2. Who is ultimately responsible for the abuses?
“When [Lynndie England] told me she’d quit her job over the conditions at the plant, I was surprised. She had stood up to what she thought was wrong.”
3. What was Donald Rumsfeld’s role?
4. Have those guilty of detainee abuse been held accountable?
5. What do you think of former CIA director George Tenet’s recent comments in which he defended the use of tough tactics against detainees?
“This is not just a prison scandal. It’s a huge blow to America’s image and it’s something we’ll be dealing with for generations.”
6. You got an exclusive print interview with Lynndie England. What was your impression of her?
Any Means Necessary
By JONATHAN MAHLER, The New York Times, July 29, 2007
Ugly things happen during wartime. This is self-evident, but worth repeating in the context of any discussion of the Abu Ghraib scandal. There is a simple reason military commanders from Sun Tzu to George Washington to Colin Powell have recognized the need for placing limits on battlefield behavior: otherwise, all hell will break loose.
MONSTERING Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War. By Tara McKelvey. 300 pp. Carroll & Graf Publishers. $25.95.
In “Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War,” Tara McKelvey sets out to describe, in fresh and unremitting detail, exactly what can, and did, happen in the absence of those limitations. McKelvey, a senior editor at The American Prospect, had her work cut out for her. The images of Abu Ghraib — Hooded Man, Leashed Man, the Naked Human Pyramid, to name a few of the most notorious — have long since been seared into the world’s consciousness. Since the scandal broke in the spring of 2004, the question of United States policy on torture has been widely debated, and Abu Ghraib itself has already been the subject of several books, including “Chain of Command,” by Seymour M. Hersh of The New Yorker, the first journalist to get his hands on the Taguba report, the military’s initial probe into American conduct at the prison. There have also been countless newsmagazine articles and at least two documentary films.
McKelvey worked hard to break new ground, interviewing, among many others, Samuel Provance, one of the scandal’s key whistle-blowers; the infamous Lynndie England (“the lady with a leash,” as Mick Jagger refers to her in the song “Dangerous Beauty”); and more than 20 Iraqis who say they were abused. The sweep of her reporting is impressive, and she would have been better off letting it speak for itself rather than hyping it with prose that feels out of place in a serious work of nonfiction: “Much has been reported on the criminal behavior of soldiers at Abu Ghraib. But until now few — if any — detailed, documented accounts of sexual relations among soldiers and between soldiers and female prisoners have appeared in the press.”
The administration began by dismissing the misconduct at Abu Ghraib as the work of what President Bush called “a few American troops.” The bad-apple defense quickly crumbled, though, with the leak of government memorandums authorizing the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These new methods were specifically sanctioned for members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda being held at Guantánamo Bay, who the administration determined were not entitled to Geneva Conventions protections. But it is not difficult to draw a line from Camp Delta to Abu Ghraib. In August 2003, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the joint task force at Guantánamo, was dispatched to the Iraqi prison — formerly Saddam Hussein’s favorite torture chamber — to make it a more effective laboratory for producing intelligence that might help defeat the insurgency. In Iraq, the use of harsh interrogation techniques required the signature of a superior officer, though that was apparently not much of a deterrent. “I never saw a sheet that wasn’t signed,” McKelvey quotes one interrogator as saying.
The book is constructed not as a narrative of the scandal, but as a series of dispatches centered on her meetings with various firsthand participants, including a compelling, if ultimately unsatisfying, jailhouse interview with England. (“Why she committed the crimes is still not clear — even to her,” the author concedes.) McKelvey opts not to examine the motivations of her characters, though she does mine her notebook for every last morsel from her various reporting trips — the song playing on the radio in her rental car after she pulls into England’s hometown (“Dust in the Wind”), a quotation from an elderly woman who thinks she remembers England’s “pretty smile,” the fact that a human rights lawyer working on behalf of some of the detainees enjoys Arabic-style lamb chops. Sometimes these details enrich her story. Often they feel indiscriminate and irrelevant.
“Monstering” is a book of reportage. This is not to say that McKelvey makes an effort to conceal her own outrage at what went on at Abu Ghraib, but rather that she is less interested in exploring how this great moral and institutional failure came to pass — the toxic mix of fatally misguided policy and undisciplined soldiers and interrogators — than in depicting what, precisely, went on behind the prison’s cinder-block walls. In describing such scenes, she uses her rigorous reporting to fine effect, drawing on her interviews with detainees to reconstruct their haunting accounts in straightforward, lucid prose. McKelvey also manages to advance her well-covered story by illuminating the deranged culture that obtained among the soldiers posted to the prison, some of whom evidently battled the stress and boredom by “Robotripping” — chasing tablets of Vivarin with eight-ounce bottles of Robitussin for a cheap high.
As McKelvey points out, only a handful of soldiers have been punished for their behavior in Iraq, and there have still been no independent investigations of the Abu Ghraib scandal. This is, in other words, a story with a conspicuous lack of heroes. The most intriguing character in “Monstering” is the whistle-blower, Provance. A former Bible college student who has since left the military and is now apparently dabbling in Satanism, he nevertheless had a clearer understanding of the meaning of American values than many of the architects of American policy in the global war on terror. If the United States still has a chance of winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, then we have people like Provance to thank.
Jonathan Mahler, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine, is the author of “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning.” He is at work on a book about Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a Supreme Court case involving presidential power and the war on terror.
Source : http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/29/books/review/Mahler-t.html?ex=1343361600&en=56f9647b765a1ac6&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss