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Abu Ghraib, Donald Rumsfeld and William Shakespeare

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Atlanticist Donating Member (125 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-15-04 12:13 PM
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Abu Ghraib, Donald Rumsfeld and William Shakespeare
This letter was in the FT this morning :

Sir, The cries of outrage from government leaders in the US and UK at the treatment of detainees and unarmed civilians in Iraq are predictable, as are their claims of ignorance. Of course, political leaders, unless they are exceptionally stupid, never explicitly encourage or condone the mistreatment of prisoners, violations of the Geneva Conventions or any other form of dirty work (including the massage of intelligence reports). But by their rhetoric and propaganda, by the tone in which they refer to enemies or those who simply disagree with them, they shape the general environment that influences the behaviour of their subordinates.

Anyone who has worked in a large bureaucracy will know that the common description of it as a system where information flows up the hierarchy and orders flow down, is a gross simplification. Subordinates, as often as not, are highly competitive in their search for advancement and know the prospects for promotion can be significantly increased by quickly interpreting the often inchoate wishes of superiors and implementing them with more than average zeal.

Shakespeare understood this clearly. In Antony and Cleopatra, Menas tells Pompey, who is entertaining Caesar, Antony and Lepidus on his galley, he can now cut the throats of the trio and make Pompey lord of the world. Pompey's reply gives the game away:


"Ah, this thou shouldst have done, And not spoke on't! In me 'tis villainy; In thee't had been good service. Being done unknown, I should have found it afterwards well done, But must condemn it now."


Those directly involved in the violation of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq will presumably be court-martialled or otherwise dealt with. The really difficult problem is dealing with the Pompeys of this world.

Martin Wolf, in his excellent article "The saviour of democracy is run by a unilateralist bully" (May 12), says the buck stops with President Bush, and presumably Tony Blair. The trouble with conviction politicians, however, is they usually refuse to acknowledge the buck, even when it hits them.

Unfortunately, Mr Blair spent more time absorbing what Mr Wolf calls the "pious simplicities" of Mr Bush rather than reading his Shakespeare. But something has to be done to start reversing the consequences of the horrendous incompetence that has marked the "reconstruction" of Iraq.

As Mr Wolf admits, this is going to be very hard work, but a beginning can be made by sacking those with prime responsibilities for the mess, starting with the US and UK defence secretaries. For more than a decade, the US, Western Europe and sundry international bodies have been lecturing the rest of the world about the virtue and necessity of democratic and transparent systems of responsibility and accountability. They now have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how these fine principles can be put into practice.

Paul Rayment, 1204 Geneva, Switzerland (Former Director of Economic Analysis, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe)
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wtmusic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-15-04 12:30 PM
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1. Though POWs are being referred to as 'enemy detainees'
as WS also said, "A rose is still a rose..."
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cliss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-15-04 01:04 PM
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2. Nice editorial.
You can say whatever you want about Rumsfeld, but he is not a fool. I absolutely believe he set the stage for the torture to happen. He defended his actions in testimony to the congressional committees. Of course, he lied, but if you read his testimony very carefully, you will see that he approved of many of the methods of "interrogaton" that they used. He even approved the use of dogs. For God's sake, he even toured the prison twice in 2003.

I took several business classes; in every class the instructors repeated the same statement: a company is only as good as its management. You can have the best employees, but if you have inept management, the company will be in trouble because the management makes all the decisions.

And Rumsfeld made it very clear on what he's going to do now. He's staying put. After he got off the plane when he arrived at Abu Ghraib prison to "tour" it, he said that he had been reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and the civil war. He said those were tough times. Lincoln got criticized a lot. But over time, things turned out OK. "Time will pass over this, and Iraq will become free".

Rumsfeld is very clearly comparing himself to Lincoln. He's enduring tough times. Public sentiment is against him. But by God, he's going to prevail and time will prove him to be right.

Pay attention, and the man will tell you everything you want to know.
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