Adam Ash

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

US Diary: all about the Pentagon lawyer who tried to stop torture; and a piece from Der Spiegel on this blot on America's good name, now very stinky

Here are two pieces about the Pentagon lawyer who tried to stop torture by our country, and then a piece from Der Spiegel about what the US has come to in embracing this barbarism.

1. Senior Lawyer at Pentagon Broke Ranks on Detainees – by TIM GOLDEN

One of the Pentagon's top civilian lawyers repeatedly challenged the Bush administration's policy on the coercive interrogation of terror suspects, arguing that such practices violated the law, verged on torture and could ultimately expose senior officials to prosecution, a newly disclosed document shows.

The lawyer, Alberto J. Mora, a political appointee who retired Dec. 31 after more than four years as general counsel of the Navy, was one of many dissenters inside the Pentagon. Senior uniformed lawyers in all the military services also objected sharply to the interrogation policy, according to internal documents declassified last year.

But Mr. Mora's campaign against what he viewed as an official policy of cruel treatment, detailed in a memorandum he wrote in July 2004 and recounted in an article in the Feb. 27 issue of The New Yorker magazine, made public yesterday, underscored again how contrary views were often brushed aside in administration debates on the subject.

"Even if one wanted to authorize the U.S. military to conduct coercive interrogations, as was the case in Guantánamo, how could one do so without profoundly altering its core values and character?" Mr. Mora asked the Pentagon's chief lawyer, William J. Haynes II, according to the memorandum.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Tracy O'Grady-Walsh, declined to comment late yesterday on specific assertions in Mr. Mora's memorandum. "Detainee operations and interrogation policies have been scrutinized under a microscope, from all different angles," she said. "It was found that it was not a Department of Defense policy to encourage or condone torture."

In interviews, current and former Defense Department officials said that part of what was striking about Mr. Mora's forceful role in the internal debates was how out of character it seemed: a loyal Republican, he was known as a supporter of President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the fight against terrorism.

"He's an extremely well-spoken, almost elegant guy," the former director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, David L. Brandt, who first came to Mr. Mora with concerns about the interrogation methods, said in an interview last week. "He's not a door-kicker."

Mr. Mora is also known for generally avoiding public attention. Reached by telephone yesterday, he declined to comment further on his memorandum.

Mr. Mora prepared the 22-page memorandum for a Defense Department review of interrogation operations that was conducted by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, after the scandal involving treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The document focused on Mr. Mora's successful opposition to the coercive techniques that Mr. Rumsfeld approved for interrogators at Guantánamo Bay on Dec. 2, 2002, and Mr. Mora's subsequent, failed effort to influence the legal discussions that led to new methods approved by Mr. Rumsfeld the following April.

Mr. Mora took up the issue after Mr. Brandt came to him on Dec. 17, 2002, to relay the concerns of Navy criminal agents at Guantánamo that some detainees there were being subjected to "physical abuse and degrading treatment" by interrogators.

Acting with the support of Gordon R. England, who was then secretary of the Navy and is now Mr. Rumsfeld's deputy, Mr. Mora took his concerns to Mr. Haynes, the Defense Department's general counsel.

"In my view, some of the authorized interrogation techniques could rise to the level of torture, although the intent surely had not been to do so," Mr. Mora wrote.

After trying to rally other senior officials to his position, Mr. Mora met again with Mr. Haynes on Jan. 10, 2003. He argued his case even more forcefully, raising the possibility that senior officials could be prosecuted for authorizing abusive conduct, and asking: "Had we jettisoned our human rights policies?"

Still, Mr. Mora wrote, it was only when he warned Mr. Haynes on Jan. 15 that he was planning to issue a formal memorandum on his opposition to the methods — delivering a draft to Mr. Haynes's office — that Mr. Rumsfeld suddenly retracted the techniques.

In a break from standard practice, former Pentagon lawyers said, the final draft of the report on interrogation techniques was not circulated to most of the lawyers, including Mr. Mora, who had contributed to it. Several of them said they learned that a final version had been issued only after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

2. Annals of the Pentagon
The Memo: How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted.
By Jane Mayer

One night this January, in a ceremony at the Officers’ Club at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Virginia, which sits on a hill with a commanding view across the Potomac River to the Washington Monument, Alberto J. Mora, the outgoing general counsel of the United States Navy, stood next to a podium in the club’s ballroom. A handsome gray-haired man in his mid-fifties, he listened with a mixture of embarrassment and pride as his colleagues toasted his impending departure. Amid the usual tributes were some more pointed comments.

“Never has there been a counsel with more intellectual courage or personal integrity,” David Brant, the former head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said. Brant added somewhat cryptically, “He surprised us into doing the right thing.” Conspicuous for his silence that night was Mora’s boss, William J. Haynes II, the general counsel of the Department of Defense.

Back in Haynes’s office, on the third floor of the Pentagon, there was a stack of papers chronicling a private battle that Mora had waged against Haynes and other top Administration officials, challenging their tactics in fighting terrorism. Some of the documents are classified and, despite repeated requests from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, have not been released. One document, which is marked “secret” but is not classified, is a twenty-two-page memo written by Mora. It shows that three years ago Mora tried to halt what he saw as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruelty toward terror suspects.

The memo is a chronological account, submitted on July 7, 2004, to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It reveals that Mora’s criticisms of Administration policy were unequivocal, wide-ranging, and persistent. Well before the exposure of prisoner abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, in April, 2004, Mora warned his superiors at the Pentagon about the consequences of President Bush’s decision, in February, 2002, to circumvent the Geneva conventions, which prohibit both torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” He argued that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward U.S.-held terrorist suspects was an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also challenged the legal framework that the Bush Administration has constructed to justify an expansion of executive power, in matters ranging from interrogations to wiretapping. He described as “unlawful,” “dangerous,” and “erroneous” novel legal theories granting the President the right to authorize abuse. Mora warned that these precepts could leave U.S. personnel open to criminal prosecution.

In important ways, Mora’s memo is at odds with the official White House narrative. In 2002, President Bush declared that detainees should be treated “humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva conventions. The Administration has articulated this standard many times. Last month, on January 12th, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, responding to charges of abuse at the U.S. base in Cuba, told reporters, “What took place at Guantánamo is a matter of public record today, and the investigations turned up nothing that suggested that there was any policy in the department other than humane treatment.” A week later, the White House press spokesman, Scott McClellan, was asked about a Human Rights Watch report that the Administration had made a “deliberate policy choice” to abuse detainees. He answered that the organization had hurt its credibility by making unfounded accusations. Top Administration officials have stressed that the interrogation policy was reviewed and sanctioned by government lawyers; last November, President Bush said, “Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture.” Mora’s memo, however, shows that almost from the start of the Administration’s war on terror the White House, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense, intent upon having greater flexibility, charted a legally questionable course despite sustained objections from some of its own lawyers.

Mora had some victories. “America has a lot to thank him for,” Brant, the former head of the N.C.I.S., told me. But those achievements were largely undermined by a small group of lawyers closely aligned with Vice-President Cheney. In the end, Mora was unable to overcome formidable resistance from several of the most powerful figures in the government.

Brant had joked at the farewell party that Mora “was an incredible publicity hound.” In fact, Mora—whose status in the Pentagon was equivalent to that of a four-star general—is known for his professional discretion, and he has avoided the press. This winter, however, he agreed to confirm the authenticity and accuracy of the memo and to be interviewed. A senior Defense Department official, whom the Bush Administration made available as a spokesman, on the condition that his name not be used, did so as well. Mora and the official both declined to elaborate on internal Department of Defense matters beyond those addressed in the memo. Mora, a courtly and warm man, is a cautious, cerebral conservative who admired President Reagan and served in both the first and the second Bush Administrations as a political appointee. He strongly supported the Administration’s war on terror, including the invasion of Iraq, and he revered the Navy. He stressed that his only reason for commenting at all was his concern that the Administration was continuing to pursue a dangerous course. “It’s my Administration, too,” he said.

Mora first learned about the prob lem of detainee abuse on December 17, 2002, when David Brant approached him with accusations of wrongdoing at Guantánamo. As head of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, Brant often reported to Mora but hadn’t dealt with him on anything so sensitive. “I wasn’t sure how he would react,” Brant, a tall, thin man with a mustache, told me. Brant had already conveyed the allegations to Army leaders, since they had command authority over the military interrogators, and to the Air Force, but he said that nobody seemed to care. He therefore wasn’t hopeful when he went to Mora’s office that afternoon.

When we spoke, Mora recalled the mood at the Pentagon at the time, just fifteen months after the September 11th attacks. “The mentality was that we lost three thousand Americans, and we could lose a lot more unless something was done,” he said. “It was believed that some of the Guantánamo detainees had knowledge of other 9/11-like operations that were under way, or would be executed in the future. The gloves had to come off. The U.S. had to get tougher.” Mora had been inside the Pentagon on September 11th and recalled the jetliner crashing into the building one facet over. He said that it “felt jarring, like a large safe had been dropped overhead.” From the parking lot, he watched the Pentagon burn. The next day, he said, he looked around a room full of top military leaders, and was struck by the thought that “these guys were going to be the tip of the spear.”

Brant oversaw a team of N.C.I.S. agents working with the F.B.I. at Guantánamo Bay, in what was called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. It had been assigned to elicit incriminating information from the nearly six hundred detainees being held there. Unlike a group run by Army intelligence, Joint Task Force 170, or J.T.F.-170, which was looking for intelligence that would help American authorities determine Al Qaeda’s next move, Brant’s investigators gathered evidence that eventually could be used for prosecutions in military tribunals or civilian courts. He and his agents had experience and training in law enforcement: Brant, a civilian, holds an advanced degree in criminology, and worked as a policeman in Miami in the nineteen-seventies.

Brant informed Mora that he was disturbed by what his agents told him about the conduct of military-intelligence interrogators at Guantánamo. These officials seemed poorly trained, Brant said, and were frustrated by their lack of success. He had been told that the interrogators were engaging in escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse. Speaking of the tactics that he had heard about, Brant told me, “Repugnant would be a good term to describe them.”

Much of Brant’s information had been supplied by an N.C.I.S. psychologist, Michael Gelles, who worked with the C.I.T.F. and had computer access to the Army’s interrogation logs at Guantánamo. Brant told me that Gelles “is phenomenal at unlocking the minds of everyone from child abusers to terrorists”; he took it seriously when Gelles described the logs as shocking.

The logs detailed, for example, the brutal handling of a Saudi detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whom an F.B.I. agent had identified as the “missing twentieth hijacker”—the terrorist who was supposed to have been booked on the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Qahtani was apprehended in Afghanistan a few months after the terrorist attacks.

Qahtani had been subjected to a hundred and sixty days of isolation in a pen perpetually flooded with artificial light. He was interrogated on forty-eight of fifty-four days, for eighteen to twenty hours at a stretch. He had been stripped naked; straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called “invasion of space by a female”; forced to wear women’s underwear on his head, and to put on a bra; threatened by dogs; placed on a leash; and told that his mother was a whore. By December, Qahtani had been subjected to a phony kidnapping, deprived of heat, given large quantities of intravenous liquids without access to a toilet, and deprived of sleep for three days. Ten days before Brant and Mora met, Qahtani’s heart rate had dropped so precipitately, to thirty-five beats a minute, that he required cardiac monitoring.

Brant told me that he had gone to Mora because he didn’t want his team of investigators to “in any way observe, condone, or participate in any level of physical or in-depth psychological abuse. No slapping, deprivation of water, heat, dogs, psychological abuse. It was pretty basic, black and white to me.” He went on, “I didn’t know or care what the rules were that had been set by the Department of Defense at that point. We were going to do what was morally, ethically, and legally permissible.” Recently declassified e-mails and orders obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union document Brant’s position, showing that all C.I.T.F. personnel were ordered to “stand clear and report” any abusive interrogation tactics.

Brant thinks that the Army’s interrogation of Qahtani was unlawful. If an N.C.I.S. agent had engaged in such abuse, he said, “we would have relieved, removed, and taken internal disciplinary action against the individual—let alone whether outside charges would have been brought.” Brant said he feared that such methods would taint the cases his agents needed to make against the detainees, undermining any attempts to prosecute them in a court of law. He also doubted the reliability of forced confessions. Moreover, he told me, “it just ain’t right.”

Another military official, who worked closely with Brant and who has been denied permission to speak on the record, told me that the news “rocked” Mora. The official added that Mora “was visionary about this. He quickly grasped the fact that these techniques in the hands of people with this little training spelled disaster.”

In his memo, Mora noted that Brant asked him if he wanted to hear more about the situation. He wrote, “I responded that I felt I had to.”

Mora was a well-liked and successful figure at the Pentagon. Born in Boston in 1952, he is the son of a Hungarian mother, Klara, and a Cuban father, Lidio, both of whom left behind Communist regimes for America. Klara’s father, who had been a lawyer in Hungary, joined her in exile just before the Soviet Union took control. From the time Alberto was a small boy, Klara Mora told me, he heard from his grandfather the message that “the law is sacred.” For the Moras, injustice and abuse were not merely theoretical concepts. One of Mora’s great-uncles had been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, and another was hanged after having been tortured. Mora’s first memory, as a young child, is of playing on the floor in his mother’s bedroom, and watching her crying as she listened to a report on the radio declaring that the 1956 anti-Communist uprising in Hungary had been crushed. “People who went through things like this tend to have very strong views about the rule of law, totalitarianism, and America,” Mora said.

At the time, Mora’s family was living in Cuba. His father, a Harvard-trained physician, had taken his wife and infant son back in 1952. When Castro seized power, seven years later, the family barely escaped detention after a servant informed the authorities that they planned to flee to America. In the ensuing panic, Alberto obtained an emergency passport from the American Embassy in Havana. “This was my first brush with the government,” he said. “When I swore an oath of allegiance to the American government, part of the oath involved taking up arms to defend the country. And I was thinking, This is a serious thing for me to be an eight-year-old boy, raising my hand before the American vice-consul and taking the oath of allegiance.” Cuban customs officials, seeing Alberto’s American passport, threatened not to let him board a ship. At the last minute, one of his father’s colleagues, who had been put in charge of the port, allowed Alberto’s emigration.

Mora’s family settled in Jackson, Mississippi, where his father taught at the state medical school and Mora attended a Catholic school. For the most part, Jackson was “a wonderful place,” Mora recalled, although it was also “very conservative.” Racism was rampant and everyone, including Mora, backed Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. Mora had never met anyone who opposed the Vietnam War until he enrolled at Swarthmore College, a school that he chose after reading an S.A.T.-preparation booklet that described it as small and especially rigorous. He also had never met a feminist before going to hear Kate Millett speak at Bryn Mawr, during his freshman year; her talk infuriated him. After growing up in the South among friends who played sports, drank beer, and had a good time, he found the Northeastern liberal élite curiously “nerdish.” The girls had thrown away their skirts—if they’d ever had them, he joked—and there were no parties. Yet he loved the intellectual environment. “You just had these intense discussions,” he recalled. “I revelled in it.” Mora said that he was the only person among his friends who wasn’t a conscientious objector to the war.

Mora graduated in 1974 with honors, and joined the State Department, working in Portugal; in 1979, he entered law school in Miami. Finding litigation work more “a living than a life,” Mora said, he was happy to get an appointment as general counsel of the U.S. Information Agency in the first Bush Administration. During the Clinton years, he was appointed to a Republican seat on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, where he was an advocate for Radio Martí, the American news operation aimed at Cuba. He also practiced international law in several private firms. When George W. Bush was elected, Mora—with the backing of former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, whom he had befriended in Portugal—was appointed general counsel of the Navy. He expected to spend most of his time there streamlining the budget.

The day after Mora’s first meeting with Brant, they met again, and Brant showed him parts of the transcript of Qahtani’s interrogation. Mora was shocked when Brant told him that the abuse wasn’t “rogue activity” but was “rumored to have been authorized at a high level in Washington.” The mood in the room, Mora wrote, was one of “dismay.” He added, “I was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” Mora told me, “I was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values.”

Mora thinks that the media has focussed too narrowly on allegations of U.S.-sanctioned torture. As he sees it, the authorization of cruelty is equally pernicious. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he told me. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.”

Mora said that he did not fear reprisal for stating his opposition to the Administration’s emerging policy. “It never crossed my mind,” he said. “Besides, my mother would have killed me if I hadn’t spoken up. No Hungarian after Communism, or Cuban after Castro, is not aware that human rights are incompatible with cruelty.” He added, “The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values.”

After the second meeting with Brant, Mora called his friend Steven Morello, the general counsel of the Army, and asked him if he knew anything about the abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo. Mora said that Morello answered, “I know a lot about it. Come on down.”

In Morello’s office, Mora saw what he now refers to as “the package”—a collection of secret military documents that traced the origins of the coercive interrogation policy at Guantánamo. It began on October 11, 2002, with a request by J.T.F.-170’s commander, Major General Michael Dunlavey, to make interrogations more aggressive. A few weeks later, Major General Geoffrey Miller assumed command of Guantánamo Bay, and, on the assumption that prisoners like Qahtani had been trained by Al Qaeda to resist questioning, he pushed his superiors hard for more flexibility in interrogations. On December 2nd, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gave formal approval for the use of “hooding,” “exploitation of phobias,” “stress positions,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli,” and other coercive tactics ordinarily forbidden by the Army Field Manual. (However, he reserved judgment on other methods, including “waterboarding,” a form of simulated drowning.) In Mora’s memo, Morello is quoted as saying that “we tried to stop it.” But he was told not to ask questions.

According to a participant in the meeting, Mora was “ashen-faced” when he read the package. The documents included a legal analysis, also dated October 11th, by Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, who was then the top legal adviser to J.T.F.-170. She noted that some of the more brutal “counter-resistance” techniques under consideration at Guantánamo, such as waterboarding (for which soldiers had been court-martialled in earlier conflicts), might present legal problems. She acknowledged that American military personnel at Guantánamo, as everywhere else in the world, were bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which characterizes “cruelty,” “maltreatment,” “threats,” and “assault” as felonies. Beaver reasoned, however, that U.S. soldiers preparing to violate these laws in their interrogations might be able to obtain “permission, or immunity” from higher authorities “in advance.”

The senior Defense Department official designated to speak for the Administration acknowledged that Beaver’s legal argument was inventive. “Normally, you grant immunity after the fact, to someone who has already committed a crime, in exchange for an order to get that person to testify,” he said. “I don’t know whether we’ve ever faced the question of immunity in advance before.” Nevertheless, the official praised Beaver “for trying to think outside the box. I would credit Diane as raising that as a way to think about it.” (Beaver was later promoted to the staff of the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel, where she specializes in detainee issues.)

Mora was less impressed. Beaver’s brief, his memo says, “was a wholly inadequate analysis of the law.” It held that “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment could be inflicted on the Guantánamo detainees with near impunity”; in his view, such acts were unlawful. Rumsfeld’s December 2nd memo approving these “counter-resistance” techniques, Mora wrote, “was fatally grounded on these serious failures of legal analysis.” Neither Beaver nor Rumsfeld drew any “bright line” prohibiting the combination of these techniques, or defining any limits for their use. He believed that such rhetorical laxity “could produce effects reaching the level of torture,” which was prohibited, without exception, under both U.S. and international law. Mora took his concerns to Gordon England, the Secretary of the Navy, who is now the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Then, on December 20th, with England’s authorization, Mora went to William Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel; they met in Haynes’s office, an elegant suite behind vault-like metal doors.

In confronting Haynes, Mora was engaging not just the Pentagon but also the Vice-President’s office. Haynes is a protégé of Cheney’s influential chief of staff, David Addington. Addington’s relationship with Cheney goes back to the Reagan years, when Cheney, who was then a representative from Wyoming, was the ranking Republican on a House select committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal. Addington, a congressional aide, helped to write a report for the committee’s Republican minority, arguing that the law banning covert aid to the Contras—the heart of the scandal—was an unconstitutional infringement of Presidential prerogatives. Both men continue to embrace an extraordinarily expansive view of executive power. In 1989, when Cheney was named Secretary of Defense by George H. W. Bush, he hired Addington as a special assistant, and eventually appointed him to be his general counsel. Addington, in turn, hired Haynes as his special assistant and soon promoted him to general counsel of the Army.

After George W. Bush took office, Addington came to the White House with Cheney, and Haynes took his boss’s old job at the Pentagon. Addington has played a central part in virtually all of the Administration’s legal strategies, including interrogation and detainee policies. The office of the Vice-President has no statutory role in the military chain of command. But Addington’s tenacity, willingness to work long hours, and unalloyed support from Cheney made him, in the words of another former Bush White House appointee, “the best infighter in the Administration.” One former government lawyer described him as “the Octopus”—his hands seemed to reach into every legal issue.

Haynes rarely discussed his alliance with Cheney’s office, but his colleagues, as one of them told me, noticed that “stuff moved back and forth fast” between the two power centers. Haynes was not considered to be a particularly ideological thinker, but he was seen as “pliant,” as one former Pentagon colleague put it, when it came to serving the agenda of Cheney and Addington. In October, 2002, almost three months before his meeting with Mora, Haynes gave a speech at the conservative Federalist Society, disparaging critics who accused the Pentagon of mistreating detainees. A year later, President Bush nominated him to the federal appeals court in Virginia. His nomination is one of several that have been put on hold by Senate Democrats.

In his meeting with Haynes, Mora told me, he said that, whatever its intent, what Rumsfeld’s memo permitted was “torture.”

According to Mora, Haynes replied, “No, it isn’t.”

Mora asked Haynes to think about the techniques more carefully. What did “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” mean? Could a prisoner be locked in a completely dark cell? If so, could he be kept there for a month? Longer? Until he went blind? What, precisely, did the authority to exploit phobias permit? Could a detainee be held in a coffin? What about using dogs? Rats? How far could an interrogator push this? Until a man went insane?

Mora drew Haynes’s attention to a comment that Rumsfeld had added to the bottom of his December 2nd memo, in which he asked why detainees could be forced to stand for only four hours a day, when he himself often stood “for 8-10 hours a day.” Mora said that he understood that the comment was meant to be jocular. But he feared that it could become an argument for the defense in any prosecution of terror suspects. It also could be read as encouragement to disregard the limits established in the memo. (Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired military officer who was a chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, had a similar reaction when he saw Rumsfeld’s scrawled aside. “It said, ‘Carte blanche, guys,’ ” Wilkerson told me. “That’s what started them down the slope. You’ll have My Lais then. Once you pull this thread, the whole fabric unravels.”)

Haynes said little during the meeting with Mora, but Mora left the room certain that Haynes would realize he had been too hasty, and would get Rumsfeld to revoke the inflammatory December 2nd memo. Mora told me, “My feeling was it was just a blunder.” The next day, he left Washington for a two-week Christmas holiday.

The authorization of harsh interrogation methods which Mora had seen was no aberration. Almost immediately after September 11th, the Administration had decided that protecting the country required extraordinary measures, including the exercise of executive powers exceeding domestic and international norms. In January, 2002, Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel (he is now the Attorney General), sent a memo to President Bush arguing for a “new paradigm” of interrogation, declaring that the war on terror “renders obsolete” the “strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners” required by the Geneva conventions, which were ratified by the United States in 1955. That August, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which acts as an in-house law firm for the executive branch, issued a memo secretly authorizing the C.I.A. to inflict pain and suffering on detainees during interrogations, up to the level caused by “organ failure.” This document, now widely known as the Torture Memo, which Addington helped to draft, also advised that, under the doctrine of “necessity,” the President could supersede national and international laws prohibiting torture. (The document was leaked to the press in 2004, after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.)

Lawrence Wilkerson, whom Powell assigned to monitor this unorthodox policymaking process, told NPR last fall of “an audit trail that ran from the Vice-President’s office and the Secretary of Defense down through the commanders in the field.” When I spoke to him recently, he said, “I saw what was discussed. I saw it in spades. From Addington to the other lawyers at the White House. They said the President of the United States can do what he damn well pleases. People were arguing for a new interpretation of the Constitution. It negates Article One, Section Eight, that lays out all of the powers of Congress, including the right to declare war, raise militias, make laws, and oversee the common defense of the nation.” Cheney’s view, Wilkerson suggested, was fuelled by his desire to achieve a state of “perfect security.” He said, “I can’t fault the man for wanting to keep America safe, but he’ll corrupt the whole country to save it.” (Wilkerson left the State Department with Powell, in January, 2005.)

At the time, the Administration’s embrace of interrogation measures normally proscribed by the Army Field Manual remained largely unknown to the public. But while Mora was on Christmas vacation, the Washington Post published a story, by Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, alleging that C.I.A. personnel were mistreating prisoners at the Bagram military base, in Afghanistan. Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, warned that if this was true U.S. officials who knew about it could be criminally liable, under the doctrine of command responsibility. The specific allegations closely paralleled what Mora had seen authorized at Guantnamo.

Upon returning to work on January 6, 2003, Mora was alarmed to learn from Brant that the abuse at Guantánamo had not stopped. In fact, as Time reported last year, Qahtani had been stripped and shaved and told to bark like a dog. He’d been forced to listen to pop music at an ear-splitting volume, deprived of sleep, and kept in a painfully cold room. Between confessing to and then recanting various terrorist plots, he had begged to be allowed to commit suicide.

Mora suspected that such abuse was a deliberate policy, and widened his internal campaign in the hope of building a constituency against it. In the next few days, his arguments reached many of the Pentagon’s top figures: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; Captain Jane Dalton, the legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Victoria Clarke, who was then the Pentagon spokeswoman; and Rumsfeld.

Meanwhile, on January 9, 2003, Mora had a second meeting with Haynes. According to Mora’s memo, when he told him how disappointed he was that nothing had been done to end the abuse at Guantánamo, Haynes explained that “U.S. officials believed the techniques were necessary to obtain information,” and that the interrogations might prevent future attacks against the U.S. and save American lives. Mora acknowledged that he could imagine “ticking bomb” scenarios, in which it might be moral—though still not legal—to torture a suspect. But, he asked Haynes, how many lives had to be saved to justify torture? Thousands? Hundreds? Where do you draw the line? To decide this question, shouldn’t there be a public debate?

Mora said he doubted that Guantánamo presented such an urgent ethical scenario in any event, since most of the detainees had been held there for more than a year. He also warned Haynes that the legal opinions the Administration was counting on to protect itself might not withstand scrutiny—such as the notion that Guantánamo was beyond the reach of U.S. courts. (Mora was later proved right: in June, 2004, the Supreme Court, in Rasul v. Bush, ruled against the Administration’s argument that detainees had no right to challenge their imprisonment in American courts. That month, in a related case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor declared that “a state of war is not a blank check for the President.”)

Mora told Haynes that, if the Pentagon’s theories of indemnity didn’t hold up in the courts, criminal charges conceivably could be filed against Administration officials. He added that the interrogation policies could threaten Rumsfeld’s tenure, and could even damage the Presidency. “Protect your client!” he said.

Haynes, again, didn’t say much in response, but soon afterward, at a meeting of top Pentagon officials, he mentioned Mora’s concerns to Secretary Rumsfeld. A former Administration official told me that Rumsfeld was unconcerned; he once more joked that he himself stood eight hours a day, and exclaimed, “Torture? That’s not torture!” (“His attitude was ‘What’s the big deal?’ ” the former official said.) A subordinate delicately pointed out to Rumsfeld that while he often stood for hours it was because he chose to do so, and he could sit down when he wanted. Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon spokeswoman, also argued that prisoner abuse was bad from a public-relations perspective. (Clarke declined to discuss her conversations with Administration officials, other than to say that she regarded Mora as “a very thoughtful guy, who I believed had a lot of important things to say.”)

By mid-January, the situation at Guantánamo had not changed. Qahtani’s “enhanced” interrogation, as it was called in some documents, was in its seventh week, and other detainees were also being subjected to extreme treatment. Mora continued to push for reform, but his former Pentagon colleague told me that “people were beginning to roll their eyes. It was like ‘Yeah, we’ve already heard this.’ ”

On January 15th, Mora took a step guaranteed to antagonize Haynes, who frequently warned subordinates to put nothing controversial in writing or in e-mail messages. Mora delivered an unsigned draft memo to Haynes, and said that he planned to “sign it out” that afternoon—making it an official document—unless the harsh interrogation techniques were suspended. Mora’s draft memo described U.S. interrogations at Guantánamo as “at a minimum cruel and unusual treatment, and, at worst, torture.”

By the end of the day, Haynes called Mora with good news. Rumsfeld was suspending his authorization of the disputed interrogation techniques. The Defense Secretary also was authorizing a special “working group” of a few dozen lawyers, from all branches of the armed services, including Mora, to develop new interrogation guidelines.

Mora, elated, went home to his wife and son, with whom he had felt bound not to discuss his battle. He and the other lawyers in the working group began to meet and debated the constitutionality and effectiveness of various interrogation techniques. He felt, he later told me, that “no one would ever learn about the best thing I’d ever done in my life.”

A week later, Mora was shown a lengthy classified document that negated almost every argument he had made. Haynes had outflanked him. He had solicited a separate, overarching opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, at the Justice Department, on the legality of harsh military interrogations—effectively superseding the working group.

There was only one copy of the opinion, and it was kept in the office of the Air Force’s general counsel, Mary Walker, whom Rumsfeld had appointed to head the working group. While Walker sat at her desk, Mora looked at the document with mounting disbelief; at first, he thought he had misread it. There was no language prohibiting the cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of detainees. Mora told me that the opinion was sophisticated but displayed “catastrophically poor legal reasoning.” In his view, it approached the level of the notorious Supreme Court decision in Korematsu v. United States, in 1944, which upheld the government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.

The author of the opinion was John Yoo, a young and unusually influential lawyer in the Administration, who, like Haynes, was part of Addington’s circle. (Yoo and Haynes were also regular racquetball partners.) In the past, Yoo, working closely with Addington, had helped to formulate the argument that the treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, unlike that of all other foreign enemies, was not covered by the Geneva conventions; Yoo had also helped to write the Torture Memo. Before joining the Administration, Yoo, a graduate of Yale Law School, had clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas and taught law at Berkeley. Like many conservative legal scholars, he was skeptical of international law, and believed that liberal congressional overreaction to the Vietnam War and Watergate had weakened the Presidency, the C.I.A., and the military. However, Yoo took these arguments further than most. Constitutional scholars generally agreed that the founders had purposefully divided the power to wage war between Congress and the executive branch; Yoo believed that the President’s role as Commander-in-Chief gave him virtually unlimited authority to decide whether America should respond militarily to a terror attack, and, if so, what kind of force to use. “Those decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make,” he wrote in a law article.

A top Administration official told me that Yoo, Addington, and a few other lawyers had essentially “hijacked policy” after September 11th. “They thought, Now we can put our views into practice. We have the ability to write them into binding law. It was just shocking. These memos were presented as faits accomplis.”

In Yoo’s opinion, he wrote that at Guantánamo cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of detainees could be authorized, with few restrictions.

“The memo espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority,” Mora wrote in his account. Yoo’s opinion didn’t mention the most important legal precedent defining the balance of power between Congress and the President during wartime, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer. In that 1952 case, the Supreme Court stopped President Truman from forcing the steel worker’s union, which had declared a strike, to continue producing steel needed in the Korean War. The Court upheld congressional labor laws protecting the right to strike, and ruled that the Presidents war powers were at their weakest when they were challenging areas in which Congress had passed legislation. Torture, Mora reasoned, had been similarly regulated by Congress through treaties it had ratified.

In an e-mail response to questions this month, Yoo, who is now back at Berkeley, defended his opinion. “The war on terrorism makes Youngstown more complicated,” he said. “The majority opinion explicitly said it was not considering the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief in the theater of combat. The difficulty for Youngstown created by the 9/11 attacks is that the theater of combat now includes parts of the domestic United States.” He also argued that Congress had ceded power to the President in its authorization of military force against the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks.

Mora concluded that Yoo’s opinion was “profoundly in error.” He wrote that it “was clearly at variance with applicable law.” When we spoke, he added, “If everything is permissible, and almost nothing is prohibited, it makes a mockery of the law.” A few days after reading Yoo’s opinion, he sent an e-mail to Mary Walker, saying that the document was not only “fundamentally in error” but “dangerous,” because it had the weight of law. When the Office of Legal Counsel issues an opinion on a policy matter, it typically requires the intervention of the Attorney General or the President to reverse it.

Walker wrote back, “I disagree, and I believe D.O.D. G.C.”—Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel—“disagrees.”

On February 6th, Mora invited Yoo to his office, in the Pentagon, to discuss the opinion. Mora asked him, “Are you saying the President has the authority to order torture?”

“Yes,” Yoo replied.

“I don’t think so,” Mora said.

“I’m not talking policy,” Yoo said. “I’m just talking about the law.”

“Well, where are we going to have the policy discussion, then?” Mora asked.

Mora wrote that Yoo replied that he didn’t know; maybe, he suggested, it would take place inside the Pentagon, where the defense-policy experts were. (Yoo said that he recalled discussing only how the policy issues should be debated, and where. Torture, he said, was not an option under consideration.)

But Mora knew that there would be no such discussion; as the Administration saw it, the question would be settled by Yoo’s opinion. Indeed, Mora soon realized that, under the supervision of Mary Walker, a draft working-group report was being written to conform with Yoo’s arguments. Mora wrote in his memo that contributions from the working group “began to be rejected if they did not conform to the OLC”—Office of Legal Counsel—“guidance.”

The draft working-group report noted that the Uniform Code of Military Justice barred “maltreatment” but said, “Legal doctrine could render specific conduct, otherwise criminal, not unlawful.” In an echo of the Torture Memo, it also declared that interrogators could be found guilty of torture only if their “specific intent” was to inflict “severe physical pain or suffering” as evidenced by “prolonged mental harm.” Even then, it said, echoing Yoo, the Commander-in-Chief could order torture if it was a military necessity: “Congress may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.”

A few days after his meeting with Yoo, Mora confronted Haynes again. He told him that the draft working-group report was “deeply flawed.” It should be locked in a drawer, he said, and “never let out to see the light of day again.” He advised Haynes not to allow Rumsfeld to approve it.

In the spring of 2003, Mora waited for the final working-group report to emerge, planning to file a strong dissent. But the report never appeared. Mora assumed that the draft based on Yoo’s ideas had not been finalized and that the suspension of the harsh techniques authorized by Rumsfeld was still in effect.

In June, press accounts asserted that the U.S. was subjecting detainees to “stress and duress” techniques, including beatings and food deprivation. Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking for a clear statement of the Administration’s detainee policy. Haynes wrote a letter back to Leahy, which was subsequently released to the press, saying that the Pentagon’s policy was never to engage in torture, or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment—just the sort of statement Mora had argued for. He wrote in his memo that he saw Haynes’s letter as “the happy culmination of the long debates in the Pentagon.” He sent an appreciative note to Haynes, saying that he was glad to be on his team.

On April 28, 2004, ten months later, the first pictures from Abu Ghraib became public. Mora said, “I felt saddened and dismayed. Everything we had warned against in Guantánamo had happened—but in a different setting. I was stunned.”

He was further taken aback when he learned, while watching Senate hearings on Abu Ghraib on C- SPAN , that Rumsfeld had signed the working-group report—the draft based on Yoo’s opinion—a year earlier, without the knowledge of Mora or any other internal legal critics. Rumsfeld’s signature gave it the weight of a military order. “This was the first I’d heard of it!” Mora told me. Mora wrote that the Air Force’s deputy general counsel, Daniel Ramos, told him that the final working-group report had been “briefed” to General Miller, the commander of Guantánamo, and General James Hill, the head of the Southern Command, months earlier. (The Pentagon confirmed this, though it said that the generals had not seen the full report.) “It was astounding,” Mora said. “Obviously, it meant that the working-group report hadn’t been abandoned, and that some version of it had gotten into the generals’ possession.”

The working-group report included a list of thirty-five possible interrogation methods. On April 16, 2003, the Pentagon issued a memorandum to the U.S. Southern Command, approving twenty-four of them for use at Guantánamo, including isolation and what it called “fear up harsh,” which meant “significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee.” The Defense Department official told me, “It should be noted that there were strong advocates for the approval of the full range of thirty-five techniques,” but Haynes was not among them. The techniques not adopted included nudity; the exploitation of “aversions,” such as a fear of dogs; and slaps to the face and stomach. However, combined with the legal reasoning in the working-group report, the April memorandum allowed the Secretary to approve harsher methods.

Without Mora’s knowledge, the Pentagon had pursued a secret detention policy. There was one version, enunciated in Haynes’s letter to Leahy, aimed at critics. And there was another, giving the operations officers legal indemnity to engage in cruel interrogations, and, when the Commander-in-Chief deemed it necessary, in torture. Legal critics within the Administration had been allowed to think that they were engaged in a meaningful process; but their deliberations appeared to have been largely an academic exercise, or, worse, a charade. “It seems that there was a two-track program here,” said Martin Lederman, a former lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel, who is now a visiting professor at Georgetown. “Otherwise, why would they share the final working-group report with Hill and Miller but not with the lawyers who were its ostensible authors?”

Lederman said that he regarded Mora as heroic for raising crucial objections to the Administration’s interrogation policy. But he added that Mora was unrealistic if he thought that, by offering legal warnings, he could persuade the leaders of the Administration to change its course. “It appears that they weren’t asking to be warned,” Lederman said.

The senior Defense Department official defended as an act of necessary caution the decision not to inform Mora and other legal advisers of official policy. The interrogation techniques authorized in the signed report, he explained, were approved only for Guantánamo, and the Pentagon needed to prevent the practices from spreading to other battlefronts. “If someone wants to criticize us for being too careful, I accept that criticism willingly, because we were doing what we could to limit the focus of that report . . . to Guantánamo,” the official said.

In fact, techniques that had been approved for use at Guantánamo were quickly transferred elsewhere. Four months after General Miller was briefed on the working-group report, the Pentagon sent him to Iraq, to advise officials there on interrogating Iraqi detainees. Miller, who arrived with a group of Guantánamo interrogators, known as the Tiger Team, later supervised all U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib. And legal advisers to General Ricardo Sanchez, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq at the time, used the report as a reference in determining the limits of their interrogation authority, according to a Pentagon report on Abu Ghraib.

A lawyer involved in the working group said that the Pentagon’s contention that it couldn’t risk sharing the report with its authors “doesn’t make any sense.” He explained, “We’d seen everything already.” The real reason for their exclusion, he speculated, was to avoid dissent. “It would have put them in a bind,” he said. “And it would have created a paper trail.”

Meanwhile, Mora’s warnings about the legal underpinnings of the working-group report proved prophetic. In December, 2003, in an extraordinary repudiation of the Administration’s own legal work, the Office of Legal Counsel quietly withdrew the Yoo opinion. The new head of the O.L.C., Jack Goldsmith, a conservative legal scholar who now teaches at Harvard Law School, told the Pentagon that it could no longer rely on the legal analysis. Among other problems, Goldsmith had found Yoo’s interpretation of the President’s powers overly broad. In March, 2005, the Pentagon declared the working-group report a non-operational “historical” document. By that time, however, much of the most serious abuse at Guantánamo had already occurred.

At the Pentagon in recent weeks, officials portrayed Mora’s memo as ancient history. They argued that they had acted quickly to rectify the wrongs he helped expose, by limiting the list of approved interrogation techniques. But while Mora believes that the use of cruel treatment in interrogation has diminished, he feels that the fight to establish clear, humane standards for the treatment of detainees is not over. He also worries that the Administration’s views on interrogation have undermined American foreign policy, in part by threatening the international coalition needed to fight terrorism. Allied countries may not be able to support U.S. military actions, he said, if detainees are treated in a manner that most nations deemed illegal.

Just a few months ago, Mora attended a meeting in Rumsfeld’s private conference room at the Pentagon, called by Gordon England, the Deputy Defense Secretary, to discuss a proposed new directive defining the military’s detention policy. The civilian Secretaries of the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy were present, along with the highest-ranking officers of each service, and some half-dozen military lawyers. Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, had proposed making it official Pentagon policy to treat detainees in accordance with Common Article Three of the Geneva conventions, which bars cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as well as outrages against human dignity.Going around the huge wooden conference table, where the officials sat in double rows, England asked for a consensus on whether the Pentagon should support Waxman’s proposal.

This standard had been in effect for fifty years, and all members of the U.S. armed services were trained to follow it. One by one, the military officers argued for returning the U.S. to what they called the high ground. But two people opposed it. One was Stephen Cambone, the under-secretary of defense for intelligence; the other was Haynes. They argued that the articulated standard would limit America’s “flexibility.” It also might expose Administration officials to charges of war crimes: if Common Article Three became the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it. Their opposition was enough to scuttle the proposal.

In exasperation, according to another participant, Mora said that whether the Pentagon enshrined it as official policy or not, the Geneva conventions were already written into both U.S. and international law. Any grave breach of them, at home or abroad, was classified as a war crime. To emphasize his position, he took out a copy of the text of U.S. Code 18.2441, the War Crimes Act, which forbids the violation of Common Article Three, and read from it. The point, Mora told me, was that “it’s a statute. It exists—we’re not free to disregard it. We’re bound by it. It’s been adopted by the Congress. And we’re not the only interpreters of it. Other nations could have U.S. officials arrested.”

Not long afterward, Waxman was summoned to a meeting at the White House with David Addington. Waxman declined to comment on the exchange, but, according to the Times , Addington berated him for arguing that the Geneva conventions should set the standard for detainee treatment. The U.S. needed maximum flexibility, Addington said. Since then, efforts to clarify U.S. detention policy have languished. In December, Waxman left the Pentagon for the State Department.

To date, no charges have been brought against U.S. personnel in Guantánamo. The senior Defense Department official I spoke to affirmed that, in the Pentagon’s view, Qahtani’s interrogation was “within the bounds.” Elsewhere in the world, as Mora predicted, the controversy is growing. Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Commission called for the U.S. to shut down the detention center at Guantánamo, where,it said, some practices “must be assessed as amounting to torture.” The U.N. report, which the White House dismissed, described “the confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques” as “particularly alarming.”

Mora recently started a new job, as the general counsel for Wal-Mart’s international operations. A few days after his going-away party, he reflected on his tenure at the Pentagon. He felt that he had witnessed both a moral and a legal tragedy.

In Mora’s view, the Administration’s legal response to September 11th was flawed from the start, triggering a series of subsequent errors that were all but impossible to correct. “The determination that Geneva didn’t apply was a legal and policy mistake,” he told me. “But very few lawyers could argue to the contrary once the decision had been made.”

Mora went on, “It seemed odd to me that the actors weren’t more troubled by what they were doing.” Many Administration lawyers, he said, appeared to be unaware of history. “I wondered if they were even familiar with the Nuremberg trials—or with the laws of war, or with the Geneva conventions. They cut many of the experts on those areas out. The State Department wasn’t just on the back of the bus—it was left off the bus.” Mora understood that “people were afraid that more 9/11s would happen, so getting the information became the overriding objective. But there was a failure to look more broadly at the ramifications.

“These were enormously hardworking, patriotic individuals,” he said. “When you put together the pieces, it’s all so sad. To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values.”

From Der Spiegel: AMERICA'S SHAME: Torture in the Name of Freedom
The new pictures from Abu Ghraib provide the most recent evidence: America's moral bank account is empty -- and it has lost the image wars. The entire Muslim world no longer trusts the world's most powerful nation.

They are photos that make your blood run cold. They take your breath away. They turn your stomach. They are photos that make you wonder what kinds of human beings would do these things to other human beings. They trigger anger, disgust and shame.

One photo shows a prisoner being sandwiched between two stretchers, like some perverse ad for a burger. In another, a disoriented detainee, his body smeared with an unidentified substance, stumbles down a prison corridor. A third image depicts a hooded man waiting helplessly on a stool, with electric cables attached to his body. There are many more -- and they all show prisoners being deliberately humiliated for their captors' amusement, men stripped naked and forced into submission. But it's not just humiliation -- the photos also depict physical pain. In one photo, an American soldier kneels on the back of a naked Iraqi prisoner, a puddle of blood indicating rough treatment. In another, a prisoner bows deeply, servant-like, in front of an American military officer: Uncle Tom's Cabin in the Middle East.

Once again, images from Abu Ghraib will burn themselves into the world's collective memory, the shocking legacy of a superpower gone astray -- icons of America's shame. They will become the images future generations most associate with the war in Iraq, just as the photo of a pro-US Saigon police chief holding his pistol to a Vietcong guerilla's temple, his finger about to pull the trigger, has become a symbol of the Vietnam War.

It's hardly relevant that the previously unpublished Abu Ghraib photos taken in 2003 -- about two dozen of them -- are merely variations on familiar themes. It also doesn't matter that at least some of the perpetrators -- absent higher-ranking officers -- have already been hauled before US military courts. Just as their predecessors, these new pictures have the power to generate a dynamic of their own -- making them the perfect propaganda tool for ideological adversaries.

Egging on the faithful

Muslims, particularly in Pakistan and Malaysia, are still incensed about the publishing of the Prophet Muhammad caricatures in European newspapers. Last Friday at least 10 people died in the Libyan city of Benghazi when police tried to stop them from storming the Italian consulate. Italian Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli had raised their ire by appearing on television in a T-shirt showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Governments in countries like Iran and Syria have egged on the faithful even further. Meanwhile, Europeans and Americans justifiably championed the freedom of the press as a value worth defending -- against agitators on both sides.

The impact of these new Abu Ghraib photos is only amplified by the fact that they coincide with the unrest triggered by the Danish Muhammad cartoons. In the Islamic world, the photos are seen as proof that the US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are little more than thinly veiled colonial expeditions conducted in the name of democracy.

From the perspective of the Middle East, the freedom and human rights the Americans profess to be bringing to an oppressed world are nothing more than a front, Washington's false alibi in pushing its agenda of globalization. And for many in the Arab world, they are merely the sinister elements of a slick and even fraudulent marketing campaign aimed at humiliating Muslims.

The crimes committed by US soldiers in the name of freedom and human rights, documented in unalterable photographs, appear to confirm the suspicion that America's true aim is something entirely different -- that the US is primarily interested in imposing its own world order and preserving its dominance.

In short, for the United States, the most powerful and influential global power ever, the images from Abu Ghraib -- and the ongoing debate over the legality of its prison camp at Guantanamo -- have produced a moral catastrophe that's likely to endure for a very long time.

Victorious images quickly overshadowed

If Washington had had its way, entirely different images would have come to symbolize the US campaign against Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein. The image of the toppling of that giant statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, for example -- the ideal symbol of the dictator's downfall. And then there was the triumphant US President George W. Bush's televised appearance on the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln," a banner emblazoned with the words "Mission Accomplished" proudly and telegenically hovering in the background.

But even as the president was announcing an end to hostilities in Iraq, a bitter and brutal Iraqi insurgency was just getting under way -- a resistance that brought together former officers in Saddam's army with foreign al-Qaida fighters. The victorious images were quickly overshadowed. Even the former dictator's trial comes across as a farce these days, despite all efforts to convey the impression of law and order.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis can likely already be penciled into the loss column -- the inability to provide such basic necessities as electricity and drinking water for everyone represents a major strike against the US military. The daily suicide bombings and kidnappings mostly hit ordinary Iraqis. For many of them, life is now more difficult than it was under Saddam. The American military, too, is suffering. Losses mount almost daily; the death toll had reached 2,272 by last Friday.

And now the Americans have also lost the battle of images.

Part II: The Moral Decline of "God's Own Country"

The US prison at Guantanamo has also come under fire recently.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has distanced himself from Washington, saying that the new Abu Ghraib photos are evidence of events "unworthy of a civilized society." Indeed, the new photos from Abu Ghraib are so horrific that the administration in Baghdad has opted not to reprint them in government-affiliated media. Outrage over the images seems to be developing in slow motion in Iraq and other Arab countries, almost as though they merely prove what Muslims already expect from America. The anger over the images reflected in the headlines of newspapers in the Middle East was still less vehement by the weekend than the still-raging furor over the Danish Muhammad cartoons.

Australia -- whose government is considered even more loyal to Bush than British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his cabinet -- was the source of the new images last Wednesday. Despite the fact that Australian Prime Minister John Howard has sent 460 troops to Iraq, the country has a number of press outlets often strongly critical of the government. The television network SBS, which published the images, is among them.

Reporter Olivia Rousset had researched a story about Abu Ghraib for the network's investigative program called "Dateline." As part of her reporting, she traveled to New York, where she met with two soldiers who had worked at Abu Ghraib and their attorneys. A DVD, produced by the US Army's Criminal Investigation Command and showing dozens of new images of prisoner abuse, eventually found its way into the reporter's hands.

Reprehensible level of brutality

Back in Sydney, Rousset discussed the DVD with her producer, Mike Carey, with fellow journalists and with the network's lawyers. The images clearly weren't fakes. The disk given to Rousset by her contact contained files that linked the pictures to a computer owned by Charles Graner, already in prison in the United States for his role in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

Was showing these photos to the world the right thing to do? They depict a new, even more reprehensible level of brutality, including photos of dead prisoners and extreme abuse. In one image, a prisoner's tongue appears to have been cut out (although the event is so far unproven).

The network decided to broadcast all but the very worst of the images, and the images quickly circled the globe.

They appeared to be a part of unpublished documents that had already come to light during an investigation by the US military, but were then filed away. American media reportedly also had access to the material, but declined to publish it, either on the advice of the Pentagon or for reasons of self-censorship. Immediately after the SBS report, though,, which received a similar DVD at virtually the same time SBS did, decided to publish 18 of the new photos.

US government officials reacted to the newly published photos with provocative indifference. According to a Pentagon spokesman, the images were regrettable but old news. The White House, for its part, expressed outrage over the decision to release the photos in what it called the current "heated mood."

This official US indifference is most likely a pretense. Ever since the Washington Post revealed that terrorism suspects have apparently been interrogated in special CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, the US Justice Department has been searching for whoever leaked the story and threatening journalists with coercive detention. The journalists, says Gary Wasserman, a professor at Washington's Georgetown University, could even end up facing stiffer penalties than the uniformed torturers. Nevertheless, CIA Director Porter Goss insists on continuing the program, saying that "we are at risk of losing a key battle -- the battle to protect our classified information."

Good news has become a rarity

At CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a special task force nicknamed "Leak Chasers" has been assembled to scan the media for leaked information. Last Wednesday, Republican politicians announced that they were considering new legislation that would strengthen prohibitions against publicly disclosing information deemed a threat to national security.

But the reality is that the White House, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies are at a loss. Good news has become a rarity, bad news is beginning to pile up and the Bush administration's approval ratings have plunged to all-time lows. The cumulative effect of the recent spate of bad news is devastating -- even for a government so unwilling to admit shortcomings.

While many in the Muslim world rub their hands in glee, the West watches the moral decline of "God's own country" with painful astonishment. And it's a decline led by a president who, more than most of his predecessors, invokes his born-again Christianity and his desire to bring good into the world and to punish evil. Instead, the Bush Administration has become the picture of incompetence. The bad news continues to mount and America is growing impatient.

Take the embarrassing story of Vice President Richard Cheney accidentally discharging a load of birdshot into a 78-year-old attorney instead a flock of quails. While his victim was rushed to the emergency room, Cheney apparently felt it unnecessary to notify the authorities -- or the media. He only submitted to police questioning 10 hours after the accident providing a growing number of government critics with yet more evidence of this government's arrogance.

Although Cheney's negligent hunting accident is unlikely to have legal repercussions, another affair is more ominous and could even lead to impeachment proceedings. A federal prosecutor has accused Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby of committing perjury and obstruction of justice over the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose husband accused the Bush administration of using false information to bolster its propaganda campaign leading up to the Iraq war. Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, has now told a special investigator, who was appointed by the president, that he acted on behalf of his superiors.

Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident could hardly have come at a worse time for the administration.
And then there is the issue of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has been accused of attempting to bribe influential Republicans with ties to the White House. Abramoff has already filed a guilty plea, although he has declined to identify those who accepted his bribes. Bush has claimed that he doesn't recall the man. Abramoff, however, says that he knows the president, and that Bush has even asked about his children. A photo showing the two men together has now surfaced calling Bush's honesty into question.

Bush's standing abroad couldn't be worse

In yet another setback for the Bush administration, a congressional investigation into government shortcomings during Hurricane Katrina reached devastating conclusions about the administration and officials at other levels of government. According to the report, Bush's response to catastrophic flooding in New Orleans came far too late and was indecisive, while his Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, was a complete failure.

Finally, the White House has come under fire over allegations of illegal wire-tapping without court approval, a practice that was secretly authorized by the president following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and remains in place today. Big Brother has been busy, at least according to the Washington Post , which reports that the government has already investigated 325,000 people as possible terrorism suspects in its secret program. The Democrats, seemingly paralyzed for so long, view the violation of fundamental civil rights stemming from the illegal wire-tapping program as so serious that they are considering filing impeachment charges against Bush in an attempt to drive him out of office.

That's unlikely to happen, and Bush will probably survive his second term. But a majority of Americans no longer trust the country's leader and commander-in-chief. In fact, 55 percent of Americans now believe that sending troops to Iraq was a mistake.

While Bush's reputation suffers at home, his standing abroad couldn't be worse. In some countries in the Muslim world, Bush is viewed as even more dangerous than terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Of course, a self-righteous distortion of reality plays an important role here, especially in the Arab world. In many of those countries where there has been such a public outcry over American human rights violations, human rights are systematically trampled upon.

Unlike Saddam Hussein's thugs and the current al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Americans haven't committed thousands of murders or cold-bloodedly beheaded innocent hostages. But the moral masters of the universe, these self-proclaimed forces of good so intent on bringing freedom and democracy to the world, have betrayed their own ideals and lost their credibility. And their troops aren't the only ones to blame.

Americans don't see themselves as fighting to capture strategic bases or gain control over new oil wells, but rather as missionaries out to make the world a better place, one endowed with freedom and human rights. Gradually, though, it's not just the Muslim world which no longer believes such claims.

Two names are especially emblematic for America's disgrace: Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Part III: "The Repertoire of Classic Torture States"

Only very few people are familiar with the full scope of American prisoner transports in connection with the so-called war on terror. Vice President Cheney has seen to it that even many within the US government remain uninformed, and that only the heads and deputy heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees are kept in the loop. In September 2002, then CIA counterterrorism director Cofer Black told a group of members of Congress that the reason for this extraordinary level of secrecy was that everything was "strictly confidential." "All you have to know," he said, "is that there is a pre-9/11 and a post-9/11 era. The gloves came off after 9/11." The camp at Guantanamo, a US military base on the Cuban coast, became the government's preferred detention center for what it calls "enemy combatants."

It remains unknown as to whether CIA interrogators at Guantanamo are still permitted to employ six notorious methods to extract information from prisoners. The "attention slap" involves hitting the prisoner in the face with the edge of the hand. "Long time standing" means forcing a prisoner to stand uninterrupted for up to 40 hours, a practice that prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to remark that his job also requires that he spend hours on his feet. In another technique, "waterboarding," the prisoner is repeatedly doused with water until he believes he is drowning.

"These are all methods in the repertoire of the classic torture states," says Austrian United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak. In a letter published last Wednesday, Nowak and four of his counterparts sharply denounced the US for continuing to maintain the prison at Guantanamo.

"Serious, objective, independent fact-finders"

With his bushy moustache and the air of a benevolent uncle, Nowak, a law professor at the University of Vienna, would normally be considered a good-natured man. But nowadays he has trouble containing his rage. The Bush administration dismissed his report as "useless," accusing him of partisanship because he turned down an invitation to visit Guantanamo. Nowak, though, countered that the invitation was useless because he was denied permission to interview prisoners -- though US Defense Secretary made it clear that Nowak and his team were welcome to come inspect empty cells.

"We are serious, objective, independent fact-finders," Nowak said in response. "We would undermine the UN's fact-finding capacities if we were to accept an invitation that we are not accepting from any other state in the world."

Nowak has been in office since December 2004, in a position that requires him to scrutinize the world's torture chambers. But he has rarely received such treatment, even in the People's Republic of China, where he conducted an investigation last November. His conclusion on the matter of Guantanamo is that the American government has gradually begun chipping away at the prohibition on torture.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hasn't been the only one to call for the closing of Guantanamo. The German chancellor, the European Parliament and even the British government, America's loyal ally and frequently derided as a "poodle" to its masters in Washington, have all called for shutting down the detention camp. Washington, they say, should either release the 490 prisoners currently being held at Guantanamo or it should allow them to stand trial before regular courts. Many of them are not accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies. "Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time," writes the weekly politics magazine National Journal .

The Washington Post is of the opinion that Rumsfeld established the foundation for the crimes in Abu Ghraib at Guantanamo, when it "swept aside the Geneva Convention." It's a claim that is difficult to refute, especially in light of the fact that, from August to early September 2003, a team from Guantanamo trained the guards at Abu Ghraib.

No compunctions about torture

No one has claimed that the military leadership at the prison, or even the Pentagon, approved or even ordered the grisly excesses. But the atmosphere was clearly such that lower-ranking soldiers felt no compunctions about implementing "torture-like interrogation methods." They committed torture with a good conscience, torturing for freedom, for the superiority of the West -- at least as they saw it.

The idea that a few bad apples were responsible for the Abu Ghraib torture scandal has been reflected in the US's legal treatment of the affair, one in which not a single politician has been called to account. Six suspects were named in the torture investigation headed by Major General Antonio Taguba. None of them had climbed higher than the rank of sergeant on the military career ladder. Sergeant Charles Graner began serving a 10-year prison sentence for a series of criminal acts against Iraqi prisoners on January 15, 2005.

On October 20, 2004, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick filed a plea of guilty on all charges. Frederick, who has since been given a dishonorable discharge from the military, was sentenced to eight years in prison. After confessing before a military court on May 19, 2004, Jeremy Sivits was demoted to the rank of private and sentenced to one year in prison. Armin Cruz, also demoted, was sentenced to eight months in prison.

The two female soldiers convicted to date came away with even lighter sentences. Sabrina Harman, declared guilty on six counts on May 17, 2005, received a six-month prison term. Megan Ambuhl was fined half a month's pay and demoted to the rank of private. On September 27, 2005, Lynndie England, whose name was not mentioned in Taguba's report but gained notoriety as a result of photos depicting her holding a leash attached to an Iraqi prisoner, was handed down a three-year prison sentence, much lighter than the 10-year sentence she had been expected to receive.

$6,000 fine for murder

When Iraqi Major General Abd al-Hamid Mauhush, viewed as a close associate of Saddam Hussein, was apprehended in November 2003, the Americans were keenly interested in getting him to talk. He was considered one of the leaders of the Iraqi insurgency against the US military. His interrogator, Corporal Lewis Welshofer, resorted to a number of excesses in an attempt to extract information from Mauhush. According to a military prosecutor, the captured Iraqi was treated "worse than a dog." Welshofer finally stuffed the prisoner into a sleeping bag and Mauhush died. In January, the US soldier was sentenced to a $6,000 fine and was restricted to his home, office and church for a period of two months.

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, head of Abu Ghraib Prison at the time of the prisoner abuses, was demoted. Karpinski, now a colonel, sees herself as a "scapegoat" for her superiors, including then US military commander in Iraq Ricardo Sanchez, who is expected to retire from the military this summer and receive a generous government pension.

Those with political responsibility for the affair have fared even better. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claims that he offered his resignation twice -- in vain. Instead of being dismissed, he was appointed to Bush's second-term cabinet.

Far from being held accountable, those who helped pave the legal way for a policy that essentially deprived prisoners in the war on terror of all rights and gave the president carte blanche to issue orders that in some cases violated international law have even experienced career advances. Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales was promoted to Attorney General. Michael Chertoff, previously the CIA's chief counsel, is now Secretary of Homeland Security. And Jay Bybee, a lawyer and author of the notorious memo that declares legal any interrogation method that does not end in death or lasting physical damage, was even rewarded with a federal judgeship by President Bush.

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have since been incorporated into the vernacular as cautionary examples of what happens when the end justifies the means. Books have been written about the issue, and the ever-escalating battle of cultures has even found its way into films.

The clash of cultures on the big screen

The cinema has turned into a new forum for revenge, for the uninhibited expression of opposition to the images from Abu Ghraib. The Turkish film "Valley of the Wolves," for example, is a pure cinematic slap in the face against Hollywood and Bush administration propaganda, an angry indictment of America and the west that's as naïve as it is perfidious.

The technically complex action film simply reverses the perspective, turning American heroes into thugs, while Muslim patriots heroically defend their homeland, their culture and their honor. The "Axis of Evil" no longer lies in the Orient, but in the West. A mirror is held up to the United States that projects a cleverly distorted image: good versus evil, the noble versus the lowly, the honorable versus the underhanded, Islam versus Christianity and Judaism.

The latest round in the battle over images and cultures begins with a bloodbath. The location is a village somewhere in northern Iraq where a wedding is being celebrated, a peaceful gathering of Turks, Kurds and Arabs. The men dance and the women look on, while children play in their midst. But then some of the men, in a burst of enthusiasm not uncommon in the region, raise their weapons and shoot into the sky.

Part IV: Anti-Americanism on the Silver Screen

This is the signal US soldiers who have been hiding nearby have been waiting for. "Okay, now they're terrorists," says an officer, commenting on the celebratory gunfire. Then his group of Rambo-like warriors storms the village, threatening the guests and assaulting the women. When a young boy shyly touches an American soldier's gun, the soldier shoots the boy, triggering a massacre in which dozens of wedding guests are killed. The groom is executed with a gunshot to his head.

The film, which cost €10 million to produce, making it the most expensive Turkish production of all time, has already brought record numbers of viewers into cinemas since it was first released in early February: more than 2 million in Turkey, but also hundreds of thousands in England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland. In Germany, where "Valley of the Wolves" is being shown in Turkish with German subtitles, 236,000 people, mainly Turks, saw the film in the first week following its Feb. 9 premiere. Whenever American villains and sadists die in the film, enthusiastic audiences applaud.

The protagonist in "Valley of the Wolves," already made popular in Turkey by the eponymous television series, is intelligence agent Polat Alemdar, played by popular Turkish actor Necati Sasmaz. The actor plays a sort of Turkish James Bond, but unlike the dapper Briton, who often shows complete disregard for rules, procedures and his superiors, Alemdar is a loyal nationalist whose only obligation is to his fatherland.

Turkish honor

Alemdar's mission is to restore Turkish honor, a sentiment triggered by a real-life incident. In July 2003, American troops in northern Iraq detained four Turkish officers and, like terrorists, took them away with bags placed over their heads. The "bag affair" dealt a sensitive blow to the Turk's chronically low self-esteem and to this day is viewed as a national disgrace.

In the film, one of the humiliated officers commits suicide, shouting "Long live the fatherland!" before taking a pistol to his head. Intelligence agent Alemdar goes into battle to avenge the officer's death. "I am a Turk, and I will kill anyone who places a bag over the head of a Turk," the agent announces on the screen, to the cheers of many viewers. In the end, Alemdar plunges a dagger into the heart of the despised American.

Director Serdar Akar cleverly intermingles reality and fiction in the film. One scene is a re-enactment of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, including a female guard beating a prisoner and threatening him with a vicious German Shepherd. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called it "a hateful cinematic sermon," while the influential weekly Die Zeit described the film as a "battle of cultures in cinemascope."

Anil Sahin, managing director of Maxximum Film und Kunst GmbH, which distributes the film in German theaters, sees these reviews as excessive. "Finally we have a film that shows the ugly face of war in Iraq and of America," says Sahin, whose company touts itself as forming "an effective cultural bridge between Europe and Turkey."

In fact, "Valley of the Wolves" uses the same approach with which the American cinema reacted to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and intensification of the Cold War. In films like "The Red Tide" (1983), the Red Army marches through the United States like some marauding force, challenging the country and its inhabitants to defend themselves unconditionally. And in other revenge-oriented Hollywood action films, the villain is often an ugly Arab.

The "Road to Guantanamo"

Of course, "Valley of the Wolves" is a malicious caricature. But, like any caricature, its core is very real. This reality is also denounced in a far more serious film titled "The Road to Guantanamo," which proved to be an audience favorite when it premiered at last week's Berlin Film Festival. In a mixture of interviews, documentary footage and recreated scenes, British director Michael Winterbottom ("In This World") tells the story of a handful of British Muslims who were taken to the US detainee camp in Cuba two years ago and were not released until March 2004. "The Road to Guantanamo" is a furious indictment of the United States from the perspective of its victims.

In September 2001, a few days after the attacks on New York and Washington, four friends -- Ruhel Ahmed, then 19, Asif Iqbal, also 19, Shafiq Rasul, 23 and Monir Ali, 22, all "completely ordinary English youth" (to quote Winterbottom), travel from their homes in the town of Tipton near Birmingham to the land of their ancestors, Pakistan. Asif is traveling there to meet the bride his mother has selected for him. The others follow him to attend the wedding. Only later in his film does Winterbottom reveal that two of the men have prior records for minor offences, and all survive on part-time jobs.

But nothing comes of the wedding. At the suggestion of an imam, the four young men, accompanied by Shafiq's local cousin, travel to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian assistance, but they're also seeking adventure. Director Winterbottom sees the journey to Afghanistan as a "voyage of self-discovery" although, he adds, "we weren't interested in attempting, from a nonpartisan standpoints, to examine or prove everything they told us."

Following a week-long odyssey, during which US forces bomb the Taliban regime, Ruhel, Asif and Shafiq fall into the hands of Northern Alliance troops on the road to Kandahar, and are eventually turned over to the Americans. In early 2002, after countless interrogations, the three Britons are loaded onto a plane and flown to Guantanamo.

Winterbottom and Assistant Director Mat Whitecross re-enacted all the torture scenes with actors, filmed with handheld cameras and interspersed interviews with the real prisoners. As a result, "Road to Guantanamo" comes across as incredibly authentic. Winterbottom's images will likely shape our image of Guantanamo more than the few original photographs from the camp. The viewer himself is practically held hostage.

Winterbottom's film is completely devoid of any suggestion that the Taliban were bloody tyrants. The fact that the director shot numerous scenes in Iran, which meant that the film had to be approved by the Iranian government -- a regime with an established, quasi-official policy of torture and murder -- raises some doubts as to its educational intentions.

Blow meets blow in this cinematic battle of images, which portrays and dangerously emotionalizes the clash of two cultures -- despite the fact that it is apparently described simply and objectively. In his film "Hamburger Lektionen" ("Hamburg Lectures"), which just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, director Romuald Karmakar reconstructs two meetings between Mohammed al-Fasasi, the former imam at Hamburg's Al-Kuds mosque, and the faithful in January 2000, meetings that were filmed by an unknown person. Three of the suicide pilots of Sep. 11, 2001 apparently attended this mosque regularly and may have been in contact with Fasasi.

Karmakar had the meetings in which Fasasi answered the attending Muslims' questions translated verbatim into German and recited by actor Manfred Zapatka. The outcome is a nightmarish document of political indoctrination and systematic recruitment for jihad.

Haunting America for decades to come

Both lessons begin quite harmlessly with questions of general conduct and religious discipline. But then Fasasi begins appealing to his listeners' feelings of inferiority. Where does Islam's dignity go, he asks, when Muslims are forced to sweep the streets in western countries? The West, he later adds, has robbed Islam of everything, and it's about time to strike back.

Fasasi claims that the West's wealth is based on exploitation of Islam. Anyone who insults Islam, he says, is an enemy and must be killed. Non-Muslim women and children lose their inviolability the minute they hold a weapon in their hands, and the populations of Western countries must be viewed as enemies, as are their governments, and therefore destroyed. In essence, Fasasi is calling for total war without regard for culpability, one in which the media and educators should play a key role.

Our media-based society, no longer a monopoly of the West, is hungry for images and produces them nonstop. To ensure that images do not fade all too quickly, and in fact give off their own energy, they must document something significant -- and then they'll endure.

The images from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will endure, and they will haunt America for decades to come. A global power can make mistakes and give in to folly, but when its moral foundation begins to crumble, it is constantly forced to deal with the images of its own humiliation and disgrace.

Anything goes once islands have been created outside the rule of law. If Guantanamo is elevated to the status of acceptability -- if those in detention are granted neither the presumption of innocence nor the protections of the Vienna Convention -- isn't Abu Ghraib simply the logical and foreseeable end of this long chain? Does it not become the innate product of a new system the government has inaugurated in its war against terror?

Abu Ghraib represents a substantial moral burden, but the Pentagon is hesitant to turn over the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad to the Iraqi government, as Minister of Human Rights Suher al-Chulabo has demanded. Guantanamo is a scandal, but this government is unlikely to shutter the camp, because it could very well be interpreted as a sign of weakness. The camp's elimination will be up to the next US president.

What remains is cynicism. One of Egypt's leading newspapers summarized it nicely last Friday with the headline to its lead story: "Freedom! Democracy! Torture!" Two of the new prisoner abuse images are on page nine of the paper. Sensational presentation and whipping the public into a frenzy are no longer needed. After all, why break down open doors?

Even Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based network, simply broadcast the images as little more than news. They speak for themselves and, in their unparalleled drastic nature, cement in place an idea that has become the core of the Arab world view: The West lies.

It touts human rights, and yet it rolls our sons in blood and dirt. It complains about the excesses of Saddam Hussein, but it also forces Iraqi men to masturbate on camera. It expresses outrage over our primitiveness, and yet it films a man banging his head against a prison door until blood finally gushes from his forehead.

Aura gone

Nowhere is the fallout from the images more dramatic, the resignation greater, than among those in the Islamic world who had disdained the extremists and had truly believed that the Islamic world stands a chance of being reformed.

There are those in the Arab world who have welcomed the Iraq war and America's project of democratizing the Middle East. "The fall of Saddam established a fundamental moral concept in our political culture," says Egyptian telephone magnate Naguib Sawiris: "responsibility." Despite its many shortcomings, says Shibli Mallat, a Beirut attorney and democratic challenger of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, the war in Iraq did put an end to appeasement in dealing with the despots.

But who wants to listen to it anymore?

"The second group of Abu Ghraib images spells the preliminary end to liberalism in the Arab world, " says Mohammed al-Sayyid Said of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. The secular, leftist and moderate wings of all political groups, Said believes, launched a faint-hearted attempt to take advantage of the new freedom last fall. But, he adds, "it's over."

There is some reason to believe that this justification for the withdrawal is little more than an excuse. President Hosni Mubarak is an autocratic ruler who brutally suppresses any opposition. The "Movement for Change," or Kifaya, has disappeared into oblivion, and the Islamists have benefited.

America has forfeited its aura as a global power. It will be a long time before the United States will be able once again to claim moral superiority. America has inadvertently, but consistently, inflamed the clash of cultures.

The great Winston Churchill once said that America had the habit of committing every possible mistake to ultimately arrive at the right decision. The first part of the Churchill quote is proving to be reality, while the redemptive second part has yet to materialize.

(By Erich Follath, Siegesmund von Ilsemann, Marion Kraske, Romain Leick, Georg Mascolo, Mathieu von Rohr, Gerhard Spörl, Martin Wolf and Bernard Zand. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.)


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