Political Animal


March 02, 2012 10:55 AM Old Spin

By Ed Kilgore

It wasn’t the main point of his piece, but WaPo columnist Michael Gerson yesterday casually referred to the notorious Abu Ghraib scandal as making George W. Bush and his team “an administration facing events that aren’t its fault but that are its problem.”

As it happens, Gerson’s act of retroactive absolution conflicted directly with the most recent bipartisan report from the Senate Armed Services Committee:

The report…issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican…represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.
The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.
The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the report says, “was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own” but grew out of interrogation policies approved by Mr. Rumsfeld and other top officials, who “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees.”

Rumsfeld, naturally, sent word via a spokesman (since when do former Cabinet members have “spokesmen?”) that the report was “irresponsible,” but I think we know who has more credibility on this particular subject. It would be nice if writers like Gerson didn’t buy the old spin when referring to this particularly dark moment in recent U.S. history.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Mimikatz on March 02, 2012 11:04 AM:

    Wasn't Gerson one of the original spinners under Bush?

    Anyone who has studied the work of Philip Zimbardo knows that the problem isn't a few bad apples, but bad barrels made by bad barrel-makers, I.e. the lack of institutional controls against abuse and in the case of Abu Ghraib an actual encouragement of abuse by Rumsfeld, Cheney, Addington and a few others who were apparently made to feel tough and less helpless by the sanctioning of abuse against detainees.

  • stevio on March 02, 2012 11:07 AM:

    When Rumsfeld , Bush, Darth Cheney, Rice, and yes, Powell are brought-up as war criminals in the Hague being prosecuted with Crimes Against Humanity, not only will this country's soul be save, but the world will once again look upon us as exceptional. The kind of exceptionalism that actually means something.

  • martin on March 02, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Following up on your previous post, countdown to "The Media Made Us Do It" response (plus a noun, a verb and 9/11).

  • stormskies on March 02, 2012 11:15 AM:

    Wasn't Gerson one of the original spinners under Bush?


    Pretty sure he was actually one of Bush's speechwriters ........

  • Bokonon on March 02, 2012 11:19 AM:

    Gerson isn't buying the old spin - he knows this is false, and what he is carefully spreading the old spin around like manure, and preparing us for a new cycle of funhouse-mirror revisionism by him and his cohorts.

    The Bush people are STILL trying to create their own reality (and make us live in it). In this case ... they are trying to re-arrange the nation's memories, and make their screw-ups and active wrongdoing disappear into a fuzz and tangle of jumbled false facts.

    On the one hand, they argue that torture didn't happen. On the other hand, they argue that it is no big deal if it did, that the stuff which happened wasn't really "torture", and that liberals are just exaggerating because they are political and loony. On the third hand, they argue that neither Bush nor the senior people in his administration knew what was going on ... whatever it was ... fraternity pranks or "harsh interrogation techniques" or otherwise ... and that it was just a few overenthusiastic bad apples. And so on.

    All of this is argued in eloquent and carefully parsed bad faith. And if you trace all of these messages back to their central departure point (something really bad happened! Gotta avoid consequences!), you can see what Gerson's concern is, and what the long-term political goal of this mix of apologism and denial is intended to be.

  • MattF on March 02, 2012 11:20 AM:

    I'm sorry, but 'buy the old spin' isn't a good enough description of what Gerson did. At worst, Gerson went along-- at best, he followed orders. Neither is acceptable behavior in a civilized society.

  • schtick on March 02, 2012 11:21 AM:

    Ah yes, Rumsfeld was the guy that said "When you go to war, you go to war with what you've got." or some such nonsense when people were questioning why the troops didn't have the protection they needed.
    Well, Mr. Rumsfeld, when YOU are the one planning on going to war, it's up to YOU to MAKE SURE our troops are fully equipped and protected BEFORE we go to war. In case your memory has failed, Iraq and for that matter Afghanistan didn't do a thing to us nor did THEY declare war on us. Most of the people that flew those planes, including Bin Laden, were from Saudi Arabia. Why didn't we attack them?
    That administration isn't the only one to blame either. The Congress is just as guilty for buying sleezy equipment for the troops to begin with. Another reason why the pentagon should have more say in what is needed rather than Congress. The Congress are all flag-wavers, but few if any have served and know what they are talking about.
    What a joke that administration was/is. A bunch of draft-dodgers declaring war on countries that did nothing to us and encouraging torture on prisoners, half of which, were paid for. That's something any third world country would be proud of.

  • jhm on March 02, 2012 11:23 AM:

    As per the spokesperson comment, it's kind of boggling how Mr. Rumsfeld thinks that paying someone to use his words gives those words more credibility. It almost an admission that Himself has lost all such credibility.

  • beejeez on March 02, 2012 11:26 AM:

    Uh-oh. Watch out, Sen. McCain. You're about to taste a little wingnut spazz.

  • 4jkb4ia on March 02, 2012 11:32 AM:

    And this isn't new. The last SASC report also traced what happened at Abu Ghraib to what happened within the Defense Department through Guantanamo.

    I am sorry for Ed's loss.

  • T2 on March 02, 2012 11:40 AM:

    now and at the time, there was no doubt that the actions at Abu Graib were top down from the Pentagon and the White House. This report is unneeded. We already knew what the report tells us. If some senate committed want to point a finger, that finger should be pointed squarely at the national MEDIA who did everything it could to promote the "bad apple" approach when it was clearly orders from the top.

  • rea on March 02, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Calling a report "irresponsible" is not the same thing as calling it "wrong."

  • SadOldVet on March 02, 2012 11:53 AM:

    Gerson is not buying the old spin. He is still selling the old spin.

  • Robert on March 02, 2012 12:09 PM:

    Calling Gerson a Bull Shit artist would be appropriate. Also not ALL the media went along: Jane Mayer didn't in The New Yorker. "The Dark Side", published in 2008 is the book version of her reporting and makes the connection between the 'evil doers' in the White House and USDOJ Office of Legal Counsel (yes Yoo, you) and Abu Graib crimes crystal clear.

  • JW on March 02, 2012 12:57 PM:

    "It would be nice if writers like Gerson didnít buy the old spin when referring to this particularly dark moment in recent U.S. history".

    You know what else would have been "nice"? If congressional democrats had prosecuted those who conspired to intentionally big lie this country into unleashing the Iraq War.

    But they didn't, did they? In a matter of war and peace, they cast their lot with war criminals.

    When the chips were down that party, commonly deemed the "lesser of two evils" even by its own partisans, proved to be no such thing.