The Spectacle Blog

Shales’ Tall Tales

By on 2.22.07 | 10:38AM

In this atrocity of a story in today's Washington Post, Tom Shales puts an absolute falsehood right near the front. To wit: "...what happened at Abu Ghraib is, to understate in the extreme, unpleasant. The documentary says it's also because this breakdown was not so much nervous as inevitable -- and not so spontaneous, having been sanctioned by the top brass, including former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld."

Granted, Shales is clear to attribute this allegation to film-maker Rory Kennedy (daughter of Bobby), and later on to give a brief summation of the bases for Kennedy's argument to that effect -- so he himself is not stating as fact that Rumsfeld "sanctioned" (in the positive sense) Abu Ghraib. But Shales implicitly supports this contention, first by not reporting the absolute fact that no Rumsfeld policy approved of any such treatment and the absolute fact that the Pentagon justice system was well on the way to prosecuting the perpetrators before the infamous photos actually were leaked. Indeed, the top brass at the Pentagon wanted to impose sanctions (the negative sense, as in "penalties" AGAINST the idiots who behaved so stupidly at Abu Ghraib.

Shales also writes, again parroting Kennedy, this: "Then the term 'torture' was redefined so narrowly in government memos that it would be almost impossible to commit it."

This, too, is a falsehood, on two levels. First, the only government memos that concern interrogation techniques were applicable not to Abu Ghraib but to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. In fact, the Geneva Conventions were in force at Abu Ghraib. Second, even the so-called "torture memos" in question (the ones that applied at Gitmo) were NOT adopted as policy by Rumsfeld's Pentagon (the error thus lies in attributing, via a sentence splice, the torture memo to Rumsfeld) but instead significantly altered to take extra precautions AGAINST torture as any ordinary person defines it. Indeed, the Shales version actually contains what most people would consider a third error, although he can technically claim that the third one is not a matter of fact but of opinion -- namely, the bit about torture as so defined being "almost impossible to commit." Again, see the story linked earlier in this same paragraph for refutation of that spurious claim.

Finally, I think there is another HUGE error of fact in the Kennedy film (as reported by Shales, as if it is the truth) -- but that will have to wait for a later blog entry, because I am double-checking my own facts on that one. It's a shame Shales didn't double-check the facts for his own column.

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