Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Deflect and Decry

The New York Times’ lead editorial for today starts off with this thought:

The administration and its Republican allies appear to have settled on a way to deflect attention from the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: accuse Democrats and the news media of overreacting, then pile all of the remaining responsibility onto officers in the battlefield, far away from President Bush and his political team. That cynical approach was on display yesterday morning in the second Abu Ghraib hearing in the Senate, a body that finally seemed to be assuming its responsibility for overseeing the executive branch after a year of silently watching the bungled Iraq occupation.

The senators called one witness for the morning session, the courageous and forthright Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who ran the Army’s major investigation into Abu Ghraib. But the Defense Department also sent Stephen Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, to upstage him. Mr. Cambone read an opening statement that said Donald Rumsfeld was deeply committed to the Geneva Conventions protecting the rights of prisoners, that everyone knew it and that any deviation had to come from “the command level.” A few Republican senators loyally followed the script, like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who offered the astounding comment that he was “more outraged by the outrage” than by the treatment of prisoners. After all, he said, they were probably guilty of something.

Aside from Sen. Inhofe, they can look to their own pages for another example of Admin-spin, William Safire:

Last month, Democrats joined a book-promoting author to try to place the blame for failing to stop Al Qaeda’s attacks on an unconcerned President Bush and the bumbling heads of the C.I.A. and F.B.I.

This month, Democrats led by Michigan Senator Carl Levin are imputing blame for the pornographic sadism of a dozen guards and interrogators to a chain of command on up to Donald Rumsfeld and Bush. The abuses, Levin charged, were “clearly planned and suggested by others.”

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Those of us who believe in the nobility of exporting freedom cannot trivialize the scandal. But we need not let our dismay at the predations of some self-photographing creeps overwhelm the morally sound purpose of our antiterror campaign. Nor should the dereliction of some officers detract from the brave and upright service of almost all our warriors.

Though polls show that most Americans understand this, the atmosphere in the BosNyWash corridor is that of panic. Even some of my hard-line brethren are urging that we throw a few leaders off the sled to palliate the pack in pursuit; others offer an emergency exit strategy that is “cut and walk fast.”

Mr. Safire is an old hand at deflecting damaging news – he was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon – and he has an almost spasmodic ability to point to others; you don’t think he doesn’t mean to include Hillary when he talks about the “BosNyWash corridor,” do you? (It’s almost like a drinking game with Safire: every time he mentions Hillary and her nefarious plans to become president, you take a shot.)

Fortunately there are more cooler heads that will prevail, including some Republicans such as John Warner and Lindsey Graham, as noted by Talking Points Memo:

Graham has become some mix of the star and the conscience of these proceedings because of his specialized knowledge as an Air Force JAG and his ability to see that this goes beyond partisan politics, threatening as it does not only America’s honor, but (in a way someone like Inhofe could probably never understand) also her power.

Graham got it exactly right today when he said: “When you are the good guys, you’ve got to act like the good guys.”

What’s really ironic is that the more the spinners try to make the public look elsewhere and take the heat off the administration, the more cynical they sound about finding the truth and more blantant about doing nothing else but saving their own asses.