Torture and the Politics of Ambiguity

Each new revelation of physical abuse, maltreatment, and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by American and British soldiers shocks international public opinion, leaving officials to scramble desperately to contain the damage. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warns that more documentary evidence of wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib prison lies in store, evidently in the preemptive hope that the outrages stopped there.

As a former US military intelligence interrogator, I am convinced that the images from Abu Ghraib are just the beginning. The wanton cruelty there is all too clearly symptomatic of a systemic failure.

But what system failed? Was it a failure of discipline and training - the result of sending inexperienced and unworldly reservists into poor conditions, abruptly extending their deployments, and then leaving them understaffed in the face of a growing influx of captured insurgents? Or did the pattern of abuse amount to so many orders from superiors to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation?

The answer is most likely both and neither.