Who's responsible for torture in Iraq? Is the Kerry campaign doomed? Readers respond to a War Room special report, and "Premature Panic," by Tim Grieve. Plus: Holland and Galbraith square off over JFK.

By Salon Staff

Published May 8, 2004 9:33PM (EDT)

[Read Salon's special report in War Room on Friday's congressional hearings on the Iraq torture scandal.]

Why would young military officers sent to guard prisoners of war have chosen this particular kind of degradation -- having Muslims simulate acts of homosexuality in front of women? As more information has emerged, it has become clear that the prisoners were not simply being held as combatants or the victims of some twisted fraternity prank, but that the CIA and its paramilitary employees wanted these prisoners psychologically broken so that they might more easily interrogate them. Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick has written that military intelligence "told us 'great job' they were now getting positive results and information."

What information was needed? In this case, what the administration and CIA needed was information they could take back to the American people: a single weapon-producing van, or a single missile tipped with biotoxins. Because the administration lacked any evidence to support its urgent case for going to war, it was forced to scramble to find some -- any! -- weapons of mass destruction. You can almost hear the shouts down the halls of Langley: "Come on! Tenet wants us to find those WMDs!"

The corrective channels of power put in place by the secretary of defense or the president will ensure that they - like Claude Rains in Casablanca -- can claim to be "shocked, shocked!" that there was torture going on in those establishments. But what cannot be denied is that for the last year, the administration has been hard-pressed to present any real evidence of the list of weapons outlined in Bush's State of the Union speech in 2003. Being hard-pressed, they pressed hard on an entire population of prison inmates. The depraved acts of those soldiers were the result of a desperately derailed foreign policy.

In an effort to win the hearts and minds of the American people, Iraqis were tortured in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. Once again, in his single-minded pursuit of a morally bankrupt agenda in Iraq, President Bush and his cabinet of Vietnam-syndrome sufferers continue to harden the hearts and minds -- and wills -- of Arab nations. And that of most Americans with a pulse.

-- Hugh Schulze

Secretary Rumsfeld, in a belated acknowledgement of the lessons of history, stated "the world has seen problems of this type before ..." Yes, indeed we have. No secretary of defense should be "stunned" by bad behavior in a war zone, and I doubt Rumsfeld really was. Angry? Of course. It's a tawdry, unprofessional mess, and so unfortunately timed for the Bush administration.

Sen. Kerry did his best as a young man to alert our country to "problems" in Vietnam, the shameful behavior of a few soldiers in a war zone that he felt did a disservice to the overwhelming majority who served with honor. He's been attacked ever since for having the courage to tell an unpopular truth. Now that's stunning.

-- Roberta Graham

I suppose this is why the U.S. has declined to sign up for the war crimes tribunal. It would be embarrassing if our soldiers had to face the same kind of punishment we wish to see imposed on others instead of a reprimand as they appear to be getting.

I doubt the world will either be amused or fooled.

-- Jeffrey Harrison

[Read "Premature Panic," by Tim Grieve.]

I totally agree that the panic over Kerry's candidacy is idiotic. Although the guy wasn't my pick, we have to remember that (A) it's only May, (B) Bush continues to act like an imbecile and (C) Kerry knows his way around a campaign. Let the Bush forces use up their money and resources on premature attacks based on obvious lies -- they only look increasingly desperate and underscore the overwhelming reality that this administration has nothing to run on in November.

-- Joel Canfield

Tim Grieve's article "Premature Panic" tries to reassure the Democratic faithful like myself that the John Kerry campaign can beat George Bush. The article concentrates on campaign strategy, not Kerry's stump performance.

I respectfully submit that while campaign logistics may be a factor, Kerry's less-than-charismatic relationship with the public at his stops is a serious problem. His stands on Israel, healthcare and Iraq alienate progressive voters, whom he will certainly need in November. Kerry also has no compelling vision of a post-Bush America to latch on to when such a vision is needed more now than at any time since the Civil War.

Kerry needs more than the across-the-board failure of the Bush administration to get him elected. Voters need to know who he is and what he stands for. Hopefully, it will be an identity that rallies voters to his cause.

-- Alan Willis

[Read "Fidel, the Fall Guy," by James K. Galbraith.]

James Galbraith is entitled to his own opinions, but he isn't entitled to his own facts. His analysis of my article is chock-full of errors big and small. Here are a representative two.

He suggests that I went "gaga" over "new information, taken in isolation," namely 1967 telephone conversations recorded by President Johnson. These tapes are neither new nor new information. They were released by the Johnson Library in April 1994. Thus, Galbraith's opening premise is flawed even before he gets started.

Galbraith also makes an error when he asserts that Johnson ordered Sen. Richard Russell (and presumably, the rest of the Warren Commission) to find Castro not guilty. This can only be described as a willful misrepresentation by Galbraith of the telephone conversation between Johnson and Russell on Nov. 29, 1963. This is what Johnson really said at the critical juncture:

Russell: I wouldn't be surprised if Castro had something to do with it.

Johnson: All right ... then okay. That's what we want to know.

Apart from such inaccuracies, Galbraith entirely misreads the thrust of my article. I'm not alleging anything about Castro. The article is about what Johnson believed and when he believed it, and his state of mind regarding the assassination of his predecessor. But as long as we are talking about who did it, I would not take my clues from the Cuban state security apparatus, as Galbraith is content to do.

-- Max Holland

James Galbraith replies:

I stand corrected on the release date of the tapes. Holland's essay makes no mention of it, and I did infer that these tapes were interesting partly because they were new. I wonder what impression Holland meant to leave on this point.

On Johnson's order to Russell, I could have quoted even more:

"And don't tell me what you can do and what you can't because I can't arrest you and I'm not going to put the FBI on you. But you're goddamned sure going to serve -- I'll tell you that!

It sounds like an order to me.

Russell's remark about his suspicion of Castro comes later in the conversation. It is plainly Russell's suspicion, not Johnson's. LBJ simply brushes off this remark; he's given his order and he has his man.

But when Connally again raises the subject, in 1967, Johnson makes his opinion clear, in the passage Holland actually quotes but then ignores: "We've had that story on about three occasions, and the people here say that there's no basis for it."

Johnson's state of mind is pretty clear. There was no basis for a charge against Castro, and he knew it.

Claudia Furiati is Brazilian, not Cuban. I mention her book, which is based on documents from the Cuban security files, to make the point that there is a large literature alleging conspiracy out there. Cuba particularly had an intense interest in the Kennedy assassination, for sensible reasons: a false trail to Castro could have led to war. And, I have been told, the views of Cuban state security were solicited by at least one of the congressional investigations of the 1970s. So it is not illegitimate to ask those who would now play around with conspiracy, whether raising questions about Johnson or Castro or anyone else, that they confront the vast body of material available on this topic in a thorough, systematic, and dispassionate way.

Salon Staff

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