Readers weigh in on Michael Savage's invective against Arabs, why "shock and awe" goes to the heart of the Iraq torture disaster, and prisoner abuse inside the U.S. Plus: The Pentagon responds to Joe Conason.

By Salon Staff

Published May 21, 2004 7:53PM (EDT)

[Read "America's Laziest Fascist," by Dave Gilson, and this week's edition of "Right Hook," by Mark Follman.]

Your article on Michael Savage was truly shocking. What troubled me the most, however, were not the words or behavior of this noted wing nut. No surprises there. Listening to his show is a little bit like watching one of Lenny Bruce's last performances, with the important distinction that, even at his most unhinged, Bruce still retained a probing and perceptive mind, something Savage obviously never had. No, the real story is not Savage's train wreck of a performance but the fact that 5,000 people filled the Concord Pavilion, some of them paying as much as $100, to witness it. That's downright scary!

-- Mark Dowdy

Good to see that the FCC considers Anal Sex off-limits discussion, while postulating that Arabs should have explosives inserted in the same orifice as torture is protected political speech. Personally, I'm adult enough to hear it all, but it never stops confounding me how consensual pleasure is evil, while non-consensual violence is constructive debate.

Lenny Bruce, Galileo, and Bill Hicks weep from the great beyond.

-- Brad Laidman

I disagree sometimes with Salon's views, but not with its journalistic integrity. Today's "Right Hook" was a bit too much to take, though. I myself have wondered when someone would point out that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib seemed to be making their own amateur porn ("pick-nose pornographers," to borrow a phrase from Christopher Hitchens). My gut feeling is that they were turned loose or encouraged to soften up prisoners, and sexual torture and humiliation just naturally came up. They did look like they were having so much fun, didn't they?

I have believed for several years that America is becoming a "porn culture." I can't turn on my bloody TV lately without seeing Jenna Jameson (no offense to Jenna, she's a doll).

I am not politically right-wing at all. As I've aged, I've gotten even more lefty. I would never advocate outlawing porn. But to pretend it hasn't completely permeated our culture, to the point where Americans aren't entirely shocked by the pictures out of Abu Ghraib, is foolishly naive.

-- Cheryl Strauss

We must stop calling people like Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh conservatives. Barry Goldwater was a conservative; John McCain is a conservative. Savage is a racist. Limbaugh is a fanatic and a liar. It's time we give the phrases "conservative" and "Republican" a little more respect and stop using them as a subterfuge -- and allowing Savage, Limbaugh, et al., to use them for racism, fanaticism, and religious radicalism.

-- Matt Casper

The description of Michael Savage's recent remarks make him seem to exist in a whole different world than much of the right. Do you know whether his fantastic comments have been reported in outlets other than Salon?

I remember those years when Famous Black Leaders and Famous White Liberal Leaders were always grilled about their position on Louis Farrakhan. Do you know if any analogous accountability is being asked of conservatives in relation to Savage's amazing remarks?

-- Tom Smucker

Mark Follman's weekly summary of the idiocy broadcast by the right-wing media is entertaining enough, but does any of this nonsense really influence public opinion?

-- Jon R. Koppenhoefer

[Read "How High Does It Go?" by Eric Boehlert.]

Much ink has been spilled about the indignation over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but the tagline "shock and awe" has not been linked to the abuse in any readily searchable media outlets. Was the term "shock and awe" retired when we reached the "mission accomplished" stage of military operations? Did U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison feel they were supporting their mission by engaging in shocking photo shoots with Iraqi prisoners?

Soldiers have reported direct orders from superiors in justifying their deeds. This begs comparison with the Nuremberg trials but sidesteps the issue of whether the hype Bush, Rumsfeld and many news outlets gave to "shock and awe" created an atmosphere in which the prison abuses would be regarded as patriotic or even heroic. The term "shock and awe" seems to have originated with a book of the same title (subtitled "Achieving Rapid Dominance") published by National Defense University Press in 1996 (NDU was created by the Department of Defense). The military advisors who penned the book viewed changes in the world geopolitical landscape as "a major opportunity for real revolution and change if we are able and daring enough to exploit them. This, in turn, has led us to develop the concept of Rapid Dominance and its attendant focus on Shock and Awe."

The authors go on, however, to warn that the strategy was "certainly not an antidote or preventative for a major policy blunder, miscalculation, or mistake." Is it possible war architects borrowed the concept and tagline of "shock and awe" while overlooking the warning?

-- Erwin Karl

How high up the chain of command does the problem go? Give me unfettered access to Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz and Cambone, a 60-amp DieHard and jumper cables, and we'll have the answer in 15-20 minutes.

-- Robert Lewis

[Read "The Prisoner-Abuse Scandal at Home," by Michelle Goldberg.]

Thank you for your recent article on allegations of mistreatment of those held in America after 9/11. I only wish there were more stories like yours in other media sources.

There is a rising danger of hysteria in our culture after 9/11 where people believe that anyone who is brown-skinned or Muslim is likely guilty of terrorism. It reeks of the hysteria that caused anti-Semitism in Europe leading up to World War II. We must fight this head-on, or else we are destined to become no better than the enemy.

I cannot believe the lack of outcry from the public and the press regarding the wanton violations of civil liberties that are happening in many American-run prisons, both domestically and internationally. I am further troubled, disgusted, shocked and frustrated at right-wing pundits who blow off these allegations, claiming they are no worse than fraternity pranks.

The simple fact of the matter is that the war on terror will not be won by terrorizing people. What is happening is history repeating itself, and unless our government does a full-scale overhaul of procedures and training in its prisons, military installations and police precincts, we are destined to repeat many more atrocities.

-- Eric Nutt

The problem of inhumane treatment of prisoners is not limited to Muslim prisoners, but is systemic throughout the prison system in the United States. There are "white collar" federal prison camps that offer movie theaters, basketball and tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and pool tables; there are also 23-hour-a-day lock-down prisons where an individual is confined to a 5-by-8-foot room that may or may not have heating and air conditioning, and may or may not be infested with insects and mites. I took the treatment of prisoners for granted in the United States until I knew people who had been in prison, who relayed some chilling stories of harassment and abuse, even by female guards.

A big part of the problem, as with many things, is a simple lack of education, training and psychological screening of the guards who are responsible for controlling their wards. It is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed. I can only hope that the ripple effect from exposure of these abuses will increase awareness of the need for humane treatment of prisoners everywhere.

-- Cynthia Sears

[Read "Lack of Protection," by Joe Conason.]

Contrary to Joe Conason's May 7 article, the administration and the Department of Defense support the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, no nation has a stronger reason for promoting universal compliance with them than does the United States, as U.S. troops are stationed and operating around the world. The Geneva Conventions apply to the war in Iraq and we have striven to comply with them, though the abuse of Iraqi prisoners makes clear that we have not been as successful as we should have been.

Secretary Feith, whose views on the Geneva Conventions are grossly mischaracterized in the article, has supported the Conventions strongly in and out of government. He opposed the Protocol I amendments to the Geneva Convention because they would weaken the protection afforded non-combatants, which is the key reason that the U.S. government has refused to ratify it for nearly 20 years.

There are too many errors in the article to address each one, but three stand out:

New York attorney Scott Horton is quoted as stating: "[C]ivilian contractors ... are exempt from prosecution by ... U.S. courts." This is simply false. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 extends federal criminal jurisdiction to the conduct of DoD contractors and subcontractors overseas. Further, the War Crimes Act of 1996 extends federal criminal jurisdiction to U.S. nationals who commit a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, such as torture or inhumane treatment of a person protected by the Conventions. Under these acts, DoD refers such matters to the Justice Department for decisions regarding prosecution.

Mr. Horton's suggestion that "civilian officials removed safeguards designed to prevent ... abuses [during interrogations]" is wrong. He apparently thought that "the routine observation of interrogations from behind a two-way mirror by a JAG officer" is one such safeguard. However, the judge advocate general of the Army, who addressed this issue at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 12, stated that "I'm not aware of the use of the two-way mirror as a regular standard method of monitoring interrogations." Nor is such observation a requirement of the Geneva Conventions.

The DoD general counsel works for the secretary of defense and provides him with professional legal advice. He does not take orders from any undersecretary of defense. It is misguided and simply wrong for Salon.com to suggest otherwise.

-- Bryan G. Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

Joe Conason replies:

Mr. Whitman's letter is more revealing for what it omits than what it includes. Nowhere does he deny that dissenting JAG officers met with attorney Scott Horton to protest the deteriorating standards for treatment of military prisoners. His statement about the value of the Geneva Convention reflects the views of most military officers, but his assurances about the Bush administration's reverence for those laws ring hollow today. In January 2002, White House general counsel Alberto Gonzales declared those hallowed rules to be outdated in the war on terror -- and there is mounting evidence that the administration acted accordingly. No, the Pentagon has not been "as successful as [it] should have been." How far short the administration has fallen will be revealed in forthcoming investigations.

My quotation of Secretary Feith is accurate, and his extreme rhetoric needs no further elaboration, except to say that his description of the Additional Protocol as "law in the service of terror" was and is obnoxious. Mr. Whitman's attempt to whitewash is hogwash.

The vulnerability of the Pentagon's civilian contractors to prosecution has never been tested under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act cited by Mr. Whitman. There is ample reason for concern that it wouldn't work; among those who have expressed doubt about the 2000 law is Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former JAG officer.

What Scott Horton told me is that the Pentagon leadership tried to create an atmosphere of impunity for the contractors -- and there is also ample reason to believe that they felt immune from the Geneva Convention, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and U.S. and Iraqi criminal law.

Army judge advocate general Thomas Romig addressed the question of one-way mirrors under questioning from Sen. Edward Kennedy on May 12, but his answer was hardly definitive. Whether the general was "aware" of it or not, two-way mirrors were in fact used during the first Gulf War to monitor prisoner interrogations. The point of the mirror is not that JAG officers would observe every interrogation, but that the interrogators would not know whether they were being observed. Nobody said such mirrors are required under the Geneva Convention, but many JAG officers consider them an essential tool to prevent abuses, and their discontinuation a disastrous mistake.

No doubt the Pentagon personnel charts show that general counsel Haynes reports directly to the secretary of defense. But the dissident JAG officers believe that Mr. Feith, the influential undersecretary for policy, was directing the responses of Haynes on these matters.

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------