Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, Mark Danner (2004)

This volume collects five essays Danner wrote for the New York Review of Books in 2003 and 2004: two from the period before the Abu Ghraib abuses came to light and three specifically addressing that scandal and the events that precipitated it. The rest of the book contains some of the famous photos from Abu Ghraib, as well as a collection of the Department of Defense and Department of Justice memos that paved the way to torture of detainees and military and congressional reports issued in the wake of the scandal.

There are better ways to access the primary documents Danner includes; the Greenberg-Dratel book provides a far more comprehensive set of documentation, and the Salon.com exhibit of the abuse photographs is more complete and better annotated.

Danner’s measured but passionate essays still earn this book a place on the short shelf of books that serve to clarify the ways in which we have failed and are failing in Iraq. The basic message is horribly simple. We did not treat the Iraqis like fellow human beings when we arrived, and we are not doing so now. Instead we have treated them and are treating them like recalcitrant factors in a complex equation which, in our ignorance and impatience, we have tried to solve with force and intimidation instead of subtlety and good faith.

This is a good companion to Hersh’s book that I read last week. Hersh is good at the politics part: who OK’d what and who said what to who, that sort of thing. Danner’s more of a political philosopher, asking more “why” and “how” questions than who, what, when, and where.

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