Abu Ghraib

I. Trying political leaders: I do not mean trying them out, in advance, to see if we are likely to find their leadership disastrous, though that might be a good idea if we could find a way of doing it. In politics, judgment does not have to be, and often cannot be, after the fact. But it is post facto judgment that I wish to discuss: the morality and wisdom of putting political leaders on trial after we have endured their leadership and, perhaps, their crimes.

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I. Trying political leaders: I do not mean trying them out, in advance, to see if we are likely to find their leadership disastrous, though that might be a good idea if we could find a way of doing it. In politics, judgment does not have to be, and often cannot be, after the fact. But it is post facto judgment that I wish to discuss: the morality and wisdom of putting political leaders on trial after we have endured their leadership and, perhaps, their crimes.

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Barack Obama is stuck with another of his campaign pledges. There are still nearly 200 prisoners in Guantanamo. I, for one, do not care if they are moved to a jailhouse in Illinois. But I still wonder what is wrong with that tip of Cuba (which happens to be U.S. territory) functioning as a penitentiary. In any case, the deadline that candidate Obama set for President Obama to meet--the end of last year--has now passed.

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The Deadly Jester

In Defense of Lost Causesby Slavoj Žižek(Verso, 504 pp., $34.95)Violenceby Slavoj Žižek(Picador, 272 pp., $14)I.Last year the Slovenian philosopher SlavojŽižek published a piece in The New York Times deploring America's use of torture to extract a confession from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the Al Qaeda leader who is thought to have masterminded the attacks of September 11. The arguments that Žižek employed could have been endorsed without hesitation by any liberal-minded reader. Yes, he acknowledged, Mohammed's crimes were "clear and horrifying"; but by torturing him the United States was turning back the clock on centuries of legal and moral progress, reverting to the barbarism of the Middle Ages. We owe it to ourselves, Žižek argued, not to throw away "our civilization's greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity." For anyone who is familiar with Žižek's many books, what was striking about the piece was how un-Žižekian it was. Yes, there were the telltale marks—quotations from Hegel and Agamben kept company with a reference to the television show 24, creating the kind of high-low frisson for which Žižek is celebrated. But for the benefit of the Times readers, Žižek was writing, rather surprisingly, as if the United States was basically a decent country that had strayed into sin.He was being dishonest. What Žižek really believes about America and torture can be seen in his new book, Violence, when he discusses the notorious torture photos from Abu Ghraib: "Abu Ghraib was not simply a case of American arrogance towards a Third World people; in being submitted to humiliating tortures, the Iraqi prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture." Torture, far from being a betrayal of American values actually offers "a direct insight into American values, into the very core of the obscene enjoyment that sustains the U.S. way of life." This, to Žižek's many admirers, is more like it.

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The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil By Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 551 pp., $27.95) WHY DO human beings commit despicable acts? One answer points to individual dispositions; another answer emphasizes situational pressures. In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the importance of individual dispositions in describing terrorists as “simply evil people who want to kill.” Situationists reject this view. They believe that horrible acts can be committed by perfectly normal people.

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Athwart History

Although he remains the most eminent conservative in the United States, his face and voice recognized by millions, William F. Buckley, Jr. has all but retired from public life. At the apex of his influence, when Richard Nixon and, later, Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, Buckley received flattering notes on presidential letterhead and importuning phone calls from Cabinet members worried about their standing in the conservative movement.

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Abu Ghraib Out Of Style?

I am almost certain that you would recognize the paintings and drawings of Fernando Botero, the Columbian artist who shows at Marlborough Gallery in New York. He's the one with the fattened bodies, puffed up men and women and equally puffed up children. He has made grossly fat grossly chic, at least for the Latin American set and even those of its members who are quite svelte.

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Why is torture wrong? It may seem like an obvious question, or even one beneath discussion. But it is now inescapably before us, with the introduction of the McCain Amendment banning all "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees by American soldiers and CIA operatives anywhere in the world. The amendment lies in legislative limbo.

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Low Clearance

In January 2006, a court in Northern Virginia will hear a case in which, for the first time, the federal government has charged two private citizens with leaking state secrets. CBS News first reported the highly classified investigation that led to this prosecution on the eve of the Republican National Convention. On August 27, 2004, Lesley Stahl told her viewers that, in a "full-fledged espionage investigation," the FBI would soon "roll up" a "suspected mole" who had funneled Pentagon policy deliberations concerning Iran to Israel.

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Correspondence

POPULAR DEMAND Gregg Easterbrook’s hopeful essay on the possibility that warfare is trending toward obsolescence fails to meet the aspirations of its lofty title (“The End of War?” May 30). Warfare may presently be in decline as a result of increased democratization and prosperity, lack of conflict between superpowers, and improved international peacekeeping. But Easterbrook underplays the threat of nations going to war in order to secure scarce resources in the face of booming population growth.

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