How the U.S. Became a Nation that Tortures its Prisoners

The best thing I’ve seen written lately about Abu Ghraib is The Logic of Torture by Mark Danner in The New York Review of Books. Danner does a good job of summarizing what we know about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo, etc. and how this relates both to changing government policy and to the science of coercive interrogation and torture as it was developed by the CIA in .

The current U.S. government, Danner says, “made a series of decisions about methods of warfare and interrogation… [that] transform[ed] the United States from a nation that did not torture to one that did. And the decisions were not, at least in their broad outlines, kept secret. They were known to officials of the other branches of the government, and to the public.”

The $119.4 billion, compiled by the White House Office of Management and Budget, is the administration’s most comprehensive tally of the war’s financial costs. Of the total, $97.2 billion has been for military operations, $21.2 billion for rebuilding Iraq’s economy and government, and $1 billion for U.S. administrative expenses there…

By the time the final Iraq figure for is in, American spending there could easily exceed $160 billion for . That would nearly double the combined costs, in today’s dollars, of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

In comparison, there was an article in the Economist about a gathering of economists, including multiple Nobel prize winners, to try to advise the world on where its money would be best spent when it comes to improving lives. They looked at policies designed to ameliorate problems with disease, sanitation, malnutrition, trade policy, climate change, and government and ranked these various policies as to which had the best bang for the buck. Number one on their list was a set of policies designed to prevent HIV/AIDS.

[A] package of preventive measures costing some $27 billion (in purchasing-power-adjusted dollars) over eight years would prevent nearly 30m new infections (reducing expected infections from 45m over the period to 17m).

Yup. For less than a quarter of what we’ve spent on the invasion and occupation of Iraq (population 25 million), we could prevent thirty million new cases of AIDS. But I’m sure you wouldn’t rather have Saddam back in charge.