The lack of convictions among the senior ranks leaves doubt as to whether the abuse was part of a wider policy of condoning or even encouraging the breaking of prisoners' morale in advance of interrogation.Look, the non-convictions are symptomatic of the standard administration line that torture at Abu Ghraib was the misconduct of "a few bad apples." We know this well. Some of those involved have said there were no explicit commands from above in the ranks, but that they thought there were implicit directions to abuse prisoners. We also know this well.
What we also know is that the Bush Administration has argued legally for many of the techniques that were used at Abu Ghraib. We also know that these have been used systematically and with a consistency of method at least at Guantanamo and Bagram, and likely elsewhere.
What we have is an attempt to mitigate the public relations damage of the Abu Ghraib photos, which make Abu Ghraib seem the worst of the lot. If the events which the images record can be defined in terms of the information gained only from those images and nothing else - that particular event, that particular soldier - then, the thinking might go, the administration starts a domino effect of absolution, at least as far as absolution might go.
The problem is that the global public is not as easily tricked by imagery as the administration may think they are. The images themselves caused global PR damage, sure, and I think this damage will play out in complex and often indirect ways for the next 20 or 50 years. But the photos also exposed a logic to the conduct of the War on Terror - now with plenty of evidence in addition to the photos - that has become undeniable. Indeed, the administration's own justifications for the practices documented in the photos, while putting soldiers on trial, would be bizarre if it were not for the administration's own guilt.