The abuses at Abu Ghraib, GTMO and elsewhere cannot be chalked up to the actions of a few bad apples. Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable. The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees.But this is only really significant if we assume that context in which some rather uncomfortable actors - much of the media, Congress, and the Bush administration - all agree to pretend that we're getting to the bottom of some difficult topic where we first have to figure out (deliberately - we'll get to the bottom of this!) the terms of debate and the language of investigation. Again, those terms are not really in dispute at all in the real world. Just for reminders, here's Mary Ellen O’Connell in an interview with Scott Horton, discussing the real context:
The prohibition on torture is absolute in all circumstances—it is a jus cogens or peremptory norm of international law. There are no exceptions to the prohibition. This is clear in the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Civil and Political Rights Covenant. The United States is a party to all three. It is true that Israel’s Supreme Court in a very powerful decision upholding the prohibition on torture and cruel treatment did suggest that an individual interrogator might be able to mount a defense of necessity, but this part of the decision is against the clear weight of authority. It clashes with the fundamental reason for drafting the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT)–at that time no one doubted that torture as sport or cruelty was prohibited. The CAT was intended to clear away any last doubts that governments had the right to use torture or cruel measures to seek information for national security or to combat crime.