It starts — well, not _innocently_ enough, but at least at a place that is arguably problematic but not blatantly reprehensible. “According to Sy Hersh”:http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?040524fa_fact, Rumsfeld was up in arms about the fact that U.S. military units would have to phone home to get clearance from a _lawyer_ before hitting targets in Afghanistan — a practice that apparently led to some golden opportunities being missed. So he had Stephen Cambone, his Undersecretary for Intelligence, set up a special-access program: a covert op, basically, that was authorized to act without hesitation and to take extreme measures (including things like the sexual humiliation of prisoners) in order to help capture or kill the most dangerous Al Qaeda terrorists.
So what we have here is the power to commit awful acts given to a small number of people, in extraordinary circumstances, and in secret. I think there’s a healthy debate to be had about whether such power should ever be granted at all, but I think we can agree that, as far as real-life situations go, capturing Bin Laden is one of those cases where it may be warranted, if at all.
But after a couple years the same power-to-abuse is granted, under the auspices of the same program, not to some Special Forces guys working against Al Qaeda, but to Army reservists overseeing a hellhole prison full mostly, according to the ICRC, of people pulled in off the street who had nothing to do with the Iraqi insurgency and which, we should never forget to mention, have nothing whatsoever to do with Al Qaeda.
In the healthy debate about whether this sort of abuse and torture is _ever_ allowable, I can think of no stronger argument for the con side than the current situation: the mandate for such power, once granted, has a way of expanding on its own.