December 22, 2004
Remember when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, and the President and his administration spin-doctors told us they were so shocked that Americans could behave in such a despicable fashion? President Bush even went on Arab TV to tell the world that, as a people, we Americans were just not like that, and the terrible events of torture were just the work of an aberrant night shift at the prison that had disobeyed orders. That position was somewhat undercut at the time when we learned that the International Committee of the Red Cross had repeatedly complained of conditions at the prison the previous Fall, but we were inclined to give the CinC the benefit of the doubt and assume that such reports had not reached his desk (where the buck used to stop).
Recent reports released from the Pentagon Inspector General and from FBI files have now established a widespread, several year pattern of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan by US Army and Special Operations troops, a series of torture acts by US Marines in Iraq dating back to May 2003 that involved dozens of men and resulted in 11 court martial convictions, and a continuing history of abuse and torture of the prisoners that have been held without trial for several years at the Guantanamo Base Prison. We now have clear evidence that the Secretary of Defense was aware of these goings on, as was the FBI Director who undoubtedly informed his superior, the Attorney General. Are we now to believe that these Cabinet-level Bush confidants did not tell the boss what they knew about such potentially explosive matters in an election year?
Anyone who has ever been in combat knows that passions run high, and there is no war in which all sides have not engaged in abuse or outright murder of prisoners. The assertions that Americans are somehow morally superior to the other societies on this planet, and immune to such criminal acts, is fanciful nonsense and further evidence of the self-righteous arrogance that characterizes the mind-set of our current leadership. What has enabled this Country of ours to field a better and more humane tradition in time of war has been a leadership that appealed to the better side of human nature, emphasized respect for the rule of law and decent treatment of prisoners, and swiftly punished offenders. When this President and his associates abandoned the moral high ground in favor of assertions of absolute discretion, and ridicule of international law, it invoked as a certain consequence the pattern of abuses that is now emerging. Having let this genie out of the bottle, it will be a difficult task to stuff it back in, but at least our leaders could be honest with us about the scope and seriousness of the problem. I am not suggesting that the President would deliberately lie to the American People about such matters.
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