Sunday, May 09, 2004

Responses in the US to prisoner abuse in Iraq

Yesterday, (or the day before) the Houston Chronicle published as series of letters to the editor reflecting on prisoner abuse in Iraq. The paper tried to be fair, publishing letters from both sides of the debate. What I can't understand is that there is another side to this debate. What some people are arguing just dumbfounds me. Most of those arguments can be reduced down to the following ideas - ideas that go against the grain of everything we as Americans have been taught since kindergarten.

1. The end justifies the means
2. These people are in jail - therefore they must be guilty of something
3. Collective punishment of a group is OK even if only a very small percent of that group did anything wrong - i.e. they (a few Middle Eastern men who are Muslim) did something terrible to us (us meaning the US, something meaning 9/11). Therefore, no retribution upon them (all Muslims and/or Arabs anywhere) is too heinous.
4. The messenger must be shot - i.e. the problem is not with what is going on at Abu Gharib prison. The problem is that someone broke the rules and smuggled some photographs out. Everything would be OK if these atrocities had not seen the light of day. (I'm sure the Nazi's thought the same thing when documentary info started to get out about Auschwitz.)
5. I shouldn't be in trouble for doing something bad because the other guy (Saddam etc.) did something worse

What I suspect is that the people who are most aghast at what has come out about this prisoner abuse are our soldiers in Iraq - for two reasons.

First of all, now throughout the world the American soldier is being painted as a sadist. Again, this is the problem of collective punishment. All our soldiers, the vast majority in no way associated with Abu Gharib, are now getting painted with that brush.

Secondly, and more importantly, the exposure of these pictures and stories has undermined much of the good work these guys and gals have done. All of the social bridge-building, fostering of goodwill is washed down the gutter. Moreover, all of a sudden Iraq is a more dangerous place. Hatred and anger spur irrational actions. Trust is broken.

Come on people. For once, use your brains and your hearts. I know many of you desperately cling to the thought that our leaders know what they are doing and that the are doing the right thing. But sooner or later you have to come to grips with the continued disaster that Iraq has become. Vietnam showed that we can win every battle and still lose the war. And by the way, let's not throw out our Constitution while we're at it.