Saturday, September 04, 2004

A few thoughts about Abu Ghraib
from the mind of  ME=mc^2.

First, I think it is necessary to keep things in perspective here, because while no one defends what happened at Abu Ghraib, it is certainly not the first or only time soldiers in the U.S. military have failed to live up to our ideals as a nation. The history of World War II alone offers plenty of examples to choose from: George S. Patton's men shot many Italian prisoners; Gen. Hodges's soldiers summarily executed German commandoes out of uniform; and drivers of the Red Ball express raped a number of French women. Bad things happen in war.

Second, as a matter of law, the detainees at Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the other venues of the war on terror are not nor should be accorded "prisoner of war" status because none of the detainees meets such Geneva Convention criteria as fighting in uniform or belonging to a military organization with an identifiable command structure that is itself committed to upholding the laws of war. Specifically, four criteria must be met to qualify a person as a lawful combatant: He must be under the command of a person responsible for his subordinates, wear a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance, carry arms openly, and conduct operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

Third, to be perfectly honest, many of these practices -- sexual humiliation, isolation, prolonged hooding and shackling, exposure to heat, cold, and loud noise, deprivation of sleep, food, clothing, and material for personal hygiene, and denigration of Islam and forced violation of its rites -- all seem pretty reasonable to me. They do many of these sorts of things to military recruits in boot camp all the time. It isn't supposed to be a day spa, and if these interrogations yield information that will save the lives of U.S. soldiers in the war on terror or prevent another 9/11, then frankly I'm all for it. The people we're talking about are well established killers, thugs, and terrorists who use schools as armories, mosques as hideouts, and neighborhoods as battle grounds; they specifically target civilians with car bombs; they kidnap non-military foreigners, cut off their heads, or mutilate their bodies after they have been murdered; they blow-up or hijack civilian aircraft, slit the throats of the stewardesses, and fly them into civilian buildings. Make no mistake -- these detainees are not somehow freedom fighters: They are terrorists who have no interest whatsoever in other people's freedom.

Fourth, as bad as the abuses at Abu Ghraib under American auspices were, it pales into insignificance compared to the treatment prisoners received under Saddam's regime, or for that matter in any Arab or Muslim prison from Algeria to Afghanistan. Under Saddam, common forms of torture included amputation, branding, cutting off of ears, and amputation of the tongue -- the last practice being reserved mainly for political dissenters. The heads of many women were publicly cut off in the streets under the pretext of being liars, while in fact they mostly belonged to families opposing the Iraqi regime. Members of Saddam Hussein’s gang routinely raped women, especially dissident women. The wives of dissidents were often killed or tortured in front of their husbands in order to obtain confessions from their husbands. Women were often kidnapped as they walked in the streets by members of the gangs of Udayy and Qusayy and then raped. And prisons throughout the Arab world, be they in Amman, Cairo, or Riyadh, are only marginally more humane than Saddam's prisons. In my opinion, the outrage over Abu Ghraib is overwrought: I mean which would you prefer: Dog-pile of nude prisoners, or the torture of a child to elicit a confession from a parent?

Finally, what separates the United States from tyrannies like the Nazis, the Soviets, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein's awful regime -- none of which are known for brooking public criticism -- is a free press consisting of reporters with a desire to acheive celebrity status by exposing the shortcomings of the military and the administration. Our leaders, not theirs, are open to public audit and censure. The U.S. military has a great deal of self-criticism in the form of both internal and outside audit. Rather than bragging about their victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, they instead assess the battles and outcomes to identify operational and ethical failures.


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