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Justice Answers Barbarism II
by A.M. Siriano
11 May 2004Iraqi Flag

American troops are not exempt from behaving badly, and we should get over our childish shock.

Watching the Abu Ghraib scandal unfold has been both frustrating and fascinating.   The hypocrisy of the enemy, the anti-American Arabs, and their terrorist-friendly comrades (Democrats, the American media, and the European community), has been stunning.   Nearly every day we hear of another American soldier dying at the hands of terrorists, along with many innocent Iraqis, but no outcry for an apology from Arab leaders, who have been hosting and encouraging the virus for years.  And yet, President Bush, and now Donald Rumsfeld, under pressure from the global appeasement party, have been forced to apologize.  It will not be enough for the Democrats, who are far more concerned about what the enemy thinks than the danger that such actions at home present to our troops abroad.

But putting all that aside -- and not even commenting on whether it makes sense to apologize for something that only the perpetrators have done -- the fact is, the American troops are not exempt from behaving badly, and we should get over our childish shock.   At the same time we cannot condone it.  If crimes were committed, they must be punished.  The rape photos I saw on Arabic websites have yet to be authenticated, and I’m hoping they are merely stills from porn movies, but Donald Rumsfeld has already admitted there is more to come.  The images seen so far clearly show abuse, but not torture (the argument that forcing a Muslim man to be naked in the presence of another man is torture is just silly, part of the convenient “scope creep” typical when politicians work in semantics).  And if this was part of the method of breaking down these men, then this must be taken into account.  If those involved were out of line (I believe they were), let the punishment fit their crimes, because it is imperative that we control man’s inclination toward barbarism, including our own.

To encourage civility in the military is a part of the American dream, to be that “shining light on a hill” that President Reagan envisioned.  But here’s a point that I didn’t make in the first article:  Being civil to the enemy is first and foremost to our purposes, not the enemy’s, in order that we, being a nation that believes in the rule of law, do not descend into lawlessness.  It is a very Christian ideal to “love your enemies” -- but when Jesus gave us this remarkable instruction he was dealing with the soul of the lover, not the one undeservedly being loved.   To strive toward the goodness of God, we must find a perspective that seeks the human in humanity.  The military’s brand of “rule of law” is so much greater than what we know as civilians because it deals in all that is anti-society.   War by its nature is barbarous.  Those who must operate within that realm must take the rule of law to the extreme.   Personal freedom, for a time, is replaced with absolute conformity.   Protocol replaces prerogative.

But, there are circumstances in warfare that demand incivility, brutality, even torture.  While we should be very much in favor of the general principles that have emerged from the Geneva Conventions, which are largely ignored by rogue states, we as a people must understand that every war demands that sometimes rules must be broken, that unpalatable means of extracting information from the enemy may be necessary, in order to protect our troops and our civilians.  Is it possible this is what was intended at Abu Ghraib?  If so, what went wrong?

I can only speculate at this point:  I’m betting that, when all is revealed, the Lynndie Englands will prove to be ignorant, low-bred pawns of CIA operatives who knew that if they handed over the Iraqi detainees to a few losers who had spent much of their youth addicted to sordid pursuits, they could escape the unpleasantries themselves.  No competent CIA agent would take photos of the abuse that war sometimes demands, because he knows the public could not bear what he alone must handle; but that same agent may have underestimated the stupidity of a few poorly directed privates given a little too much power at Abu Ghraib.

What went wrong here was the failure to define and follow military protocol.  It’s interesting to note that Donald Rumsfeld, who seemed only a little rattled at the recent investigatory hearing on this matter, pointed out that America needs to upgrade its methods in light of the realities of the internet and digital cameras.  It was a slight but critical remark, and the rather dull committee members were either too slow or unwilling to address the real issue, for not one asked the obvious:  Are you saying, Mr. Rumsfeld, that these upgraded methods you speak of should include new ways of concealing abusive military activity?

I would have loved to have heard a Rumsfeld answer to that question, and perhaps off the record someone did.  Rumsfeld is a practical man.  He knows the real issue here was not, foremost, abuse of detainees, but a breakdown in protocol.   In the military, when brutality must be doled out for the sake of security and winning the war, following protocol in the strictest manner possible is the only way from keeping the necessary measures from getting out of hand and turning into a Jerry Springer-like sideshow.

A. M. Siriano is a DBA/web developer by day and writes for his own website, amsiriano.com, by night

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