Like many other people, I find my attention today turned toward the scandalous behavior of certain elements of the United States military who run prisons in Iraq. I caught part of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings with General Antonio Taguba today. Hearing more details of what occurred at Abu Ghraib prison, it made my blood boil.
On one level, I am profoundly upset by the countenance of the people and culture of the United States that this incident presents to the world. This is the side of the United States where people are lynched or die in police custody. I find the images from the prison to eerily similar in stance and attitude to those from the first half of the 20th century that immediately precede lynchings. This is an odd, knowing sense of "we did this, this is right, no matter what the fuck you think" and a sense of pride. The poses of the victims are also similar; humiliation of one human being by another has a universal body language among homo sapiens that is probably programmed in our primate genes. That the American faces are also proud lends a weird, almost celebratory quality to some images as if this was some sort of college kegger that turned into a vigilante mob (I'm sure alcohol and mob justice have mixed many times before.) In any case, it is an ugly face to show the world.
The hypocrisy of it all also bothers me. The main message of the current Administration to the American people about how it will govern is "trust us because we will do right." Yet this is yet another example of precisely how they will not do right. Messrs Bush, Rumsfeld, Rove, and Wolfowitz seem to always feel that good leadership is about the grand sweep not the little details. "Follow me here," they seem to want to say, "and everything else will fall into place." The problem with this, of course, is that details rarely ever sort themselves out in a desirable way unless someone is minding them. So, we have an army in Iraq sent to depose a dictator and find weapons that don't exist, to establish a government with an ill-defined basis of authority, to back leaders who wish to govern by blackmail, and to degrade the manhood of a people who hold traditional ideas of manhood very dear. Yet this is somehow "doing right" in the eyes of those in Washington, and absolves them of all sins.
I also found comments of Senator James M. Inhofe (R) from Oklahoma to be particularly infuriating. As quoted in this morning's New York Times he was quoted as saying
"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment... These prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents... Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals... I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons, looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heros, are fighting and dying."
This bothers me because I'm very sure that if an incident like this occurred under the previous Administration, Senator Inhofe or someone very like hime would be jumping up and down to demand that someone's hide be nailed to a wall.
All that aside, it also bothers me because many people seem to have the idea that the end always justifies the means when "doing good". We can therefore trample the rights of others and do so without blame. As Fiancee S. has commented, if someone did this to American citizens, they would have been carpet bombed out of existence by now.
It all makes me wonder. When will the electorate of the United States finally stand up and ask "what are we doing?" How many U.S. soldiers need to die in Iraq every day before we ask ourselves what it is we are doing there? When does someone look at the inner circle of power in the current Administration and wonder if there isn't a better way? We live in a democracy, after all, and aren't we supposed to critically examine the policies of those we elect from time to time?
on 2004-05-11 at 2:05 p.m.
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