Abu Ghraib, Moral Disaster

Before I comment on Abu Ghaib I want to provide my sources in case anyone is interested in looking into it further:

Amnesty International

Slate’s roundup of the story.

Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article.

Phil Carter.

You may also be interested in Sgt Stryker’s response. Or you may also be interested in what Lt. Smash has to say.

Abu Ghraib represents a number of disturbing things, all of which must be dealt with.

First, it is either a horrible breakdown of military discipline or a truly foolish tactic employed by some fool(s) in the military. I strongly suspect it is the former, because if you read the articles above you will see that the investigations of and the beginnings of court martials for these abuses were already underway before the news broke. I will not offer any excuses for these soldiers. The stress they are under in Iraq does not excuse them. Anger at seeing their friends killed in Iraq does not excuse them. The fact that such torture and worse is common in Arab countries does not excuse them. This kind of treatment is not what Americans are supposed to be doing. It is morally wrong and the military needs to crack down hard on those who think that it is ok.

I think it is very important for those on the right to strongly criticize any attempt to whitewash this or downplay its significance. These actions are illegal, immoral and very counterproductive in the War on Terror. If we are going to ask people to commit to a decades-long fight, we need to be very clear that this kind of thing is not helpful to the fight.

Which brings me to my second point. Just as I have argued that Zapatero's public diplomatic statements are damaging the war on terror by giving the terrorists a propaganda victory which allows them to credibly claim to have gotten a Western government to change its foreign policy to fall in line with what the terrorists desire, so to these Abu Ghaib war crimes severely damage our efforts in the War on Terrorism. They do so in multiple ways.

First, it allows them to say that our humanitarian rhetoric is merely a game. Just because I do not believe that our humanitarian rhetoric is actually a game does not mean that Abu Ghaib cannot easily be used by them to give more force to such an argument. This is awful because it is very important to our long-term prospects in the Middle East that the humanitarian benefits of living in a free society be apparent to citizens of Mid-East countries. One of those benefits is living in a society where getting arrested is not roughly equivalent to being exposed to torture. I'm not naive, I realize that some level of mistreatment of prisoners goes on even in all Western countries. But part of having civil society is trying to minimize the number and severity of those abuses, and punishing those who commit them. We must make it clear that such abuses are not US policy, and that they will not be tolerated.

Second, it is quite obvious that many in Arab countries are willing to allow for huge abuses by their own that they will not tolerate from foreigners. To be frank, far worse occurs every day in Egyptian or Saudi or Iranian prisons with hardly a peep from the Arab street. But that is all 'inside the family' so to speak. Arab cultures are already hyper-sensitive to the idea of outsiders meddling with their ways. That is why our existence is such a threat to people like Osama bin Laden--Janet Jackson's costume reveal wasn't aimed at the Islamic market, but the culture that can argue it might not be so bad is a threat to his sense of morality. Even though it isn't aimed at him, it is still is seen by him as Western meddling/tempting of his moral culture. So much so as to require a violent response. This type of reaction is already very common. So far as we can avoid it while we are in Iraq we need to not stimulate the response. And Abu Ghaib and related acts definitely stimulate that response.

The problems caused by these Abu Ghaib crimes cannot be recalled. We must instead try to minimize their damage. That will involve punishing those who committed the crimes AND those who knew about them yet did nothing to stop them. We must be crystal clear that this type of behaviour cannot continue. It may involve destroying the prison so that the symbol of the crimes does not endure. It almost certainly will involve a very public review of those held in the prison to justify the presence of those held there. Anything less would make the disaster even worse.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at May 7, 2004 2:59 AM