I’ll look the other way, a little.

John Kerry asked today (paraphrased) “How high up the chain of command should blame for mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners go? Harry Truman didn’t say ‘The buck stops at the Pentagon’.”

What a self-righteous, arrogant thing to say. This from a man who admitted to committing “war atrocities” including burning villages, participating in free-fire zones, etc. in Viet Nam.

So if he can be self-righteous and arrogant, I’ll take a little of that license myself. Submitted for your viewing pleasure, why “I’ll look the other way, a little”:

Pictures have been published of American soldiers humiliating and degrading Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison. A female American soldier with a cigarette in her mouth, smiling and pointing at a naked Iraqi is crass, and frankly, unnecessary.

But I’ll look the other way in this case, and here’s why:

That Iraqi man’s family might see him on TV or in the local paper, and feel shame and anger that he was treated that way. So what? Why’s he in prison, anyway? Was it because he was attacking US troops, maybe? Hmmm? Those outraged seem to be experiencing A.D.D. Or maybe they’ve just misplaced their righteous anger at the fact that just a few weeks ago, we saw American contractors torn limb from limb, dragged naked through the streets, and eventually strung up from bridges. For what? For being American, despite the fact that they were there to help the Iraqi’s (sure, at great personal profit, but also at known risk).

I’ll look the other way, when an Iraqi man appears naked, cowering on the floor, with a dog leash around his neck. Why? I haven’t forgotten what US & British pilots looked like when they were shown on Iraqi TV during the Gulf War. Those people were beaten.

Rumsfeld has announced there are more pictures, and videotape of greater atrocities than simple humiliation, yet to be seen by the public. Torture, beatings, etc. From those things, I will not look away. Those things are beyond what I can accept, and I demand justice in those cases, as an American – as a citizen whose national identity is tarnished by the misdeeds of others.

But for a little humiliation of people who tried to kill US soldiers and citizens? I can sleep at night just fine, knowing about that.

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  1. These pictures, to me, don’t show humiliation of prisoners. They depict perverts, the soldiers who did this (N.B. not all soldiers but the soldiers involved) are sex offenders. This kind of thing should never be allowed to happen in any circumstances. The people that did this are disgusting. I am not saying that it wasn’t bad that US and British soldiers were beaten, that was horrible. But I want to ask, what kind of person gets satisfaction out of sexually humiliating people? The only people that would do something like this are perverts, plain and simple. We should not look away from sexual abuse, ever.

  2. What I’ve seen depicted thus far isn’t sexual abuse, it’s (albeit voracious) sexual harrassment; but I’ll admit, that’s semantics.

    As far as showing satisfaction in committing the acts, that is grotesque to see, but it has a valuable purpose. If your enemy appears to enjoy doing things to those who stand against him that apall you, you’re less likely to stand against him yourself – and you’ll tell your friends and neighbors about it. And they’ll be less likely to fight, too.

    Real satisfaction comes when, to avoid more of it, the prisoners start revealing information about how they operate, who’s in charge, and how to defeat more attacks.

    It seems likely to me that the people held in that prison — people who have attempted to/killed troops, made bombs, kidnapped foreigners, etc. — have that kind of information. Info that will help stem the tide of attacks by identifying “command and control” structures, supply systems, and future plans.

    In the interest of saving lives, that information ought to be obtained. If humiliation is an effective way to get those criminals to talk, then I think it’s distasteful, but not unreasonable, and not un-American.

    Of course, physical torture is usually an effective way to get information too, but like I said, I’ve got my limits.

  3. I appreciate that they may intimidate the enemy. However it seems that of all the people in the world the U.S. military, the most technologically advanced army in the world, can intimidate people without resorting to sexual harrassment (to use your milder phrase) or (as you agree) to torture. If you think that we shouldn’t torture people, then we shouldn’t sexually abuse them either. In addition I don’t see how sexual abuse is likely to lead to accurate information and aid us in Iraq. It seems quite clear that this simply leads to greater resentment among the Iraqi population who we are there to help. Your point seems to be that the ends justify the means, I don’t believe that they do, but even if they did this hinders our ends instead of promoting them and means should never do that.

  4. I still think there’s a difference between harrassment and abuse. Not that abuse didn’t happen, but I guess I don’t get bent far out of shape over what I can excuse as “less than abuse”. Not everybody will draw the same distinction – vive la difference.

    Honestly, I think it’s a bit farsical for the Iraqi’s to be demonstrating over the pictures released thus far. Two years ago they’d be shot for assembling, or else really tortured under the old regime. A lot of the hoopla over current events is merely political posturing (in the US, anyway).

    I agree about the hindering effects of extreme means employed by a country without the will to justify and sustain them. When the repressed know it’s going to be socially unacceptable in the world court of opinion, they can take great liberty with their protests. I actually think it’s counter productive for the US to go to the length of apology and public relations being seen now. People used to repression won’t initially respond well to anything less – and while that’s not the example I want America to set in the world, I think it’s a necessary starting place.

    I’ve started thinking of it today as analogous to conditioning an abused animal. I’ve been around abused dogs before and see the same behavior in people, to some extent (not that I view Iraqi’s as dogs).

    An abused animal will naturally misbehave when it’s placed into a far gentler environment than it grew up knowing. To acclimate it best, you can’t treat it entirely gently from the very beginning – it might work over a long time, but you stand to lose fingers in the beginning. Instead, you have to consistently show kindness, offer gentleness, but punish harshly. Over time, as the animal prefers kindness to punishment, behavior changes and increasingly gentler punishment is required. It’s by no means as simple as saying “you’re liberated, have a nice day”. Sadly, too few people can make themselves enforce the harsher punishments necessary at first – they think “all carrot, no stick” should work just fine.

    The US armed forces are more technologically advanced than what the Iraqi’s were used to seeing, but that doesn’t intimidate people used to seeing military power on parade. There’s only so many ways a bullet can shoot somebody, and Saddam was wild about showing off – especially to sustain his own rule.

    Without resorting to physically torturing people, or killing entire cities, or assassinating political leaders in full public view (all Hussein tactics), you’ve got to get a little creative in coercing the misbehaving members of a society.

    What options are there? Sanctions didn’t work with Hussein, and won’t work with the people he “raised” – they’re already used to it. Civil punishments aren’t enforceable when a enough of a society does not respect the law, and that’s demonstrated in Iraq’s hotspots as well.

    Imprison the offenders but treat them well in prison, and word will get out that it’s not a bad way to get 3 meals a day, clothing and shelter. Hell, they’ll eventually probably get TV, too – just like American prisons.

    Personal humiliation is one of the only things I can come up with. I’ll grant I just might be under-educated on the issue and possible actions, so I could be missing something. But Israel’s been dealing with a violent population for over 25 years and hasn’t found any effective solutions either.

    I’m open to better ideas.

  5. I agree with you that one cannot simply say “You’re liberated, have a nice day”. Last night I had the oppurtunity to talk to a journalist who is only three days back from Iraq, and was able to view some of the footage he took there. One scene was of an Iraqi man, right after Saddam had been toppled, he was very happy. He also did not want the US to stay for very long but acknowledged that it was necessary for security.

    I have never been in a prison myself. However, from what I understand it is never a nice place. I don’t think it’s very likely that prisons will become enticing places if we don’t sexually abuse/harass/humiliate the prisoners.

    Beyond the effects on the prisoners themselves are the corrupting effects on the soldiers who do these things. This was one of the things that was most shocking and, to many, most disturbing about the pictures. The soldiers looked like they were having fun. To me getting pleasure out of sexual abuse/harassment/humiliation is disgusting.

    It looks like things are going well in Falluja now that it’s under Iraqi control. There are more and more reports of Sunnis and Shiites (sp?) working together. If these two groups can unite with the Kurds for the good of Iraq, then there may be peace in Iraq. In the meantime, the sort of thing which occurred should not happen. I agree with John McCain that we need to know all of the information right now, and it needs to stop, and there needs to be more apologies and court martials.

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