God, how I hate this war.
Even though I still believe that it was right decision to liberate Iraq. Even though I still support the reconstruction efforts going on in that tragic, bloody, terrorist infested, miserable strip of land where the killing goes on and on. And even though I still support the President and his announced policy of bringing democracy to Iraq in the belief that the autocratic and dictatorial regimes elsewhere in the Middle East will come crashing down as ordinary people realize that ultimate power rests in their hands.
After saying all of that, I now believe it’s time to bring to account those who through their brutish and beastial treatment of prisoners, have besmirched the name and reputation of the United States and brought shame and ignominy to their comrades in arms and their fellow citizens.
This piece in the Washington Post, based on eyewitness accounts, classified documents, and interviews with investigators, paints a picture so at odds with what America should stand for – even in a brutal war for survival – that it should give all of us who still support this war and its objectives pause to reflect on a fundamental question: Is this really what we want our soldiers doing in our names to protect us?
Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush was being stubborn with his American captors, and a series of intense beatings and creative interrogation tactics were not enough to break his will. On the morning of Nov. 26, 2003, a U.S. Army interrogator and a military guard grabbed a green sleeping bag, stuffed Mowhoush inside, wrapped him in an electrical cord, laid him on the floor and began to go to work. Again.
It was inside the sleeping bag that the 56-year-old detainee took his last breath through broken ribs, lying on the floor beneath a U.S. soldier in Interrogation Room 6 in the western Iraqi desert. Two days before, a secret CIA-sponsored group of Iraqi paramilitaries, working with Army interrogators, had beaten Mowhoush nearly senseless, using fists, a club and a rubber hose, according to classified documents.
What this article makes crystal clear is that these methods of interrogation are not the product of the sick imaginings of a few sadistic soldiers. They did not spring into being in a vacuum. What the reports make unambiguously clear is that the soldiers believed the interrogation techniques were approved – approved at the highest levels in their chain of command.
The implications of this are too horrible to contemplate. It means that these are not the “isolated incidents” that I and most others who have been defending our detention policies over these many months have been excusing. It also means that there have been deliberate and systematic violations of both US law and the Geneva Conventions in the interrogations of prisoners.
And it means that those responsible for these policies must be brought to justice. Not just the perpetrators of the torture, but those who formulated and approved whatever guidelines the soldiers were using to justify these barbarous and unholy acts.
No matter where it leads. No matter who is involved. Justice must be done in order to restore some honor to the good name of the United States and its military. To do less dishonors the memory of those who have already died in this war as well as all those who we ask to put their lives on the line in order to protect us.
My own role as an enabler of this behavior has been unconscionable. By turning a blind eye to previous intimations of this organized and approved assault on simple human decency, I have, in a small but significant way, empowered those who have cynically used my support for the war and the President’s policies to literally get away with murder.
No longer. I am not going to give the benefit of doubt to an out of control interrogation process that treats human beings – even terrorists – as beasts to be beaten and murdered and pass it off as national policy. I didn’t sign on for that. I’m sure you didn’t either.
It’s one thing to be hard in war. It’s one thing to be pitiless in the prosecution of it. But its quite another thing to violate all tenets of civilized behavior in acheiving your objectives. Even in war, the ends cannot justify the means. If you believe that it does, then ask yourself what kind of country you will have at the end of it? Will it be the kind of country you can live in with pride? Or will history itself remember us with scorn and derision for abandoning the very principals we were fighting to protect.
There may be extreme circumstances where torture is justified. This incident wasn’t one of them. And if, as I now believe, these violations occur routinely and as part of a sanctioned interrogation process, then it is past time for a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation of the facilities where we house the prisoners, the soldiers and intelligence agents who carry out the questioning of detainees, and the interrogation policies and procedures formulated by the military and civilian elements in our government.
If the only way to make such an investigative body truly independent would be to allow international representation then reluctantly, I would have to agree with that stipulation. What’s at stake here is the very soul of America and in a larger sense, the values for which we in the west are fighting to preserve. And while I doubt such a body could remain above the political fray given the explosive nature of the subject matter and the division in our national polity, it must nevertheless go forward. Let the American people and indeed, the rest of the world decide who is playing politics and who is seeking the truth.
John Cole, who has been out front on this issue since reports of the torture and mistreatment of prisoners first began to surface, sums up the problems:
I really want to believe that this is just a few rogue soldiers in all of these cases, but the evidence keeps pointing back to approved interrogation techniques (and in fairness, much of this went well beyond approved methods), a sense of â€˜anything goesâ€™ because of the muddled legal status of the detainees, a general disregard in the chain of command, a chain of evidence linking policies to different detainment centers, willing participation by clandestine services working in concert** with military intelligence officers and being given free reign with prisoners and junior level enlisted men, and it stinks. It smells like institutional rot, and at the very least a pattern of negligence and callous disregard, something even the military appears willing to admit.
I’m forced to agree with Mr. Cole that what we’re looking at is nothing less than an institutional problem in the military. I cannot believe that all of these soldiers and CIA agents are members of some sadistic cult. They simply must be enabled by a culture that either approves of these methods or turns a blind eye during the practice of them. Either way, it’s high time we tear the whole rotten system down and put something else in its place. Anything – even turning the detainees over to civilian control – would be preferrable to this canker on the body politic that, if it continues to fester, will prevent us from winning this war and at the same time, inure us as a people to the brutality practiced by our sons and daughters in our name.
Attention trolls: I have an extremely thin skin on this issue. Any personal attacks, any off topic comments, any gloating, anything that I don’t much care for will be deleted and the commenter banned. You can disagree with what I’ve written. If you can’t do it in a civil manner, don’t bother to comment.
It’s my blog. If you disagree with this policy. Get your own damn site.