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Iraqi prison probe dominates news

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted May 10, 2004

Excuses failed to resonate over fifty years ago in the aftermath of World War II, and they'll certainly fail to resonate in today's world. No, the Iraqi prison probe is certainly not the Nuremberg Trials. However, the human capacity for rationalizing criminal actions never seems to diminish. The assertions made by family, friends, attorneys and even some politicos that the American soldiers charged with Iraqi prisoner abuse were "just following orders" -- purportedly issued by military intelligence, the CIA, or civilian contractors conducting interrogations -- are not going to float legally or in the court of public opinion.

Soldiers have sworn to abide by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the various Geneva conventions. If an order is unlawful, a soldier is duty-bound to report it. Atrocious assaults and other forms of vile abuse against Iraqi detainees are clearly not within the realm of acceptable behaviors of our troops. If interrogations of Iraqi prisoners are required, they need to be conducted exclusively by experts. Our troops must not be tasked with "softening up" detainees for interrogation -- that's patently wrong.

On January 13, 2004, a member of the 800th Military Police Brigade informed his superiors about Iraqi prisoner mistreatment, which was promptly relayed to Pentagon officials and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. On January 14, the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, initiated a criminal investigation. Despite the carping by critics of the military and the Iraq war itself, there is no question that the American command moved rapidly forward to address these very serious matters. And although the criminality in question is a "stain on our country's honor and our country's reputation," it's still vital to note that a minuscule segment of the military is implicated in these unsavory actions. Moreover, the sexual nature of many of the crimes or alleged crimes is especially noteworthy, which clearly calls for an extra measure of scrutiny by the military.

This photo, made available by her family, shows Private First Class Lynndie England
This photo, made available by her family, shows Private First Class Lynndie England

Army Pfc. Lynndie England, 21 years of age, who has emerged as a sort of poster-girl for the scandalous behaviors under discussion, has since been charged with assaulting prisoners and conspiring to mistreat them. The photo of England dragging a naked detainee by a leash is surely one of the most infuriating depictions to emerge in this tragedy -- It epitomizes the wanton and sadistic behaviors that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has referenced in recent remarks. Moreover, Rumsfeld has warned of additional photos and tapes of prisoner mistreatment that will soon surface in the media. My hunch is that the shock is quickly wearing thin, and that subsequent images of detainee abuse will fail to have the same impact as the initial ones garnered.

President Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and various military bigwigs have more than issued numerous mea culpas -- They have vowed to fully investigate the malfeasance, prosecute the wrongdoers, address underlying problems, and attempt to make the victims whole. In sum, the Bush administration and the American military have exhibited moral clarity on this entire issue of the prison probe. Furthermore, individual accountability, proper training and proper oversight are all considered part of the mix to improve the Iraqi prison milieu.

Clearly, world opinion was enflamed by this scandal, particularly since one of the overarching reasons for "regime change" was to ensure human rights for all Iraqis. America is not perfect -- we never claimed to be. However, the hallmark of a civilized society is our response to barbarity and abuses, and our efforts to redress wrongdoing. America, as the world's only superpower, continues to demonstrate true leadership despite difficult circumstances. It's important for the global community to consider that when America's enemies commit atrocities against our civilians and soldiers, apologies and attempts to make amends are very rarely forthcoming.

The question du jour throughout the media seems to be "Can Rumsfeld survive this scandal? " In my opinion, undoubtedly yes. Polling seems to indicate that about seventy percent of Americans want Donald Rumsfeld to remain Secretary of Defense. Most Americans are cognizant that Rumsfeld has performed magnificently during this "war on terror." Removing Rumsfeld would not only be a victory for the terrorists, but for the political opponents of President Bush.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

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