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The Tentacle


May 21, 2004

Betwixt and Between A Rock and A Hard Place

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

We all cringed at those now infamous photographs, images of Iraqi prisoners forced to pose in humiliating and degrading positions.

Intelligence experts contend that forcing a Muslim man to disrobe, especially in front of a woman, could erode his sense of self sufficiency, and make it easier to obtain information from him he might otherwise refuse to provide.

It makes me uncomfortable to see those tactics used routinely, but nothing nearly as bad as the use of sexual torture - and worse - as a means of encouraging cooperation.

I sat in on Frederickís only political talk show recently. Blaine Young has developed a loyal and committed (some should be) following, and his regulars routinely call-in to share their opinions.

While discussing this issue on the show, I suggested that a risk associated with the incremental approach to the release of pictures and video was that our moral authority for forcing regime change could be challenged.

Within minutes, callers started lighting up the phone lines. Most disagreed with my perspective, and several interesting counterpoints were offered. One caller felt that the actions of the reservists in charge of the prison at Abu Ghraib were justified.

His rationale was that the deaths of the U.S. contractors, whose bodies were dragged from their burning vehicle and hung from the bridge supports, lend legitimacy to our soldierís actions.

Another caller took a different tack in justifying the work of the servicemen and women who have gained notoriety for the nude Iraqi pyramid and the photos of what can only be described if you ever played the game Twister. All of this without mentioning the REALLY bad stuff!

This caller suggested that it wasnít any worse than former President Clinton having sex with a subordinate (in this case, an intern) employee.

I was stumped! If you know me, you know that I am rarely lacking something to say. Well, I just sat there looking dumbfounded. Fortunately, Blaine is a pro on-air talent and was able to smoothly transition us into a commercial.

How do you sell Mr. Clintonís sexual escapades as related in any way to conduct in a prison? First of all, Monica Lewinski put herself in the position to participate in extramarital relations with an older man.

Bill Clinton might be a pig, and clearly is morally bankrupt, but Ms. Lewinski was a willing participant in everything that happened to and with her. Now Juanita Broderick is another story completely, but Iíll leave that to someone else to tell.

These prisoners were bound, controlled, and contained. They would do what they were ordered to do by their captors, not of their own free will and volition. It seems fundamentally different to me when you speak about conduct forced at gunpoint on a prisoner versus two consenting adults and their behavior choices, no matter how reckless.

Conservative talk radio and television uses the same language and analogies to explain the behavior of the soldiers in charge at Abu Ghraib. Imagery of dead American servicemen, along with the unconscionable murder of Nicholas Berg, seems to offer some form of legitimacy for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and detainees.

Call me a bleeding heart wimp, but I feel differently. First, let me explain that I simply donít believe that enlisted personnel, active duty or reserve, are responsible for this conduct.

Having served in the U.S. Navy, you cannot sell me on the concept that a group of reservists from Cumberland, regardless of their level of hatred towards Iraqi insurgents, planned and carried out a pattern of personal harassment expertly designed to break the will of hardened Muslim fighters. That dog just wonít hunt!

A more realistic and believable scenario is that military or intelligence advisors (CIA or private contractors), using tried and true methods of coercion, instructed the reservists in how to extract important information using humiliation tactics.

I donít think the American people will buy it if a few rapid courts martial hand down punishment against a few junior and mid-level enlisted people. The fact is that weíll be looking for more, for the decision makers and technical specialists to shoulder their burden of responsibility, regardless of how high it goes in the Pentagon (or beyond).

So, I guess, Iím one of those looking for something more. Iím happy that President Bush and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have accepted responsibility and pledged to get to the bottom of the story. Their pledge, and the actions of the Central Command in Iraq, demonstrates the more important difference between us and the terrorist guerilla forces who depend on fear and bloodshed as their weapons of choice.

I would never want an American military man or woman to be subjected to mental or physical torture to betray secrets. The reason we added our signature to the Geneva Convention is to protect future service members from inhumane treatment while in captivity.

I am proud of my country, and the traditions of respect for human dignity that helps determine how we function in the world. Few countries other than ours can point to a track record of conduct during conflict that places such a value on human life.

The proper treatment of prisoners and detainees is another demonstration of what sets us apart. We should use any and every means at our disposal to obtain useful intelligence from prisoners of war, as long as we understand the biblical concept of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."



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