A few good men
On the morning of Wednesday, April 28, attorneys for the Bush administration put before the Supreme Court the argument that presidents in wartime must be trusted to detain, imprison and interrogate possible terrorists and enemy combatants in any way they see fit, without the worry of the courts or the public looking over their shoulder.
On the evening of Wednesday, April 28, pictures broadcast by the CBS program “60 Minutes II” put before the world stark and disgusting proof that the administration’s argument is as wrong as wrong can be — legally, ethically and, of the most immediate import, strategically.
The administration claimed that the need for security outweighs such legal niceties as judicial review, habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence. But it is the failure to observe these bedrock principles of the American system, supposedly in the process of being transplanted to the Middle East, that most endangers national security.
The administration’s line that the sexual humiliation torture that unfolded in the Baghdad prison was the work of a few bad apples is swiftly falling apart. Reports that such behavior was systemic, with roots in the American campaign in Afghanistan, grow by the hour.
According to a report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, completed in February but not noticed by the president or secretary of defense until media reports forced the issue, the ill-trained soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison had every reason to believe that their superiors in charge of interrogating Iraqis were nothing but pleased with the hellhole they had created.
The president and his people have been falling all over themselves, and onto television screens the world over, to insist that this repulsive behavior is not the way Americans act.
But it is exactly the way Americans, and all those in positions of power, act when they think they will have no one else to answer to. The lack of oversight — judicial, congressional and public — is as responsible for these atrocities as were the men and women who perpetrated them.
Because of what these Americans did, more Iraqis will violently oppose the U.S. mission in Iraq, more foreigners will be under threat of torture and mutilation, more Americans will die.
The president stubbornly refuses to apologize, not that it would help much now. America’s only hope of redemption lies in the hands of the dedicated military officers who will, who must, stand their post by following these crimes just as far up the chain as they go, and in the full light of day.
Because they know that the real principles of American justice are, in the end, their only weapon.
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