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Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Total Breakdown of Morality and Leadership

Per a flurry of recent news stories, the Marine Corps seems to have confirmed that four of its Marines conducted execution-style murders of 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, on November 26, 2005 in the Iraqi town of Haditha. A US official interviewed by the Los Angeles Times about event stated the evidence in the case points to "a total breakdown of morality and leadership." (#1)

The real question is where that breakdown originated.

In a joint press conference during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's May 25 visit to the United States, President Bush mentioned Abu Ghraib in response to a question about mis-steps and mistakes in Iraq:

And, you know, I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time. And it's -- unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice; they've been given a fair trial and tried and convicted. --- (#2)

This isn't much of an acknowledgement of what really went wrong with Abu Ghraib. Juxtaposed with his preceding comment about "dead or alive", it seems to imply the only reasons he regrets Abu Ghraib are that a) we got "caught" and b) it might have incited more insurgent attacks against coalition forces.

The real problems with what took place at Abu Ghraib were / are:

  • the torture was clearly, unequivocally IMMORAL under any circumstance

  • the torture took place over an extended period of time and was not "heat of battle"

  • the failure of military command to provide properly trained personnel for prison duty

  • the failure of military command to create controls that could have prevented the abuse

  • the nature of the abuse itself seemed very much in line with interrogation practices tacitly or directly endorsed by Rumsfeld and okayed by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales

  • the tactics used at Abu Ghraib are being used in other secret facilities operated around the world by the US.

In short, what happened at Abu Ghraib is not nearly so isolated in probability and reality after considering this Administration's strategy for conducting the war on terror. While the people who placed the hoods and took the photos have been prosecuted, the people who produced an environment for the abuse and provided the legal gray area in which the abuse could be "justified" in the minds of poorly trained soldiers have NOT been prosecuted.

Bush's comment implies his Administration learned NOTHING from Abu Ghraib. The facts coming out about the execution of 24 innocent civilians and fraudulent reports issued by the military claiming the deaths occurred in direct response to a road-side bombing PROVE the Bush Administration learned nothing from Abu Ghraib or from any other challenge coming from this self-inflicted disaster.

So where did the breakdown of morality and leadership originate? The only two choices that seem to jibe with the facts in evidence are:

  1. the choices of George Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condolezza Rice

  2. the choices of American voters when they re-elected Bush in 2004

These are not mutually exclusive choices.

The events in Haditha occurred NINETEEN MONTHS after the story of abuses at Abu Ghraib broken in April 2004. Surely that was enough time for the Bush administration to correct and communicate policies on treatment of "detainees" in American custody. Surely that was enough time for the Pentagon to conduct reviews of rules of engagement with all troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Surely that was enough time for American voters to grasp the damage done to American's moral authority by our immoral conduct of the "war on terror" and make a better decision in the voting booth in November 2004.

Instead, American voters returned Bush to office for four more years when they knew Bush viewed the election as a referendum on his conduct of the war.

Instead, the Bush Administration continues to prosecute its self-proclaimed "war on terror" unencumbered by any consideration of legality or human rights. Bush made the following comment in his commencement speech at West Point in 2002:

We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. (Applause.) In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act. -- (#3)

Today, May 27, 2006, President Bush again addressed the West Point graduates and received applause for the following comment:
In the months that followed, I also made clear the principles that will guide us in this new war: America will not wait to be attacked again. We will confront threats before they fully materialize. We will stay on the offense against the terrorists, fighting them abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. -- (#4)

What lesson do you think our troops will internalize and act upon when they are deployed for patrols in a small town in a foreign country where no one speaks English, you've been dodging roadside bombs for six months, and you spot a suspicious shadow or unexpected flash of light?

America, this is not the last story of war crimes and atrocities you will hear of from the "war on terror."


#1) Los Angeles Times Story: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-marines27may27,0,7543928.story?coll=la-home-headlines

#2) Bush / Blair Press Conference Transcript: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5433122

#3) Bush 2002 Commencement Address at West Point:

#4) Bush 2006 Commmencement Address at West Point: