Monday, May 23, 2005


A couple of weeks ago, Mark Hyman claimed that Abu Ghraib represented what is “right and true in America” because the abuse by a “small” group of “rogue” soldiers was being investigated by the military before the press publicized the story. According to Hyman, the authorities “sprang into action to get the facts and then held accountable those who were guilty.”

More recently, Hyman talked about the retracted Newsweek story about desecration of the Koran at
Guantanamo bay as an example of “words that cause grave harm.” Then, over the weekend, Hyman pitched wristbands made by the Veterans of Foreign Wars that are supposed to benefit the troops.

The connection among these three stories is the continued posing by Hyman, his fellow right-wing members of the punditocracy, and the Bush administration itself. Time and again, these people pay lip service to supporting the troops, while doing nothing of the sort. In fact, they use and abuse the troops for political purposes.

The Reality of Abuse and Its Consequences

It’s bad enough that their attempts to minimize the reality of abuses committed by
U.S. forces are dishonest. Despite Hyman’s statements, reports about prisoner abuse in Iraq had been around for a long time before the military began looking into them, and when they did, the investigations were superficial. This appraisal comes from none other than Amnesty International, the leading name in the monitoring of human rights. The fact that the mainstream media did not pick up on these allegations sooner shows that 1) the mainstream press is pretty lame, and 2) the mainstream press is anything but the collective left wing conspiracy it is caricatured as being. It says nothing about the supposedly energetic introspection of the military brass.

Additionally, the recent Newsweek retraction has, much like the Rather/memo affair of last autumn, conveniently offered a distraction from the rock solid validity of the underlying story. Just as there is no serious doubt that Bush shirked his duties in the National Guard, despite whatever flaws in sourcing might have taken place in the specific piece at issue, there is no doubt that humiliating and degrading Islam have been part and parcel of U.S. interrogation practices, and that these policies were put in place by those at the very top.

Add to this the ongoing revelations by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about torture and killings in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and greater
Iraq, and you have all the evidence one needs of a systematic pattern of subverting the Geneva Convention and basic decency, not by a handful of “rogue” soldiers, but by those in command.

Such actions are more than a mere national embarrassment. They undermine what little credibility we might have as a nation and they put Americans in increased danger by living up to the worst stereotypes of American aggression and callousness held by those abroad. Did Saddam do worse things? Sure. But the day we take solace in the fact that we aren’t quite as bad as the Husseins of the world is the day we cede any claims we’ve ever made to being a nation based on transcendent ideals of humanity and decency. To refuse to hold
America to higher standards of morality (and to deride those who suggest we should) is to dishonor and disgrace the nation and those who serve it.

Use and Abuse of the Troops for Political Profit

And that’s what makes Hyman’s commentary on the subject (to say nothing of the words coming from the administration itself) so galling. Those who are most anxious to claim they support the troops (and to chastise those who hold different political views as hating them) eagerly offer them up as scapegoats for the actions of those responsible for the situation on the ground. Because Hyman’s loyalty is ultimately to the neocon administration he champions rather than the troops themselves, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment to blame the troops on the ground for the sins of Bush, Rumsfeld, et al. Sure, Hyman will hawk some cheap wristbands. After all, that makes him look good. But when it comes to choosing between the troops and the White House, Hyman’s choice is clear.

In doing this, Hyman is simply mirroring the actions of those in whose lap he sits. While often paying lip service to the idea of personal responsibility and moral absolutism, the Bush administration steadfastly refuses to take any responsibility for much of anything. You might remember, for example, that when high explosives at Al Qa’qaa went missing, the administration magnanimously blamed the soldiers on the ground for the loss rather than the higher ups who bungled the planning of the occupation. The administration claims it has looked into abuse at Abu Ghraib and other places, but the only individuals held responsible thus far are extremely low level soldiers (often reservists and/or kids) rather than those who put untrained troops into the delicate position of interrogating prisoners and who put in place the very policies that led to these horrendous acts.

And of course, rather than ever admitting a mistake in intelligence or planning, the Bush administration has continually reinvented rationales for the war to distance itself from any culpability. What mistakes were made were made by others (remember the infamous inability of the president to admit to a single mistake during his first term?). The Bush administration treats the buck like a hot potato. Accountability and responsibility are truly empty phrases for them. With all the faux concern among conservatives over moral values and the importance of instilling a sense of right and wrong in our children, I can’t help wonder what they think it tells young people to not only see the “good guys” participating in heinous acts of barbarism, but to see the Commander in Chief and his apologists routinely minimize such acts and avoid assuming any responsibility for them while letting others take the blame.

Hyman likes to call people who voice disappointment that the U.S. would be responsible for the kinds of human rights abuses it claims to be “liberating” people from the “blame America crowd.” But that’s not it at all. We want to blame those individuals responsible. Yes, that should include the individuals who actually performed the disgraceful acts in question, but it also must include those whose decisions are responsible for the larger pattern of abuse. Rather than leaving the soldiers on the ground holding the bag for their superiors, why don’t we take concepts such as responsibility, moral values, and the chain of command seriously for a change?

And at the same time, let us expose those political profiteers who claim to love the troops, then turn on them and use them as scapegoats for failed and misguided policies. Let’s call them what they are: hypocrites.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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