Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Deeply Troubling Catch-22 in Iraq - Another Abu Ghraib Casualty

In the June 26 edition of The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh offers a thoroughly researched and scathing account of the vilification of a hero – Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. The article is entitled: The General’s Report - How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.

You may read the article in its entirety by following the link at the end of this posting. I am grateful to my friend, Luke, for making me aware of this article.

The article chronicles the response the Maj. Gen. Taguba has received as a result of the report that he wrote concerning the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison. The allegations outlined by Hersh are deeply troubling on many levels – painting a picture of a conspiracy of silence and plausible deniability leading all the way to the office of the Secretary of Defense. Having been tasked to write a report on the scandal, limited in scope to investigating only the Military Police who were operating Abu Ghraib, but not their superior officers, Taguba still managed to offend and alienate senior military and civilian Department of Defense officials, up to Rumsfeld himself.

A culture of plausible deniability has existed in Washington since I have been paying attention to national affairs. – and most probably for many generations before I came along! Watergate and Iran Contra are two examples that come immediately to mind in which the phrase: “What did he know and when did he know it?” became an oft repeated mantra.

Sadly, I must admit that the revelations in Hersh’s article and the testimony of Taguba did not come as a surprise to me. I have the benefit of prior awareness of the Pentagon’s conflicted and ambivalent response to the Abu Ghraib affair.

I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is a retired military officer. He has earned enormous respect in the military community, academic world and private sector. He was asked by the Pentagon to conduct a thorough investigation of the Abu Ghraib fiasco. He accepted the assignment, but when he began digging for answers, he was met with stonewalling tactics on every front – from the very people who purported to want to know what had happened. Shades of Jack Nicholson’s character, Col. Jessep in “A Few Good Men”: “You can’t handle the truth!” Knowing that he could not, with integrity, produce a report without unrestricted access to the full story, he walked away from the assignment. And our nation is poorer as a result of this cover-up.

It is axiomatic that war is hell and abuses and atrocities have occurred throughout the history of warfare. I have come to see that in this flawed and broken world, war is probably a necessary evil. And as long as war is inevitable, as a nation we need to prepare for the possibility of war by training our best young people to fight in defense of freedom. I have close personal relationships with many of these professional warriors. And I have the highest respect for them and their willingness to serve and to sacrifice. As an American, it troubles me to the depth of my soul that we would ask our sons and daughters to turn themselves into fighting machines, and then set them up to become scapegoats when abuses occur. The conduct of Secretary Rumsfeld and some of his chief aides in this affair is not consistent with my understanding of honor or of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Shame on them - and shame on us for letting them get away with it.

When we stoop to justifying and condoning abuse, and then vilify those who would hold us accountable, we start the long slide down the slippery slope that led to the horrific acts that were eventually revealed at Nuremburg. I don’t have any easy answers, but I thank the likes of Maj. Gen. Taguba, Seymour Hersh and others for having the courage to help us to ask the right questions.



Anthony Lorizio said...

Dear Al:

Thank you for your view and highlighting this info.

J. A. Wheeler said...

I'm 32, and to my view, the corruption in the United States has been escalating steadily for many years now. It seems much worse now than it has been in my short experience.

It's just about in every major industry and power structure. It is apparent in the health care industry, the media, the private contracting in Iraq, the executive branch, the congress, the power industry, the auto industry, the food industry, and the telecommunications industry. It is apparent because people are suffering at the hands of those they entrusted to serve, while the entrusted profit and stifle progress, indefinitely, with no repercussions.

When you write of the "culture of plausible deniability" and "Shame on them - and shame on us for letting them get away with it" I think you are flirting with an idea which I am increasingly convinced is correct:

That the root of the corruption in the United States is, not Dick Cheney, but its culture. We do let them get away with it, and what is more, we benefit from corruption as much as they do. It is a culture of corruption that allows us to enjoy our "American way of life." Is it any surprise that eventually those we have allowed to exploit others would eventually get around to exploiting us? The reason why politicians are enjoying free license to make self-serving, illegal, and anti-constitutional decisions is that the hard-working mainstream people of the United States (you, me, and us) are too busy working, making money, and staying secure, to put up resistance to the corruption. We're too scared to risk our comfortable two-car, SUV, air-conditioned, three-bedroom lifestyles, so we let them spend our tax money on corrupt military contractors, medical insurers, pharmaceutical companies, corporate bail-outs, and genetically modified corn. The bottom line is that we don't need those tax dollars, so we don't really care what happens to them.

Nothing is going to change until average, hard-working Americans are willing to risk hardship, and quit working for those who are corrupt. People tell me that there is no option any more - that every single company in their industry is corrupt, so there is no way to avoid contributing to it. That is never true. One can always quit working, period. Yes, we have families to feed, but does not God provide for the birds in the field?
Which is more dangerous: to take a salary cut, or to give your money to those who eliminate your basic freedoms, and torture and kill innocent people?

What the corruption is teaching us is that we have to be self-sufficient. The health industry is only going to get worse, so we better learn to care for our own. The terrorism is only going to get worse, so we better learn to defend ourselves. The media is only going to get more biased, so we'd better learn to keep ourselves informed.