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Cry Me A Riverbend II

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Whisper Shouts

This last week in the Comments section, Whisper vented his spleen and tore us all a new one.
I've seen the wreckage of what Saddam did over here from a lot closer viewpoint than I'd've liked to have. I think we were right to remove that S.O.B. -- but I am disturbed by the fact that we may have gone to war on false pretenses. No-- we haven't found much in the way of WMD's here yet. Saddam was a distant danger, but not a clear and immediate threat to us. And no, I still don't see any evidence that Saddam was in league with Al-Qaeda.

I am also very disturbed by a lot of the actions our civilian leadership has taken in the process of 'winning the peace'. We're getting ready to lynch 6 MP's for the Abu Ghraib incidents-- they are guilty, but what they're guilty of is following unlawful orders and committing war crimes... the climate that brought that down starts at the top, but it looks like our leadership won't let the investigation track all that down.

In the greater scheme of the Army-- we're still talking a few bad apples in the *uniformed* part of the bunch... but I fear more and more that there's civilian leaders near the top who would direct this stuff without a moment's hesitation if they thought they could get away with it.

I read an article on the subject of torture recently-- I wish I could give you the link I accessed it from, but if you don't have a military ID, you can't get to it the way I did. It's from the Washington Post or the New York Times (not sure which), and it brought up a point that changed my mind on one of the issues.

The basic points of the article were that if you excuse tactics that seem like torture and declare them as legitimate in some cases, that they will wind up bleeding over into other cases and situations that they weren't intended for; and, that the real danger in opening the door isn't the excesses of the 'bad apples'-- it's that good, honest, patriotic citizens may feel it's their duty (whether they're disturbed by it or not) to use every (declared to be) 'legitimate' method at their disposal to get answers from the enemy to help do their job.

We may already be seeing exactly that in the case of some of the Abu Ghraib 'torturers'.

We're also seeing reports on briefings given to the President and the Secretary of Defense that claim that the President can set aside all treaties and conventions governing the prohibition of torture and the treatment of prisoners captured in war zones, and cannot be charged for it-- in fact, claiming that he can do that as a legitimate act as Commander-in-Chief.

Last I checked, that's precisely the defense we denied to the German and Japanese leaders in the War Crimes Trials in 1945. It's also the utterly failed defense that Milosevic is trying over his War Crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

I am very disturbed, because America is supposed to be a nation of Laws, and the President is supposed to enforce the law, NOT set himself above it. Also, the Nuremberg trials proved that the defense of "I was following the orders of my superior officers" is not a valid defense. We're supposed to not obey unlawful orders, not claim that we're not guilty on the grounds of following orders.

Also, I'm gonna add one more thing:
I believe in trying to help the Iraqis achieve a peaceful, secure, stable, democratic government for themselves. I don't think we're going about it the best way. I don't think the soldiers out here are getting the best support we could be getting. The stories you've heard about us being short on body armor, adequate armored vehicles, etc? They're true. Oh, and Shinseki's estimate of how many troops we'd need to establish security was correct-- Wolfowitz was WRONG-- and we're still about 50k troops short of what we needed to do the job right.

I'm a little sick of reading Chickenhawks saying 'We must support our troops' and then failing to adequately support us. I'm also a lot sick of all the talk about how 'We must stay the course, we must pay the price for this war' etc, etc, from people back home who AREN'T paying any kind of price for this.

It's the Iraqis (depending on whose figures you believe, somewhere between a few thousand and over ten thousand killed here since the war started) and the Coalition Soldiers (about 850 U.S. Troops, close to 100 more Soldiers from other Coalition nations-- killed over here) who are paying the price in blood-- not you.

I've nearly been killed myself about half a dozen times (close calls with indirect fire and roadside bombs mostly) since I've been here. Several of my friends have been wounded.

'Scuse me for going off on the board at large, but I'm a little sick of some of the more die-hard words I'm reading coming from civilians who aren't in the service-- you're not the ones being shot at. (Yes, these are my opinions and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense, the Army, etc) (They do, however, represent the thoughts of more than a few of my friends as well as myself here in the warzone).

Tammy,
No. The quote was, "We're acting in accordance with the law" or something like that. When we've also got memos floating around that claim it's legal for the President to turn over every treaty and convention we've ever signed under his powers as "Commander-in-Chief" (not so sure they'd hold up in a court of law, but...) 'Scuse me if that doesn't give me a lot of confidence.

Oh, the point, if I wasn't clear enough? Is that I'm beginning to see enough evidence to believe that the chain of events and responsibilities, and the setting of the climate that led to torture in Abu Ghraib, started in the Defense Department, and may have indirectly descended from decisions that the President was aware of.

CYA is standard in Washington, and as usual, troops get screwed for it.

Also, the first part of the Oath of Enlistment for anyone in the Armed Forces is: "I (name) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

'Support and Defend the Constitution' comes first, BEFORE obeying the orders of the President and the officers appointed over me. It's the basic defense within the UCMJ for NOT obeying unlawful orders. I'm concerned that unlawful orders have been given, and some troops (the Abu Ghraib 7) followed them.

Hard Harry,
Are you or have you ever been in the military? Are you ready to come enlist, pick up a rifle, and fight the enemies of our country? If the answers to these questions is "No", given your strong pro-war claims and statements on how necessary all this is--

Then you *ARE* a Chickenhawk. And a soft one at that-- because all of these hard words you type here, are just words, from a man who has not got the courage and conviction to pick up a weapon and fight the enemy himself, even though he sees it as 'absolutely necessary'. If you are or have been in the military, then you are not a Chickenhawk, and you're right-- my words on that subject don't apply to you.

As far as supporting the troops goes,
If you're telling us that we've got to be out here laying our lives on the line... and your support boils down to yellow ribbons and 'gee, maybe we could pay a little more in taxes' without actually doing something about it-- it really doesn't mean much out here in the war zone. Those of you who are in favor of the war and claim to support the troops-- are you getting off your rears and making yourselves heard? Telling your congressman to vote to get us the equipment and support we need? Then it means something.

The anti-war crowd's claim of support for the troops doesn't mean much either, unless they're acting on their convictions and telling the government they should bring us home. Just sitting back and saying, "oh we shouldn't be over there, oh well" doesn't mean much out here in the warzone.

In general, if someone tells me this is a struggle to the death, we've got to fight-- it's life or death for our country and our people, we must go to war--

But he or she refuses to join up and go fight him-or-her-self, I call that cowardice, and a lack of willingness to stand up for what that person has just claimed is the right thing to do. And I don't respect it. If you want to talk S*** about my attitude on this-- Look where you're at, sitting at home in nice comfort, and then check where I am-- I *AM* fighting for my country... Why aren't you here with us, if you believe in it?

I have to give the anti-war folks this-- at least *THEIR* moral beliefs are consistent with their actions.

Then in response to some comments, Whisper elaborates:
Hard Harry,
The answer to your question, about the definition of 'Chickenhawk'-- depends on how strongly you're advocating war, and on what terms-- and on what your personal background is. "Chickenhawk" as accurately applied, belongs (for instance) to all those folk who dodged the draft or rode out one deferment or another to avoid military service during the Vietnam era, but are now 'wrapping themselves in the flag' and being so patriotic and gung-ho about sending OTHER people to fight this war (when they have never, and never would, go to fight themselves). Examples: Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Stephen Cambone... some would say the President, since serving in the National Guard was a guaranteed way of staying out of Vietnam.

If you're too old to come and fight in this war, that probably means you weren't too old to fight in Vietnam. So where were you during that war? The answer to that question will determine whether the Chickenhawk label fits you or not.

I damn well *WILL* criticize a lot of our pro-war people, and feel that I am entirely justified in doing so, because there's too damn many people sitting back there in the States who essentially are pro-war ONLY so long as they're not the ones who have to go fight (check the reactions to people evening mentioning the possibility of a draft-- some of the loudest whiners are the same ones who advocate sending the 'volunteers' anywhere and everywhere into harm's way at the drop of a hat). And, Hard Harry, as for your stfu comment, and telling me I *don't* have any special privilege to criticize?

Duh. I'm an American-- it's not a special privilege, it's me exercising freedom of speech.

I don't need other justification that that, but I'll remind you of some obvious reasons anyway: I'm a combat veteran, Harry. You're NOT. I'm one of the ones who's come close to getting killed out here. You're still living in safety back in the States... and if this war is vital to the nation's defense, then you better be grateful there's Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines out here to defend the nation.

Not even ONE of the prominent neo-cons has ever served in combat-- they can spout the words about how we need this war, but if you were relying on them to defend the nation, this war would already be over-- we'd have LOST.

The pen, and the internet typing, only stand as 'mightier than the sword' in the long run *IF* there are swordsmen willing to protect the writers. Without us, you civilians go the way of every conquered and defeated nation that failed to defend itself-- and the victors will write the history books. "Whiny ass"? No. Liberal? Maybe.

I hate to apply labels 'cause I *don't* vote party lines, I vote on the actual individuals running (based on A) are they promising to work in government the way I'd like them to? and B) do I believe them when they make those promises?

Naw-- I'm just the guy out here in desert sands with a U.S. Flag patch under my war-service patch on my right shoulder, a U.S. Army tag on my chest under my paratrooper's wings, wearing flak vest and a kevlar helmet, holding a loaded rifle and hoping we're going to accomplish something worthwhile out here.

It is a standing policy of this blog to take seriously and with respect the opinions of anyone dodging drive-bys and car bombs for the sake of the author. Keep that in mind when you read my response.

1) As for going to Iraq "under false pretenses."
The Administration gave many reasons for going to Iraq, not one or two. Some...perhaps most...found a couple of the arguments more compelling than others. My reasons for believing we should enforce regime change in Iraq may not have been that of the majority, I don't know. But one argument that the Bush Administration never made was that Saddam was an immediate threat to the US. They said he was a serious and growing threat. See my entry Lets Start With The Basics for why I don't consider the WMD issue to be at all pertinent. I also recommend my response to Tom for why I think the anti-war crowd are primarily made up of phonies. In addition, the fact is that if we did not go in there last year, "Saddam Insane" would still be in power in Iraq AND very shortly (maybe by this time already) there would be no "no fly zones" or sanctions. The sanctions themselves were a source of Arab contempt toward the West and toward the US as its defacto leader. Any argument that for any reason implies we should not have done what we did in Iraq last Spring must deal with the issue that if the argument is to be credited, then Saddam Hussein and his sons ought to be the rulers of Iraq now and for the imaginable future.

2) Regarding Abu Ghraib
I can appreciate you being sympathetic with the situation of the common soldier, but I'd say your (not quite) defense of them that they are about to be "lynched" is over the top. Perhaps you have sources I don't and you just didn't or couldn't share them. I'll proceed as if all the cards are on the table and we're both getting our information from the news. One of these MPs is a civilian prison guard here state-side, and has been accused of being a sadist at his normal job, that he went to Iraq with the gleeful intention of killing "sand niggers". You're probably right that the prosecution needs to go further up, but I'm not very inclined to the argument that these are good soldiers pressed into criminal behavior as you imply.

Secondly, so far I think the process of prosecuting soldiers for misdeeds in Iraq has proceeded far too gingerly. Consider the soldiers who were recently given reprimands for throwing Iraqis in the river during which one of them drowned.

Personally, I have seen no evidence that the Justice Department memo you referred to was the source of the offenses in Abu Ghraib. I seriously doubt it was handed to the interrogation contractors as a “bible” for dealing with POWs. On the other hand, while I'm not a lawyer, I don't find most the arguments behind the memo to be compelling. Buuuut, the most important upshot I got from the memo is that anything a prisoner (or a hostile U.N. agency) may say makes him uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily constitute torture. This is not an indefensible position. Most Americans that I talk to say the “pyramid of butt-cracks” was bad-acting on our soldiers’ part, but not torture. But most importantly I don't see how the aimless cruelty depicted in the "abuse photos" coming out of Abu Ghraib have anything to do with a high level policy for controlling prison populations or extracting information which was surely the context behind the so-called “torture memo”. I just don't see it. Many do. I don't. Maybe you think the US justice department was advocating casual rape in Iraqi prisons...or murder. I don't. Nor do I see how anyone could extrapolate that. As I said, the famous "abuse pictures" seem to represent aimless sadism, and I don't think that was the point of the memo either.

The reason these allegations seem to hit home is that the Bush Administration is not dealing with international terrorism as a criminal justice matter. They are dealing with it as though it were a war: a war where the battlefields are as heated and as dangerous in airport terminals as they are in Afghanistan or Bagdhad. There’s a sense that this administration is playing serious hardball…and that sense has the unfortunate attribute of being 100% true. If in your mind someone who is plotting to put explosives on a city street in Bagdhad is a horrendous criminal, then the Bush Admin’s attitude and strategy about intercepting them looks like Det. Andy Sipowicz on cocaine. But if you see that same person as the modern equivalent of an enemy bomber pilot then the Bush Administration looks little different from a fighter pilot who lethally shoots at planes for flying in the opposing squadrons with no consideration as to how the crew might have found themselves on those planes. Any discussion about the treatment of prisoners at Gitmo and terrorists arrested in the US and, yes, the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, must reasonably take into account the horrific nature of the enemy with whom we are forced to grapple: an enemy that wants to see civil war in Iraq, that wants to see Riverbend without electricity or clean water; that sees planting bombs on crowded streets as a legitimate war aim in itself.

Nevertheless, in dealing with this enemy, US citizens have a right to expect soldiers to behave professionally; not like the biggest baddest gang around. It seems to me that that is where things went wrong. Is Rumsfield responsible? Ashcroft? Cheney? Bush? I don’t know. We shall see. I don’t want to see anyone who is truly guilty to get away with murder or rape. But I DO NOT want to see the leadership of this country smeared just because some people in opposing parties want to have them be responsible. There’s a war on, everyone. Put away your toys.

3) Soldier Support (body armor, etc.)
For the last 14 years, since the Soviet Union vanished in a vapor, we’ve seen a steady dismantling of our military to take advantage of the “peace dividend”. Now we find we need a “war footing” military and we don’t have it. Both Bush administrations share the blame for the situation in which Whisper finds himself now ~ the Clinton Administration by sheer number of years must take more blame. But so does everyone (Congressman and citizen) who voted in those 12 years with the belief that the world would get less dangerous without the enemy we’d faced for the previous 50 years. I don’t know what to say about that, Whisper. Sorry doesn’t cut it, but that’s about all anyone can offer. They’re supposed to be cranking out body armor and sufficiently armored Humvees as fast as they can put them together. The problem is that when you need a military, you need them. And if you haven’t been planning to put them in harms way for the previous decade, it doesn’t make you need them any less.

4) Did We Send Enough Troops?
Wolfowitz’ critics have an advantage that Wolfowitz will never have: We will never know how things might have gone wrong if we had sent half a million troops to Iraq to police it in everyway, or if we had cracked down on jubilant looters in the initial days after the liberation. Perhaps today we might be calling Iraq “a failure” due to the “heavy-handed theories of the neo-cons”. Now the Administration is going to try more troops, maybe that will help things now, but there’s no guarantee that it would have helped things before. Unfortunately the Senate didn’t confirm omniscient gods to the Defense department. But there aren’t any among their critics either. We went to Iraq, because we had to. I’m convinced of that. I think you are dead wrong when you imply otherwise. We would have been better placed to do it in 1991, but the American people were not willing to bear it back then. And no one then would have comprehended the deadly danger of failing to stabilize Iraq. Life ain’t fair. Sense ain’t common. Human foresight is a contradiction in terms (like “important art”).

5) Regarding “Chickenhawks”
Whisper, considering your current situation, you have earned the right to have whatever revulsion you wish to indulge at those enjoying the improving economy back home. Incidentally, I was too young to serve in Vietnam, but I did recently attempt to enlist with the National Guard and they said I was too old. I’m currently looking into getting a truckers license so I can support the war as a contractor (Riverbend would call that a “mercenary”). In a volunteer army in which we are getting the maximum number of troops that congress has budgeted, I don’t think the “chickenhawk” label has much relevance. I can certainly understand you having a different perspective on this, but that’s what I think. I’m against the draft because I don’t wish to see soldiers who enlisted with pride forced to serve beside criminals and dim-wits who couldn’t get into college or with people who would rather be writing anti-war poems. Are homosexuals permitted to be in favor of this war even though they can’t serve? Are the physically handicapped permitted? Since we’ve had two terms of a President that avoided the Vietnam draft and VP who pretended to sign up for divinity school to get out of it, I’m surprised that serving in the National Guard is now equated with running off to Canada. I suppose it is so now because the candidate of the opposing party served (never mind that he counted dubious wounds to get himself stateside after serving - four months).

Vietnam was simply a different war. There WAS a draft then. There is NOT one now. Back then, we did not act like we thought a democracy was possible in Vietnam. Now, an independent democracy is what we clearly intend to install in Iraq by early next year. The Johnson administration was only interested in not losing that war. The Nixon administration was easing our way out of the war. I think someone could be forgiven for not being crazy about putting his body on the line for that war. The current Administration IS vigorously fighting this war. Whatever their failings, they do actually seem to intend to win. I think we can and we must.

UPDATE
Here a very pertinent Hitchens article on the Abu Ghraib scandal.

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