Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Tuesday, 04 May 2004

I usually stay away from politics in this journal, but not today.

Over the weekend, Jackie's mom expressed horror and disgust over the recently published pictures of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. I'm afraid my own expression of outrage was not as forceful as it should have been--because I'm sure the pictures are only the tip of the iceberg. That's the sort of thing that happens in war, and having chosen to go to war, it was entirely predictable that such things would happen. I expressed my outrage back before the war started and have trouble acting like this is a horrible shock now.

So, I want to state for the record that I'm just as horrified and disgusted as every right-thinking person. I'm just not shocked. I almost wish I were. The fact that I knew stuff like this would happen leaves me feeling like I should have done more to keep our country from going to war.

Some people have referred to these pictures as the last nail in the coffin of anyone's hope for some positive result in Iraq, but I don't think that's true. I'm not sure there was every any hope--I think the whole endeavor was doomed right from the start--but if there was any hope, I think it ended in the first few weeks after the invasion, when the US, as the occupying authority, allowed the country to collapse into lawlessness. These pictures are just one more signpost along the inevitable slide into what I see as the only two remaining possibilities--a failed state with rival ethnic warlords, or a theocracy along the lines of Iran.

I hope I'm wrong.

It looks like a bunch of army officers are going to have their careers ruined over these pictures. Personally, I think that's letting them off very lightly. I'd like to see everyone in the chain of command do at least some time in prison, including the joint chiefs, Rumsfeld, and Bush.

I think it is very likely that this sort of thing is going on in the detention center in Guantanamo. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that the same thing is going on in the naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina where Padilla and Hamdi are being held. It's simply the sort of thing that happens when you take ordinary people and give them absolute power over other people. It happens even when there is training, supervision, and a universal acknowledgment that even people suspected of committing serious crimes have rights. (We know this, because prisoners are abused all the time in jails in the US.) When you claim that some people have no rights whatsoever, it simply becomes more frequent and more severe.

So. I'm sad, but not shocked. I'm not surprised that there are some young people who are shocked--that's good. We need more idealists. But if you're not young and you're still shocked: Why? How did you get to be an adult without coming to know that this sort of thing would happen in a war? It always has.


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