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Random Thoughts on Abu Ghraib

By Mark Kittel

I cant get the disturbing images of Abu Ghraib out of my head. They play in a constant loop in my mind, one after the other, as if I am Alex de Large being forced to watch to watch the crimes of my country against my will. The Albany Times-Union ran a column by Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post, indicting all of America for lying to itself and believing that these abuses are isolated acts of a few individuals; the backdrop for this column was an artists rendering of the anonymous prisoner with arms outstretched, standing on a box, and wires attached to his extremities, but instead of a black robe the artist has given the man a black hood and a tattered and scorched American flag draped about him. That picture, to me, captures the reality of this horrific scandal better than any column or article, better than any apologetic speech by our leaders.
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I think that there will be many more articles and columns printed on Abu Ghraib in the days and weeks to come, and there will be even more horrific abuses documented for all to see. There will be books published to explain the incidents, explain them away, excuse the abuses, or to examine the abuses as part of the entire chain of American history, from the abuse of slaves to the treatment of the Native Americans through to the internment of the Japanese during World War II. There is as much to learn from this as there is from September 11th, and in a sense this is the antithesis of September 11th, a moment that defines our nation to the rest of the world, but instead of uniting the world behind us it has united the world against us.
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One reaction by many rabid Bush supporters was that these photographs were fakes, the allegations made up, all to make our military and president look bad. I think the greatest proof that everything is 100% truth is how quickly the administration acknowledged the abuses and, not as quickly, began making apologies to Arabs and to Congress. This administration has stonewalled September 11th investigations, blocked inquiries into the Energy Task Force meetings, attempted to explain away the gaps in Bushs military service, and in countless other ways tried to deny or dismiss anything that might damage the president and his election chances. For the administration to so quickly fess up once the abuses were made public, rather than attempt to deny the allegations or discredit the sources, indicates to me that these abuses are real.
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Another reaction was outrage not about the abuses, but outrage that there wasnt a similar outrage in reaction to the incident in Fallujah. Why werent we so outraged about the burning and mutilation of those four contractors? Or, even worse, these animals deserved the abuses, its payback for Fallujah. But look at the timetable and you will see that the abuses documented so far are not recent they extend back through at least January of this year, if not all the way back to March of last year. In addition, one report last week stated that there were 44 cases of civilian abuses documented, similar to the reports from Abu Ghraib. Civilian abuses, not prisoner abuses as in soldiers raiding citizens homes and committing similarly terrible atrocities. Is there a possibility that the Fallujah incident was retaliation for months of abuse at the hands of the military, at the hands of private contractors? After all, Blackwater did provide security at Abu Ghraib, and those contractors were clearly Blackwater employees. I dont think the residents of Fallujah would have cared whether those four men were actually at Abu Ghraib (they werent), they would simply have held them guilty by association and vented their anger in the most deplorable ways. I dont excuse what happened in Fallujah, but I think I now understand clearly why it happened.
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Lets go back to that these animals deserved the abuses. There have been many times in world history when one group of people views itself as the pinnacle of humanity, and all other human beings are lesser humans or, in many cases, animals. Slave traders saw the slaves they captured and sold as animals; even after black slaves were freed, black Americans were still treated as lesser humans that could not be granted the same rights as better (white) humans. Native Americans were viewed as savages by European settlers. Many people in the British Empire were treated as lesser human beings than the British, and therefore the laws that dictated how the British treated each other did not apply to dealings with the Indians, Africans, or native Australians. At one time in history, many Germans believed they were the greatest race of people on the planet and that other, sub-standard people had to be exterminated in order to promote the superiority of Germany. Abu Ghraib sets us back on the path to genuine racism, to believing that some humans are intrinsically better than other humans simply due to their skin color, nationality, or religion. But this is a far worse type of racism, because it is not confined within the boundaries of one country. Here the racism is being exported to foreign nations, and that carries with it global implications, not simply domestic implications.
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Another disturbing reaction was along the lines of, Nothing these soldiers did was as bad as what Saddam Hussein did to his people, or what the Taliban did in Afghanistan, so its still okay. This attitude smacks of moral relativism, the kind of thinking that people on the far-right and in fundamentalist Christian circles decry and berate regularly. Moral absolutism, the concept that a set of fundamental, universal moral principles exist beyond mankind and given to us by God, is the philosophy preached by many on the right and especially by many Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic. But when we start judging our behavior by the behavior of others, we walk right into moral relativism and abandon any absolutes. In fact, judging your own behavior as right and justified compared to the behavior of others is exactly the kind of thinking that Jesus Christ preached against.
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And speaking of Jesus Christ, where is the outrage and condemnation from our Christian leaders? Bush and company have been comparatively quick to react to this travesty and denounce the atrocities as horrific and un-American, but with a few exceptions many leaders in both Protestant and Catholic circles have been relatively mute about Abu Ghraib. I have searched for hours on the Internet for any statement made by any prominent American religious leaders regarding this scandal, and came up nearly empty. I found one article on the American Family Association web site, which briefly condemned the atrocities, then proceeded to spend the rest of the article blasting the "liberal media" for being willing to display these photos but being reluctant to show photos of the mangled bodies from Fallujah (back to that reasoning again). It is quite disturbing that a fundamentalist Christian author is more concerned with the treatment of photgraphs than with the treatment of fellow human beings.

If nothing else, I should think that comparisons of that infamous photo (which I described above) would prompt a response from the church. Philip Kennicott not only compared the image to a crucifixion (a comparison made by many) but also compared it to something out of the Spanish Inquisition, the ugliest chapter in Catholic Church history. After reading that, I had to agree that in many ways the image was reminiscent of an accused witch or heretic being burned at the stake. With such powerful images from Christian history being referenced in this atrocity, I am even further stunned that Christian leaders have chosen to be so quiet about Abu Ghraib.

On the other hand, many fundamentalist Christian leaders in this country, excited by the Bush's promotion of America as a Christian nation out to promote God's will, hailed this war and supported it with heart, mind and soul, even referring to Biblical passages from the Old Testament to support the call to war. I can only guess that Abu Ghraib has so forcefully punctured the idea of a messianic America, a country that is only capable of good and that can do no evil, that they cannot muster the strength to formulate a response.

Once again, I sense that a quick switch to believing in moral relativism is working its way into the fundamentalist circles.
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Regardless of what horrific acts have occurred, and regardless of the terrible consequences our military and nation face, I can think of one positive result that will come of Abu Ghraib an end, however temporary, to American Imperialism.

Up until the end of April, our military could rely on an enemy surrendering to superior forces, reducing casualties and bringing quicker ends to battles. The idea behind surrendering to the opposition, of course, is that spending a few months or a year as a prisoner of war is better than being dead. No longer. The images of Abu Ghraib will now convince every fighter that fires on our soldiers that they must fight to the bitter end, for surrender will be worse than death. This alone will make it necessary to maintain and even increase troop levels in Iraq, further sapping our ability to wage war elsewhere and further demoralizing existing troops.

That, of course, is only one aspect. Karl Rove, I believe, stated that the abuses of Abu Ghraib will make it impossible for the Arab world to trust America for at least a generation. I agree, although I believe it will be more than one generation, but details aside he is correct. And that astute observation encapsulates the end of imperialistic designs. There are no Arab countries, no Arab populations, that will now hail us as liberators should we decide to invade their country and overthrow their government. No government in the Arab world that supports America will be trusted; any government that is hostile to America will gain strength and support. Attempts to win the hearts and minds of Arab and Muslim people, fragile as they already were, are now very likely to fail. If we do somehow manage to invade Iran or Syria or any other nation we consider hostile, those countries will now have Abu Ghraib to remind them that death is preferable to surrender. There can be no more shock and awe to quell the enemy.

And if, somehow, we blunder into yet another war, no matter how it is justified, there will be extreme resistance from all corners of the world to join that war. We will not be able to count on any of the existing coalition of the willing to aid us, and our justifications will fall on deaf ears. We will bear all the costs and casualties of those wars, and we will suffer all other consequences alone.

September 11th might have been a cause for seeking international peace, but instead became a rallying cry for endless war against terror. Abu Ghraib will temporarily be a call to arms for the Muslim world, but it may wind up forcing America to seek peaceful and diplomatic solutions to threats once again.

Mark Kittel is a frequent contributor to the Moderate Republican. He lives in New York State.


Just Say No.

By Dennis L. Sanders

It has never been easy to be a gay Republican and these days, its even harder.

Since President Bush came out (pun not intended) in favor of the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment, many gay Republicans have been seeing red. For some, this was just too much. Many have left the party altogether. Some have chosen to stay and fight. Log Cabin Republicans, the gay and lesbian group has come out against the marriage amendment with a vengence and has raised millions in promoting ads against the amendment.

That Log Cabin is coming on strong against this admendment is wonderful. They are showing that they will not be cowed in fear by the Religious Right and they also are deciding to stand and fight. What is still amazing though is that the group has not decided on endorsing Bush.

In many ways, this should be a no-brainer. The President is putting support behind an amendment that is clearly discriminatory. He didnt even have the decency to mention the people he was banning from entering in to marriage. Bush may or may not be a homophobe. However, the fact that he basically supported such a bigoted amendment to appease the Religious Right shows that Bush is more concerned about getting re-elected than he is about fairness and equality. Because of this, Log Cabin is silly to not not endorse.

One can understand the position that Log Cabin is in. Many hard-core conservatives dont see gay Republicans as people let alone Republicans, so there is fear that not supporting the President would give more ammo to the fundamentalists.

However, there are ways that one can be a loyal Republican without selling ones soul. Log Cabin could say they support conservative values such as the separation of church and state and federalism, both of which are being trampled by this statute. Because of their stance on these positions, and because the President has not lived up to them, they cant endorse the President. Instead of being anti-Bush, they could be pro-conservative.

No one is asking Log Cabin to endorse John Kerry, Im certainly not. But something more than loyalty to a president is at stake; its the integrity of this part of the gay movement. Gay Republicans have always been held in suspicion by the rest of the gay community. Many gays believe we are self-hating people who support our leaders right or wrong. If Log Cabin endorses Bush, then that belief will have been proven correct. The organization will have no credibility in the gay community, because they chose to support a man who caves to bigots.

What is going on within Log Cabin reflects the larger issue affecting moderate Republicans in general. The far right has always been suspicious of moderates, calling us Republicans In Name Only or RINOS because we dont measure up to their anti-tax, anti-government, anti-gay views. Afraid to be tagged with that label, moderates usually follow the go along to get along method to show how loyal they are.

In the end, it doesnt get us very far. Moderates still get sidelined or targeted by far right groups.

Log Cabin should be more faithful to Republican principles than they are to certain Republican presidents. In my view Log Cabin would be wise to follow the lead of Republicans for Environmental Protection. In the last Presidential campaign they did not endorse then-governor Bush. They didnt endorse the Democratic candidate either. Instead, they presented his environmental record and let people come to their own conclusions. In the middle of President Bushs term, they offered a report card of how he was doing so far. They gave some plusses and a whole bunch of minuses. REP has not stopped short of criticizing the President because they know that the Republican principle of conservation which started with Teddy Roosevelt is far more important than any allegiance with a President.

Log Cabin should follow this path. For Log Cabin the Republican principles it cherishes are equality, small government, which in this case means, keep government out of the bedroom. The President fails under these two principles.

In the end, Log Cabin has to decide if their principles are more important than being liked. Endorsing or even qualified support of the President, might appear to give Log Cabin respect from conservatives in the GOP, but in the long run they will have sacrificed their principles for nothing.

The Bible tells us of the story of Jacob and Esau two brothers. Esau, the big and brawny one was the oldest and had the birthright to their fathers wealth. Jacob was the crafty one who knew how to fool his brother. One day Esau comes in hungry and Jacob had made some stew. Esau wants some, and Jacob is happy to oblige-if Esau gives him his birthright. Esau states, What good is my birthright if Im starving to death? So he give his birthright for some stew. He chose comfort over principle.

Lets hope Log Cabin doesnt do the same thing.

Dennis Sanders is publisher and editor of the Moderate Republican.

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