Monday, September 26, 2005
Losing Its Honor
Americablog has a long post up about the warporn, which I wrote about last week. I do not suggest that you click through to the pictures unless you have a very strong stomach.
It's worth noting that this site and the stories of prisoner torture that came out in the last week are part of a story that nobody wants to deal with --- that is, the story of individual soldiers committing depraved acts on their own. Shystee over at Corrente, takes me to task for suggesting such a thing, and I plead guilty. There is a point at which individual soldiers have to take responsibility as well as the higher ups, whom I agree bear the brunt of the blame.
But, I have seen no evidence that the military heirarchy has instituted a policy of posting gory pictures on sex sites of Iraqis whom we've liberated from their lives. It's possible, I suppose, but this looks to be a matter of individuals entertaining themselves. As I wrote before, I know that taking pictures of battlefield dead has been around since Matthew Brady --- and it has served the purpose of documenting the horrors of war for all to see. But this melding of sexual porn and bloody war gore is the sign of something sadistic and perverted (and yes, fascistic.)
There is one stomach churning picture that shows a horrible mangled stump where a foot should be, presumably blown up in a land mine or something like it --- and the naked crotch of the woman whose stump is being displayed. It's called "Nice puss/Bad foot." It's possible that the picture is photo-shopped, but regardless of the veracity of the picture itself, it's obvious that any man who gets an erection from that pic is a man who should not be carrying a gun.
These guys are allowing their ids to run wild and I don't think there is any excuse for it. They know the difference between right and wrong. They are not under orders to post these pictures nor can there be any thought that it helps the war effort by scaring the "Hajis" or giving these soldiers a forum in which to "release" their "steam." It's pure tittilation --- "warporn" in the most literal sense and it speaks to something seriously wrong with the military culture that says on the one hand that we are there to liberate the Iraqi people and on the other that these people's dead and mangled bodies are strangely sexually stimulating.
Note that there is no discussion as to whether these Iraqis are "Baathists" "bitter-enders," "terrorists," "insurgents" --- or the "good" Iraqis who we liberated from the sick, depraved Saddam. One of the pictures is simply entitled "Die Haji Die." It is assumed that any dead Iraqi is a terrorist --- and that, as we know, is impossible.
None of this is to say that the systematic sexual torture regime we've seen in both Iraq and Guantanamo is just the result of a barrel of bad apples. Clearly, the military have taken the simple-minded lessons of "The Arab Mind" to heart and believe that if they sexually humiliate the "Hajis" they'll crumple. (Big strong American men, meanwhile, wouldn't be affected whatsoever by being forced to simulate anal sex with other men or being jeered at while wearing ladies underwear.)I think it's pretty clear that the highest reaches of the government signed off on a whole lot of questionable kinky stuff in the mistaken idea that arabs are different from you and me. And it would appear that some of the soldiers have predictably taken this to heart.
And even if you are to set aside the kinky sexual nature of the War On Terror, I can't actually understand how anyone would think that even the total abdication of the Geneva Conventions allows for a cook to break a prisoner's leg with a baseball bat because he needed to relieve some stress. (Did the prisoner complain that there was too much lemon in the bernaise sauce and he just couldn't take it any more?)
I remember this fascinating letter to Josh Marshall back in May of 2004, from an unnamed ex-military officer. It was right as the Abu Ghraib story broke:
"... it is no secret that ON THE STREET the US Army was and remains openly kicking Iraqi asses whenever and wherever they want to.
About the Army - Man, it hurts my heart to write this about an institution I dearly love but this army is completely dysfunctional, angry and is near losing its honor. We are back to the Army of 1968.
Unlike the wars of the past 20 years where the Army encouraged (needed) soldiers, NGOs, allies and civil organizations to work together to resolve matters and return to normal society, the US Forces only trust themselves here and that means they set their own limits and tolerances. Abu Ghuraib are good examples of that limit. I told a Journalist the other day that these kids here are being told that they are chasing Al Qaeda in the War on Terrorism so they think everyone at Abu Ghuraib had something to do with 9/11. So they were encouraged to make them pay. These kids thought they were going to be honored for hunting terrorists.
The fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney said, "we're taking the gloves off" certainly created an environment in which the rule of law seemed to have been completely tossed aside. This country went temporarily insane after 9/11. I guess the military hierarchy lost its bearings too, which I find surprising since the highest levels of the officer corps are steeped in the lessons of Vietnam and presumably understood that this was likely the road to perdition.
The lies and misdirection conflating Al Qaeda with Saddam probably contributed more than anything to the horrors that many Iraqis faced at our hands during the first year or so of the occupation. Many soldiers surely internalized the idea that they were wreaking revenge for 9/11. In this, the buck goes all the way to the top and comes to a screeching halt on the desk of the heroic Commander Codpiece. Bush and his boys should have to answer for that, but I suppose it will be left to history to sort it out.
The Human Rights Watch Report about the beatings and torture by the 82nd Airborn does not feature the sexual humiliation and torture, but rather the good old fashioned kind.
On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all US soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs. The PA came and said to keep him off the leg. Three days later they transported the PUC to Abu Ghraib. The Louisville Slugger [incident] happened around November 2003, certainly before Christmas.
People would just volunteer just to get their frustrations out. We had guys from all over the base just come to guard PUCs so they could fuck them up. Broken bones didn’t happen too often, maybe every other week. The PA would overlook it. I am sure they knew.
The interrogator [a sergeant] worked in the [intelligence] office. He was former Special Forces. He would come into the PUC tent and request a guy by number. Everyone was tagged. He would say, “Give me #22.” And we would bring him out. He would smoke the guy and fuck him. He would always say to us, “You didn’t see anything, right?” And we would always say, “No, Sergeant.”
One day a soldier came to the PUC tent to get his aggravation out and filled his hands with dirt and hit a PUC in the face. He fucked him. That was the communications guy.
One night a guy came and broke chem lights10 open and beat the PUCs with it. That made them glow in the dark which was real funny but it burned their eyes and their skin was irritated real bad.
If a PUC cooperated Intel would tell us that he was allowed to sleep or got extra food. If he felt the PUC was lying he told us he doesn’t get any fucking sleep and gets no food except maybe crackers. And he tells us to smoke him. [Intel] would tell the Lieutenant that he had to smoke the prisoners and that is what we were told to do. No sleep, water, and just crackers. That’s it. The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation. [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.
After Abu Ghraib things toned down. We still did it but we were careful. It is still going on now the same way, I am sure. Maybe not as blatant but it is how we do things.
The men who spoke out were conflicted, as I would expect anyone to be. They were bedeviled by a system of rules that broke down when the leadership of this country lost its moral moorings and they did not know how to change the situation from within. You can read their agony of conscience right there on the page. But in the end they have stepped up to report what they saw --- and even participated in. They know it was wrong. So do many, many others who have said nothing.
I understand that it is difficult to stand up against the macho military culture that makes it possible to swallow fear and face people who are trying to kill you. I know that soldiers are trained to be machines and they give up a large piece of their free will to their superiors for the good of the unit. But, at some point, each individual is still a human being and has to answer to his conscience. When someone like Joseph Darby comes forward, or this West Point officer and the two sergeants last week, they are acting against a system and peer pressure that is enormous. They are brave men who prove that it is possible to resist the immense pressure to conform. And that is why they are hated. They show that those who participated have violated basic norms of decent human behavior, even in war --- and they show that those who say nothing are cowards.
Sadly, I think our sick culture at this point is actually rewarding those who decry the sense of personal responsibility that leads a soldier to speak out against depraved behavior --- and excuse barbaric, cruel behavior as a normal way to relieve tension.
Like Rush Limbaugh who says:
I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.
You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?
Or these fellows, writing on the warporn site:
Everyone needs downtime, and some need to face the demons, whatever that may be and this site is good for that...It also lets everyone know thsat when they get back they will be accepted ...let the entertainment continue.
This site allows soldiers to blow off some steam...Guys, I love this site and I love the pictures. Keep 'em coming and watch your six boys. Hajis deserve death, never forget it.
"Oh, by the way, fuck them camel jockeys. We didn't start this shit, and we certainly aren't hiding behind civilians with 20lbs of explosives strapped to our chests and hidden in a car."
Only we did start this shit, didn't we?
This is why the warmongers who type themselves into a frenzy supporting this war should have the balls to go over and fight it. Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinert and Paul Ghouley should have to stand there and ask themselves these questions --- confront the nightmares that are going to curse these soldiers for the rest of their lives as they try to reconcile what they saw and did.
It's a nice, pretty abstract concept --- fighting tyranny and terrorism for the red, white and blue. But in reality it's standing in a doorway watching a psychopathic cook break a prisoners leg with a baseball bat because he's is feeling stressed. It's hearing innocent people screaming because they have had chemicals dripped into their eyes and on their skin so they'll "glow in the dark" and amuse the soldiers. It's having your humanity and your decency challenged every single day and not knowing if you will meet all the tests of bravery, conscience and loyalty that are required in a war that is being fought for vague and inscrutable reasons.
Jonah believes that we are liberating the Iraqi people from a totalitarian dictator. Does he then agree that it's part of the mission to oggle an Iraqi womans privates while he gloats that her foot was blown off? Does he know what he would do if confronted with sadists who believe that the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi? That "they started this shit?"
The chickenhawks can claim that it is perfectly acceptable to support a war that they have no intention of fighting. But they cannot claim that it is just fine to support a war in which our troops have behaved in an immoral and indecent fashion, which the military has covered up and which was implicitly condoned by the highest reaches of our government. If they supported this they should have to share in the trials of conscience that afflict these poor bastards from the 82nd airborn who came forward (and the ones who did not.) They should have to share in the visions of blood and gore that we see on thay sick porn site and they should have to live with what has been done in their name.
If you support this country's loss of honor you should have to get down in the mud and grovel with all those who've lost their struggle to maintain their humanity while fighting a war that has no end, that doesn't know who it's fighting that sees sex and violence intertwined in a sick and twisted way --- and that celebrates random, wanton killing of the people we are allegedly fighting for. The chickenhawks in this war, of all wars, are the ones who should have to suffer alongside those who lost their souls killing and beating and torturing for a cause that didn't exist.
If you haven't read Billmon's incredible post on this subject, you need to.
digby 9/26/2005 10:11:00 AM