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W. David Jenkins III: Mourning America

Mourning America

By W. David Jenkins III

"The Bush- and Rumsfeld-haters have never been so happy. Like pigs rolling in, as the expression has it, effluent. They're downright rejoicing - glorying! - in the shame the United States has suffered at the hands of the Abu Ghraib yahoos."

- NY Daily News editorial 5/7/04

When I read that opening statement and the vile, hateful words that followed, I realized the extent of the damage that has been done to this country. Although we’ve all seen this type of ultra-right drivel in the past, it has become quite clear that, along with a divisiveness between its people unequaled since the Civil War, America has now lost the moral high ground we used to hold so dear. To think that there is anyone – anyone – who would think those who oppose the actions of this administration would "rejoice" at the grotesque treatment of the detainees at Abu Ghraib based on any political views is glaring proof that there is a sick and completely ignorant underbelly no longer hiding in the right wing.

There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can compare with the poisonous rancor expressed by such perverse statements! The article goes on to admonish those who take "much pleasure in not wishing to believe" we’re still the "good guys." The right wing has shed any sense of decency and patriotism in its flagellating, pompous effort to divide this country and, once and for all, to shamelessly pigeonhole Bush’s opposition as "anti-American."

As outrageous as these transparent and pathetic statements are and as much as they contradict how the majority in this country feels, it also sheds a sad light on just how little these people understand about what has happened and how it affects America’s efforts, both present and future.

As regular readers know, I frequently tune in to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal in order to hear what many Americans are saying. On the Saturday after Rumsfeld’s testimony, I was mortified to hear what was passing for an acceptable "defense" among the Bush supporters in regard to what happened in Abu Ghraib. One caller, after admitting he was legally blind, suggested that the photos were "probably taken from a gay or lesbian web site." Another felt that we shouldn’t make such a big deal about it because if "the Muslims win the war then American women better know what size burka they wear." Yet another caller felt that what happened was all the fault of "liberal judges who permit this kind of behavior." Yes, dear readers, I scratched my head, saying, "what the . . . ?" after that one too.

But one of the saddest responses came from the woman who stated that it was "too bad" if those detainees felt "degraded" because, after all, "we felt degraded after 9/11" – undeniable proof that there are still those who perpetuate the myth that Iraq had something to do with that day in September. And it is this kind of ignorance that fosters – perpetuates – the likes of the Daily News editorial piece above.

The thing is, most people have realized the severely compromised position America finds itself in because of what has happened – and how little has been done long after the fact. With the circle of wagons around the White House and the Pentagon getting smaller and more rickety, the administration and its defenders are all too aware of the losing battle they’re engaged in. What’s more, many folks are missing some obvious and disturbing facts in all the name-calling and finger-pointing. The most glaring example is the pictures themselves.

That the servicemen and women felt so confident there would be no repercussion for photographing their actions by any of their superiors is a stark contrast to what we’ve always believed about our military and their mission. It’s also a clear statement as to the mindset of the policy makers and the officials who carry out their wishes. Like the missing WMDs, what matters is that the ends justify the means, regardless of what we as Americans are supposed to stand for. If dehumanizing a man or woman and even a child (as future picture releases promise to show) is simply an acceptable part of the toolkit used to pry "information" from the Iraqi detainees, then so be it as far as this administration is concerned. If we are to lower ourselves to the same lack of moral standards that we accuse the enemy of, then how are we "better?" How are we supposed to convince those we came to "liberate"– let alone the rest of the world – that we really are the "good guys?"

What complicates matters even more is that we know there are also "contracted interrogators" involved in what has happened. And unfortunately, or fortunately if you support debasement of your "enemy" for a "just cause," these paramilitary animals are not bound by the same laws as those demanded of regular military personnel. One of the companies providing security services for the prisons in Iraq is DynCorp, which was accused and fined for human rights violations during the Bosnian crisis.

Another complication in this mess concerns the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there. The man, Lane McCotter, resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after a schizophrenic inmate died. He was naked at death and had been shackled to a restraining chair for sixteen hours. McCotter is presently an executive of Management & Training Corporation, a private prison company which is under investigation by the Justice Department. Yet in spite of the ongoing investigation, Attorney General John Ashcroft chose McCotter to be sent to Iraq as head of a team of prison officials charged with rebuilding the country's criminal justice system.

Now, doesn’t that sound great?


Too many people are satisfying their angst with this tragedy by telling themselves and anybody who will listen that the crimes committed in Abu Ghraib were "isolated incidents" by a "handful" of bad apples. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.

In a makeshift detention center near Nasiriyah and run by the marines, it was discovered that 52-year-old former Baath Party official, Nadem Sadoon Hatab, died three days after being beaten during an interrogation. The photographs show him lying naked in his own feces. And we have been promised by Rumsfeld himself that there will be more than what we’ve seen so far. There will be pictures depicting further hideous treatment of detainees including beatings and even rape. Some are reported to even include Iraqi children. The existence of these soon-to-be-released pictures has been confirmed by the military.

There is also the question over a place called Camp Bucca in southern Iraq where similar war crimes were committed. Hossam Shaltout, a Canadian citizen and "a permanent U.S. resident who is not allowed to return to the United States", was placed in leg irons and handcuffs and was then beaten after going on a hunger strike. He also describes being hog-tied while soldiers placed scorpions on his naked body. One of the soldiers Shaltout has accused of participating in and directing these actions is Master Sgt. Lisa Girman of the 320th Military Police – who has since been found guilty of abuse charges.

I don’t have any delusions that the crimes committed against the Iraqi’s are unique to this invasion. Sadistic and illegal behavior during times of war is an unfortunate consequence but this in no way justifies that behavior. We are supposed to be the good guys but now the world has irrefutable proof that we’re not. Not only that, but exactly what are we doing to the mindset of our military personnel that would convince them that posing for pictures in such a grotesque manner was acceptable?

In light of the crimes we have seen with our own eyes this last week, it is easy to see why Bush was against America’s inclusion in the International Criminal Court. The planners of this invasion were quite focused when it came to matters that would absolve them of any responsibility. That trait is quite probably the only "success" this administration can lay claim to. Bush and his circle have never accepted responsibility for their actions or their inactions. When appearing before Congress last week, Rumsfeld and his peers seemed more outraged that the Abu Ghraib photos were released rather than taken!

But the gravest result caused by the de-humanization of Iraqi detainees is how the practice will affect our military in the eyes of the Iraqis and the world community. Those shaming photos (and those yet to be seen) will be forever ingrained on the consciousness of the Iraqi people. Now all of our soldiers will be seen as accomplices and will be judged unfairly by those most affected by this horror. America is now a country which has committed, in the very same facility, many of the same atrocities as those it set out to demonize and eliminate – all in the name of liberation, democracy, freedom and morality. Many representatives from that region of the world who supported our continued presence after June 30 feel that it would be better for everyone if we just left now. The greatest battle facing America was to win the hearts and minds of those we occupied "for their own good." That battle can never be won now.


Our country has endured crisis after crisis over the last four years, and each crisis has resulted in a cover-up and the expected denial of accountability by those within the Bush administration. And every time, for some ungodly reason, they manage to keep their heads above water politically. But, this time, they have squandered the very opportunity they needed in order to succeed in their ideological Crusade. And in doing so, they have placed our soldiers not only in greater danger, but they have completely shattered any remnants of America's claim to its "God-given right" to the higher moral ground.

On a May 6 MSNBC broadcast Youssef Ibrahim, a columnist for the Gulf News, was asked what he thought the answer was to rectify America’s standing in the Middle East and the rest of the world. His response was that America cannot even begin to rebuild all it has lost until George W. Bush is out of office. Regardless of whatever alternative this country is faced with, the fact remains that most world governments view Bush as the most despised and mistrusted president in American history. The reckless ideologies embraced by his administration have now managed to "trickle down" to the battlefield and have left us with nothing but shame.

We are not "rejoicing" as some have said. We are, however, recognizing that the corpse hidden within one of those little-noted, flag-draped coffins coming home in the dark of night is nothing less than our historic pride in being Americans.


In the short time between finishing this work and submitting it to you, the news of the murder of Nicholas E. Berg hit the airwaves. This morning I viewed the complete version of the video of his brutal death from and, after doing so, I have become completely convinced that invading Iraq was a mistake of epic proportions.

Although I always felt taking our focus away from al Qaeda to Iraq was a dangerous and unwise diversion, nothing this administration has said or done was as powerful and disturbing as the images I saw from my computer screen. Those images have left me more angry and frightened but, above all, more firm in my convictions that we are being led blindly through the Gates of Hell.

To be continued……..


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