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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

'Six morons who lost the war' 

I don't agree with the "Pentagon official" who used the above description for the soldiers who have been reprimanded for abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Oh, don't get me wrong, I absolutely concur that they are morons. In fact, "moron" is a far milder term than I would prefer. I just don't think that the actions of these few people have "lost the war."

Time will tell what long-term damage these morons did. Joe Biden may be right when he says, "This is the single most significant undermining act that's occurred in a decade in that region of the world in terms of our standing." I don't think he's right, but I can't say with certainty that he's wrong.

What I do know is that the acts of a few have damaged the reputation of an entire country. Every time I have gone to a foreign country as a member of the Navy, it has been drilled into everyone, over and over, that when you're outside of our borders, you are America. You're not just representing yourself; you are representing the ship, the Navy, and the United States as a whole. Apparently this handful of soldiers didn't get that message, or they didn't take it to heart.

Now they have to live with being the face of American barbarism to the entire Muslim world. Congratulations, morons.

So where do we go from here? We make sure these people receive punishment commensurate with the damage they have done their country, first of all. With any luck, that will show the Muslim world that such behavior is not tolerated by the United States and that the people who did it are nowhere near the norm. Then, we make absolutely certain that there is no repeat of this incident. The example of others will go a long way toward deterring future abusers, but obviously there is a training shortfall which needs to be addressed as well. We need to be doubly certain that every soldier who comes into contact with prisoners gets the message about what is and what is not acceptable.

Then, as is already happening, we continue with damage control. Every high-level official has publicly condemned the actions of the soldiers who abused prisoners. Condoleezza Rice apologized on al-Arabiya. That must be done, and hopefully it will be taken seriously in the Muslim world. The President's appearance on two Arabic satellite channels will be a huge help. The sight of the President of the United States, on an Arabic network, denouncing the actions of American soldiers, will send an unequivocal message that the leadership of the United States is not behind what happened, and that the administration and the Army are taking action to punish those responsible and prevent it from happening in the future. And it is my hope that he will follow Dr. Rice's lead and say that he is "sorry" for what happened.

The damage, obviously, has been done. And all of the above actions will not be cure-alls. They can, however, start the process of repairing the damage. The process could take a long time--Arabs are the world's most accomplished grudge holders--but in the end, if the United States delivers on its promise to build up an independent, democratic Iraq, it will go a long way toward restoring respect for America in a critical part of the world.
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