May 3, 2004

What the president should say about Abu Ghraib

The big story: American guards tortured Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison – the same place where Saddam used to decorate the walls with captives’ blood and flesh. The story, first broken on “60 Minutes II” and laid out by Seymour Hersch in the latest issue of the New Yorker, is pretty hair-raising. Here’s another account of the investigation into the mess.

The short story: Some idiotic American guards tortured and humiliated prisoners, and then compounded their stupidity by taking photos and shooting videos. The Army conducted an investigation (which continues) and began proceedings against six guards – with more to follow.

The president has expressed his outrage already, but he ought to do more. Following a suggestion by a key Shi’a cleric in Iraq, the president ought to go on Arabic television and explain that this isn’t how Americans do things, and that we’ll set things right. Along the way, he might want to highlight some important points:

We know about the tortures and humiliation because a fellow American serviceman turned in the offending guards.

• We punish soldiers who abuse human rights; Saddam promoted soldiers for doing the same thing.

• We respect freedoms, and demand accountability. Which is why we will punish those responsible, not just the guards, but the people who ordered or encouraged them to become paid sadists.

• Insurgents should not take this action as a sign of weakness. Just as we act against Americans who abuse human rights, we will do the same against Iraqis or foreign fighters who do the same. Our ultimate goal is a secure peace.

We encourage Iraqis to join us in protecting citizens from marauding wrongdoers, and we also encourage Iraqis to take a more active role in creating a lawful peace. To this end, we are turning some key law enforcement duties in the country back to Iraqis.

Again, Americans don’t condone torture and ridicule. We will capture bad guys and kill those who try to kill us. But unlike every government in that part of the world, we respect the rule of law, and expect our servicemen and women to follow it.

The president should not apologize. That’s an empty gesture. Action, on the other hand, would show the proper combination of good will and determination. Victor Davis Hansen lays out his view on the matter here.

Did "Nightline" Jump the Shark?

Ted Koppel decided to use Friday’s edition of "Nightline" as a platform for reading out the names of American servicemen and  -women killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The decision to run the names and pictures of the dead with no other ornamentation – no mention of the cause for which they fought; no attempt to share even a shred of personal information about the fallen – may have provided the definitive “Jump the Shark” moment for “Nightline.” Drudge reports that the program actually lost viewers from the previous Friday. A sign not only that viewers weren’t buying Koppel’s and ABC’s assurances that the show had no political agenda, but that people weren’t going to flock to the network just to hear names.

I like and respect Ted Koppel, but it’s impossible not to view the broadcast as a subtle attempt to portray the dead as victims, and the war as the moral equivalent of a drive-by shooting – a senseless event that produces senseless fatalities. One does not “honor” the dead merely by reciting their names. I don’t think the members of a single bereaved family in this country said to themselves, “Our mourning will not be complete until Ted Koppel reads the name. Only then will we get closure.” Yet, that’s the underlying assumption – that the "Nightline" broadcast would comfort and heal.

If that were the aim, the show would have told us something about each and every one of those taken away in the war. He might, for instance, have told the story of Cpl. Jason Dunham who died after throwing himself on a live grenade, thus saving the lives of fellow platoon members.

Or perhaps there would be some reference to the ongoing threats posed by foreign fighters and “dead-enders” in Iraq. Or some discussion of the dangers of radical Islam. (For instance, check out these recent sermons by prominent Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia  and Gaza.) But no: Just the names – and no mention of those who have died in Afghanistan. Again, if this weren’t a subtle expression of anti-Iraq-war sentiment, why not mention those who died and are dying in Afghanistan?

Mark Steyn offers some other devastating critiques in this column from the Chicago Sun Times. He notes that pictorials of this sort have the effect of undermining public support for combat and public appreciation of the costs of inaction. I won’t summarize the piece; you need to read it.

Anti-war Agonistes

An artist named Micah Ian Wright made a splash last year by drafting a bunch of anti-war art based on World War II posters. The Washington Post last year ran a glowing profile of Wright, who was parading around claiming to have been an Army Ranger in Panama. His street credibility depended almost exclusively on his credentials, since his biography provided a perfect hook: “Commando turns on Commander-in-Chief!”

Well, it turns out the guy – like many of John Kerry’s comrades in Vietnam Veterans Against the War – was a total fraud. The word first leaked out on the blogosphere, which again gets credit for arriving first on the scene of a big story.

While we’re talking about poseurs, what about 1st Lt. Paul Rieckhoff? Rieckhoff delivered last weekend’s Democratic response to the president’s radio address – an address quickly posted on the John Kerry website. If Rieckhoff doesn’t have Kerryesque political ambitions, I’ll be stunned. Upon returning home from a ten-month stint in Iraq, he quickly contacted his alma mater, Amherst College (where he was the 1998 student body president and where he delivered a speech last month), CBS (which featured him on "60 Minutes"), and the Kerry campaign (which helped sign him up for the radio address.) I have no doubt the lieutenant has expressed frustrations of soldiers, who don’t like getting shorted on basic supplies. The problem with this radio address, which Rieckhoff says he wrote himself, is that it copies almost verbatim from the Kerry and Democratic-party scripts.

He complains about the president’s May 1, 2003 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, claiming falsely that the president had declared, “Mission Accomplished!” While the president seemed naively confident about the future, he also noted, “We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We’re bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous…. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done.” (Here’s the entire speech.) More to the point, he never used the words, “Mission Accomplished.” That banner was hung on the Lincoln in tribute to the fact that its mission – which included having to stay several extra months in the Gulf region – had been accomplished.

The lieutenant also repeats Kerry’s kvetch about the lack of bulletproof vests (due not to presidential negligence, but to the fact that manufacturers just can’t produce them quickly enough). At any rate, Rieckhoff is right about one thing: The mission isn’t accomplished yet. Let’s hope he supports its ultimate accomplishment.
Below the Fold

Finally, some news stories that deserve more prominence than they have received.

Check out this Washington Post/ABC News poll. It indicates that people like George Bush considerably more than they like John Kerry, although they do find the president a bit more distant and cold than the Democratic nominee-presumptive. But then again, they also find Kerry more boring.

Also on the bad-news front for John Kerry: The economy continues to improve. Jerry Bowyer offers a typically concise analysis on National Review Online, while the Washington Times summarizes some overlooked testimony last week from Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who for once spoke a language faintly resembling English. Then there’s this economic good news from the Joint Economic Committee of the House of Representatives and related good news from the Senate JEC: herehere, and here. The boomlet of good news explains why John Kerry has begun singing a new tune.

And finally, Saddam Hussein is writing a novel. The hero, Salim, is “a pure, virtuous Arab, tall and handsome with a straight nose and full moustache.” The bad guys are — you guessed it —George W. Bush and Tony Blair. You may know that Saddam’s previous novels, like his previous plays, were huge hits in pre-April 9, 2003 Iraq.

I think I’ve hit you with enough today. More tomorrow…