Take the gloves off in dealing with prisoner abuse
Im waiting for a ribbon that says: I support some of our troops before I pop one on the back of my car. This week, Amnesty International, the most-respected and best-qualified surveyor of human rights violations around the world, chastised America for its treatment of detainees and accused the Bush administration of atrocious human rights violations.Specifically mentioned were incidents recorded at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that involved psychological and physical torture. Our hope, of course, is that these were just aberrations generated by military personnel without the approval of their superior officers.Subsequent disciplinary actions against low-level servicemen and women have served to support that perception. But when we read of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld ordering his officers to take the gloves off when interrogating prisoners, it doesnt take much imagination to believe they did precisely that.I am not so naive as to think that atrocities do not occur in wartime. Abhorrent as it is to contemplate, I think I can understand how, even empathize with, certain situations that result in unlawful violence.Nevertheless, such incidents are as damaging to the future of America as any terrorist attack.Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, dismissed Amnestys charges as ridiculous and went on to say, We have worked to advance freedom and democracy in the world we have liberated 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he may be overstating his case, McClellans intentions can certainly be seen as noble and good. The problem emerges when our methods defy our goals. Torturing presumably innocent people in the name of democracy and liberation mocks the very ends we hope to achieve. One is forced to wonder about the kind of system that intimates sexual humiliation as within the bounds of American principles. Such methods ignite the kind of hatred we are witnessing throughout the Middle East. For our leadership to cavalierly dismiss the accusations of Amnesty International or blame the media for publishing undocumented charges only fuels the fire. There is no question in my mind that the vast majority of men and women serving in the military find these atrocities as abhorrent as the rest of us.It must be terribly demoralizing to be fighting a battle for the hearts and minds of people only to see these very same folk treated with such disrespect. But it is clear that our rush to infiltrate a culture we did not fully understand has resulted in enormous gaffes that have done precisely the opposite of our intended goals. Recently, I walked the narrow streets of an ancient Muslim city. Shops lined the cobblestone paths displaying their wares. Frequently, I passed little storefronts that sold only hand-painted verses from the Koran. So sacred is this book in the life of Islam, that just a few words painted on a piece of cardboard take on almost divine proportions. The faithful display their little paintings prominently in their homes. Can you imagine then the absolute horror these pious people might feel to learn that non-Muslims were flushing their holy book down a toilet?Newsweek reported that news item and since took it back with many apologies. But the Muslim anger was easy to understand.Newsweeks mistake does not mean we are cleansed of poor treatment of prisoners.Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, responded to Amnesty Internationals charges by commenting: It is not because the United States is the worst human rights abuser in the world but because its the most influential. How tragic that our influence has recently been so detrimental to the very dreams we claim to have for the world.Rich Mayfield writesa Saturday column. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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