Friday, May 20, 2005

We’re supposed to be the good guys

The New York Times has a report today based on a 2,000 page Army investigative report on prisoner abuses at the Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan back in late 2002.

The picture it paints is truly horrific and brings to mind images of Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags and Vietnamese POW camps. Here is an excerpt:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

When I hear about radical Islamists taking innocent people hostage and cutting their heads off on video I console myself in the thought that we are morally superior to that and would never stoop to such grusome and barbaric behavior. But then I read something like this and I have to wonder if we really deserve to consider ourselves morally superior.

The good news here is that the Army did conduct an investigation and seven people have been charged with abusing prisoners in this case. Does that mean everything is fine now and there are no more problems? I don’t know. I don’t understand how something like this could have happened in the first place. Why didn’t anybody stop it when it was happening? Aren’t we supposed to be the good guys here? Did 9/11 somehow give us the right to go around the world torturing people? Nobody deserves this kind of treatment ever, not even Osama bin Laden himself. It is morally repugnant and should be beneath us as a civilized nation.

The story goes on to say that many of the interrogators who were responsible for these atrocities went on later to work their craft at Abu Gharib. It seems incredible that we are having an argument about Koran desecration these past few days, as if the guards and interrogators involved in these crimes would have thought twice about it.

I know that many people will object to this story because it makes our military look bad and hurts morale. They may even deny the reports like they did with the Abu Gharib abuses - up until the point where those infamous pictures surfaced. But I think it is important that we be made fully aware of what happened. We need to have our collective noses rubbed in this or surely it will happen again and again. This wasn’t just a case of a few bad apples. It could have happened with anybody in that position and that is the scariest part. We lost part of our souls after 9/11 and we desperately need to regain it. You don’t get it back by seeking vengeance - this is what the radical Islamists preach. You get it back by taking the other route toward forgiveness and mercy.

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