Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Atrocities and hypocrisy. A somber, downbeat day. Even though I opposed the US invasion of Iraq, I nevertheless thought I might be wrong. Now it's clear that even if this is wrapped up quickly, it's going to be some time before we can extricate ourselves from the muck of hypocrisy and moralism that has infected our ruling circles.

Donald Rumsfeld prattles on that Iraq's decision to videotape American prisoners-of-war was a violation of the Geneva Conventions -- that they're not supposed to be publicly shown because that would be "humiliating." Well, here is a Reuters photo of Iraqi prisoners. (Scroll down and select "An Iraqi boy tosses a cigarette ...") About a half-dozen of them are clearly identifiable, and you'll also find it reproduced on page B7 of today's New York Times.

The US rightly condemns the Iraqis for videotaping the bodies of dead American soldiers, and evidence is mounting that at least some of those soldiers tried to surrender and were executed. That is savage, horrifying behavior if true. Yet in a front-page story in the Times, we learn that in the battle for Basra yesterday, "British commandos seized the 'most senior' official of the governing Baath Party in Basra and killed 20 of his aides and security guards." Killed? Were they fighting, or were they merely inconvenient? The story doesn't say. I hope this was just unfortunate wording, but as we all know, terrible things can happen in a war.

As for putting dead bodies on television, the Boston Globe today quotes an official of ABC News explaining why it was different to broadcast footage of the bodies of dead Iraqi soldiers: the video was shot "at a distance, so you couldn't identify their faces." Perhaps the Geneva Conventions can be updated to specify how far away you have to be in order to shoot video of dead soldiers, complete with a handy metric-conversion chart. And by the way, the Globe story documents some other things you're not seeing on American television that is regular fare for Arab viewers: "bloodied bodies of young children ... trips to the hospital, grieving parents ... the scalp of a child that reporters said had been blown off in a bombing."

At this point, we can't pull out. Saudi Arabia is reportedly backing way from the tepid peace plan it proposed yesterday. In any case, to leave Saddam in place now would be the worst of all possible scenarios. The Times story on the battle for Basra also reports that a "woman who waved to British forces on the outskirts of the city was later found hanged." Multiply that by a thousand times if we quit now.

But American and British moralizing is sickening to listen to right now. You can't fight a war without entering hell. We entered this hell voluntarily. There will be much accounting to do later.

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