THE HORROR. Thirty-four years ago Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing atrocities committed by American soldiers in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Today he's front-and-center on another horror story involving US forces - this one involving the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein's former torture center.
The details of the story were first reported last week by CBS's 60 Minutes II. Hersh has additional information in the current New Yorker on the conclusions of an investigation conducted by General Antonio Taguba. This is sickening, disgusting stuff - Iraqi prisoners forced to strip naked and simulate sex with each other, raped with broom sticks, ordered to masturbate in front of female American soldiers.
Was it an isolated event? Not likely. Hersh writes:
As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba's report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.
The New Yorker's website also includes 10 photos of the torture taking place. Sadly, the Americans depicted in these photos are obviously enjoying themselves.
So how many future terrorists have we created? Hersh again:
Such dehumanization is unacceptable in any culture, but it is especially so in the Arab world. Homosexual acts are against Islamic law and it is humiliating for men to be naked in front of other men, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York University, explained. "Being put on top of each other and forced to masturbate, being naked in front of each other - it's all a form of torture," Haykel said.
A New York Times editorial today also takes note of reports that British soldiers, too, have tortured Iraqi prisoners. The editorial concludes:
Terrorists like Osama bin Laden have always intended to use their violence to prod the United States and its allies into demonstrating that their worst anti-American propaganda was true. Abu Ghraib was an enormous victory for them, and it is unlikely that any response by the Bush administration will wipe its stain from the minds of Arabs. The invasion of Iraq, which has already begun to seem like a bad dream in so many ways, cannot get much more nightmarish than this.
Liberal supporters of the war in Iraq such as Times columnist Thomas Friedman have argued that the war was justified because we needed to puncture the bubble of Arab-American terrorism by building a decent, stable society in the heart of the Middle East. It's a seductive proposition.
But as the horrors of Abu Ghraib show, Tom Friedman was not in charge of the war; and in any event, war against and occupation of a country that was no threat to us is no way to achieve some idealistic vision of American-imposed democracy.
The world can be a pretty ugly place. The White House utopian dreams have made it quite a bit uglier.