Bring the Boys (and Girls) Back Home

There have been two stories out of Iraq this week that have stayed on my mind.  One is that our guys, the folks in our military, don’t have water, so they’ve taken to breaking into places where military contractors store water and stealing it.  I use the term “stealing” loosely because as anyone who follows the war knows, where Halliburton or any of its strangely named clones are concerned, it’s likely that water was supposed to go to the troops in the first place and the contractors were hording it because that’s just the kind of evil asshole thing they do.

But, in essence, what it means is that the troops are openly operating as if not all Americans in Iraq are on their side.  So, not only are the Iraqis in the middle of a civil war we can’t do much about, our troops are running military operations in order to secure supplies against other Americans.  Surely I cannot be the only person in America to stop a little short upon realizing that.  There are no sides in Iraq any more.

That’s what it says to me.  Things over there are so broken that you don’t know who is going to pull guns on whom and for what reason.

The second story hit the internet yesterday.  About how Seymour Hersh is saying that we have tapes of little boys being raped in front of their mothers in Abu Ghraib.  The stories of child-rapes in Abu Ghraib have been around for a long time.  I know we’ve talked about it here.  But the fact that we have tapes that we’re sitting on of it?  Yuck.

But here’s what also stood out for me in what Hersh is saying:

I can tell you some of the personal stories by some of the people who were in these units witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers and so we’re dealing with a enormous massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher [emphasis mine].

In other words, folks who were there and who witnessed what was going on–our soldiers, our fellow Americans–knew it was wrong and reported it in good faith that reporting it, if they could get above the corruption, would end it.  What they did not know was that the corruption was endemic and systemic.  There was no “above” it they could get.  Guards could rape children and we take the tapes, like souvenirs.

Obviously, I’ve never been in the military, but how do you trust your superiors after that?  Raping children in front of their mothers does nothing to “enhance” our interrogation techniques.  It serves no purpose but to destroy the victims and degrade the witnesses.  The second you say, “Hey, these guys are raping kids,” it should end and the rapists, who are now clearly war criminals, should be, at the least, arrested.  That’s not what happened.

The thing is, these things are happening in our name.  No, I know, you don’t support this stuff and I don’t support this stuff.  But America sent these folks over to Iraq and America stood by and cheered as this stuff was going on.  And now?  Now we’re trying to find the right language that will allow us to normalize what happened.  It’s not that we “tortured” people.  We used “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Except that we stood by while these children were tortured and no one has any questions at all for them.

I was just thinking about how they asked John Yoo if you could crush the testicles of a terrorist’s son in order to get the terrorist to talk and we all thought his answer of “yes” was appalling, but hypothetical.

But our soldiers seem to have been told, though in not so many words, that the rape of a child, even to no end, is fine.

Can you come back from this as a country?

I honestly don’t know.

32 thoughts on “Bring the Boys (and Girls) Back Home

  1. “Can we come back from this as a country?”

    As disgusting as this is, I hate to point out that it’s not an abberation of the American way of doing war. Did we come back from roasting non-combatant Pequot alive in their wigwams and clubbing to death anyone who fled at the attack on Mystic Fort? Did we come back from the Sullivan expedition, where we burned down forty towns and left a couple thousand Iroquois survivors to freeze to death? Do you come back from cutting off Lakota women’s pubic hair to use as saddle padding or drying their labia to decorate your hats? Do you come back from raping “pretty” Filipino boys during the war who remind you of the Chinese prostitutes you visited in San Franscisco or raping “degraded” Filipina women and then killing them when they wouldn’t accept the coins you threw to pay for the sex you took? Why yes, you come back to do something horrific in the next war.

    We’re a sorry lot. We always come back, like a dog to its vomit. back to our deep national racial sickness.

  2. Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize winner for exposing the My Lai cover-up. He’s won the George Polk Award (the top honor for integrity in investigative journalism) five times. He’s pretty damn good at what he does. True, he’s a blowhard in his speech-making (got “big head” syndrome), but when he goes to print with something, he usually gets it right (as internal investigation after internal investigation demonstrates).

  3. Pingback: Take My Name Off This Mess : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

  4. Didn’t Bill O’Reiily win a Polk award?

    Hersh has spent the last forty years trying and failing to live up to his My Lai rep.

  5. Really? I get the impression that he wishes he didn’t have to be the sunshine squad, but he can’t turn a blind eye to what he knows. And most of us wish we had an accomplishment so significant to try to live up to.

    I think O’Reilly’s show (Inside Edition) won the award, not O’Reilly himself. It’s my understanding that he’s the mouthpiece, but that he doesn’t actually do the research. (On the other hand, maybe this demonstrates that the Polk committee has a weakness for self-promoting blowhards?)

  6. Aren’t you the gal who’s all about tracing information to its source? Sy is a tad weak on that, even in his writing.

    Also, this thread’s hubbaloo is an article that references Hersh’s speeches/stories.
    By his own admission, he has a different standard for “truth” for that.

    Hell, as for this particular topic:
    “It wasn’t that inaccurate, but it was misstated. The next thing I know, it was all over the blogs. And I just realized then, the power of—and so you have to try and be more careful.”

    Yeah Sy, be careful, or some emotionally driven blogger might take your lies and repeat them as truth.

  7. If the report makes you uncomfortable, you have several choices when it comes to immediate reaction. The first two that come to mind are on display here: 1) you can be disgusted by the substance of the report, or 2) you can ignore the substance of the report and dismiss the messenger.

    If the messenger is a proven liar like Rush Limbaugh or Matt Drudge, then the second choice makes sense because the odds are in your favor. If the messenger is someone who gets it right most often (like Sy Hersh), then the first choice is your best bet. My approach is to give automatic credibility points to just about anyone who right-wingers hate. Like Michael Moore, who gets it right almost all the time. Sometimes he’s even prophetic.

  8. Ex, do you even bother to look at the things I link to or do you just let me spoonfeed you the news? Are the Guardian and the Telegraph also emotionally driven bloggers?

  9. Nope, just you.
    The Guardian and the Telegraph are left wing rags.

    3) You can read the quotes from the messenger, discussing all the ways he bends the truth and outright makes shit up.

  10. Hersh works mostly for the New Yorker and the NYT — does he even blog? I don’t think he does. His editors on those publications have gone on record repeatedly to discuss the way that they have verified Hersh’s sources (especially the anonymous sources which are the standard practice in investigative journalism). Since they’d get their asses sued off for printing lies and would forfeit more in cred and money than they’d profit in circulation increases, they have a strong motive to do the work of verification. Has he and the publication he worked for ever been sued successfully for libel? I don’t think so, but it seems to me that if he was as much of an overheated liar as you imply, he’d be out of a job, discredited, and broke. That he’s not is a good prima facie argument that he’s generally operating with sound evidence when he goes to print.

    In retrospect, it looks like the people who make the biggest fuss about his source base are the people who are embarrassed and incriminated by (and sometimes prosecuted for, or should be prosecuted for) what he reports.

  11. All sorts of ugly things went on at Abu Ghraib that were never released to the public. As I understand it, the images we are all familiar with were only released on the condition that other, uglier matters (the torture and degradation of female detainees and the female kin of male detainees, among other things) would not be.

    It’s been a few years since I read this. I’ll try to hunt up my sources.

  12. Geez, this sounds worse than that Duke lacrosse rape case.

    At least you didn’t jump the gun on that one B.

  13. I see you’ve been over to my place recently.

    Anyway, when it comes how much snark and God, at first I contemplated, “I’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the snark in the air and whatever lands inside the circle is what comes from God.” But then I thought, “No, I’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the snark in the air and whatever lands outside of the circle that’s what comes from God.” But then finally I came to my senses and realized, “No no no. I”ll throw the snark way up in the air and whatever God wants, he keeps!

    You think about it, it really is an elegant system of theology. And absolutely was not plagarized from a movie from the eighties starring Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy, I promise.

  14. Ever notice how, even with a source like, it’s always the sister of the husband of the cousin, that this stuff happened to?

    Like this one time, my friend’s uncle’s brother woke up in a hotel bathtub filled with ice, and written on the mirror…

  15. We always come back, like a dog to its vomit. back to our deep national racial sickness.
    At first I was going to object to that on the grounds that it’s more of a species thing than national or racial. But I’ve learned not to do that in front of bridgett and NM. So let’s try this a different way. Can you classify this behavior as typical of humanity throughout history? I honestly don’t think that the US is a rogue state when it comes to human rights violations.

    And no, I’m not trying to justify the things that went on at Abu Graib.

  16. W, I think that Bridgett’s point is not that such things may happen during war; but who they historically get done to by our troops. Different groups define their natural victims differently; those groups, in time of war, may be the same as the military enemy, but they may not.

  17. Let’s see…do we downplay, dissociate, deflect, or deny next? Hey, at least we haven’t heard a “How dare you accuse the troops…!” yet.

  18. Yes, nm is right about my intention. I am saying that war is a cultural practice (and so there are specific “rules” that societies internalize about what way is correct — which accounts for those moments of “Jesus! You guys do THAT!!?!” that you get in first-contact situations and the brokering of things like the Geneva Convention to try to standardize what’s cricket and what’s not). Our particular cultural practice is to go after non-white noncombatants with the sexual abuse, property destruction, and mass killings. It appears to be the go-to option.

    And no, this isn’t a “well, everybody does it.” In the case of American Indians, there was a very strong taboo about having sex with your captives; it had similar negative connotations as having sex with your sibling. Having sex with children got your nuts lopped off and thrown in a bush. There aren’t many blanket statements one can make about indigenous cultures of North America, but that’s one of them.

  19. Thanks for the clarification bridgett and nm. I noticed that you specifically said ‘non-white’. Are you saying that as a culture we don’t do those kinds of things to other white cultures? Maybe rape as a weapon is a cultural thing, I was thinking more in terms of general wartime atrocities as ‘well, everybody does it’.

    Sam, I assume I’m supposed to be the ‘downplay’ in your cute little scenario? I’m just trying to learn something from the experts. Thanks for downplaying and deflecting that. Do you feel that an actual honest dialogue harms your position? Sure looks like it.

  20. Historically speaking, there are behaviors that American armies visit on non-white enemies wholesale that we refrain from doing (and apologize profusely for, courtmartial the wrongdoers, and otherwise make it clear that this was an unacceptable thing) when the enemy is European. In the colonial period, there were different conventions of war to be applied depending on whether the enemy was Christian or non-Christian. People they classified as “savage,” meaning more likely to be semi- or non-sedentary, not practicing plow agriculture, not building barns or domesticating animals, were fair game for extreme brutality. So were people who were religiously different from themselves, like Muslims, Jews, and pagans. Over time, to make a really long story shorter, Anglo-Americans fused differences of all sort — religious, cultural, skin color — into their ideas of what “savage” was and how to address them during war. Rather than practicing restraint, taking over territories with an eye to forcing negotiation, showing respect for private property (in part because you wanted to take it later), and scrupulously trying to treat non-combatants courteously as a way to prove yourself worthy gentlemen and good occupiers, it was pretty much kill, kill, kill, dismember, rape, burn the towns, kill the dogs, kill the babies, and kill some more. The trophy-taking (cutting off ears, noses, heads, penises, labia) from and raping of non-combatants was especially not done with other Europeans. It’s a way of doing war that has stuck with us.

    To be a little flip, the indigenous people of North America are still waiting for their Marshall Plan.

  21. “The second story hit the internet yesterday”

    The date line on the Salon story is almost 5 years ago.

  22. W, just because you write it doesn’t make it relevant. And I was going to add the word “avoid,” but it didn’t fit with the alliteration.

    Anyway, this is a simple issue. Torture is illegal. We have signed treaties– hell, we have rightfully browbeaten other countries into signing those same treaties– that make torture illegal for our troops, our agents, or anyone else acting on our behalf. If it was done, it must be prosecuted. Those who wrote the orders, those who gave the orders, and those who carried out the orders must all be prosecuted. If we think we can ignore it because the victims were non-white, well, that wouldn’t be surprising, but it still wouldn’t make it legal.

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