Our president has inferred, by way of an endless array of statements, that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was part of the wider “war on terror.” Yet no one’s linked the former Iraqi dictator to al-Qaeda or any other band of Islamic extremists. Our president said Saddam harbored weapons of mass destruction. We’ve found none.
No matter. The banners of democracy, liberation and freedom seemed reason enough to give war the green light. Now even those reasons seem suspect.
It’s a dark time to be an American, and through it all, President Bush has treated the world to his customary Texas bluster. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” he said. “Bring them on,” he said last July. Terrorists are “nothing but a bunch of cold-blooded killers and that’s the way we are going to treat them.”
Now the world has seen how easily we devolved into recklessness, treating almost an entire nation as if they were “terrorists.” Goodbye, Jessica Lynch. Hello, Lynndie England. Never mind the more unsavory conclusions of the Taguba report and its accounts by detainees who say they were forced into sexual acts before a camera, jumped on, or even sodomized with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick. The callous among us might find this treatment appropriate if it were inflicted upon former members of Saddam’s regime. Bush bragged that Iraqis need no longer fear being arrested and detained without cause, but the Red Cross reports that upwards of 90 percent of all Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake. Not 15 percent, or 50 percent. Ninety percent. We now know that least two have died at the hands of CIA interrogation officers, and some 25 detainees in the war on terror have died since Sept. 11. Not just tortured, but dead. Or perhaps tortured to death?
Comfort yourself with the thought that these actions were carried out by a few. Facing the irreparable damage done to the United States’ reputation is much harder. Given the Middle East’s historical backdrop of the Crusades, Mongol invasions and European colonialism, we expect a measure of brutality in the region. The irony of invading Americans “winning the hearts and minds” of Iraqis through torture and humiliation is harder to take. It’s reassuring that some in the world still find it ironic. Give the situation in Iraq a few more months, and we might not have even irony in our favor.
There’s another level of irony here. Bush’s disgust over Abu Ghraib seems sincere. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld openly admits all this occurred on his watch. “If there’s a failure, it’s me,” he said. There should be no question that this constitutes failure of the highest order. That settled, there is no question Rumsfeld should resign. His own admission of responsibility notwithstanding, here’s why: Even as reports of alleged abuse filtered through the U.S. State Department, Rumsfeld brushed them off. Even as charges against Abu Ghraib mounted, Rumsfeld had no interest in so much as seeing the photographic evidence. What a shock, then, that the world first saw them on 60 Minutes II and in The New Yorker.
But—irony of ironies—Bush defends his man and the “superb job” he’s doing. How superbly disgusting.