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Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Monster in the Closet

The recent trial (and sentencing today) of Army Spc Charles Graner for his outrageous actions at Abu Ghraib Prison have highlighted an auxiliary problem associated with this whole Iraq nightmare. While I am gratified, and truth be told, slightly surprised that he was actually held somewhat accountable for his appalling behavior (can this mean that reason may be slowly returning to the American mindset?), the fact that so many instances of disgraceful acts have come to light and destroyed the United States' reputation irrevocably makes the political issue of "was it a group of rogue soldiers or did orders come from the top?" almost moot.

Of course, all involved must be discovered and held accountable, and I categorically reject any argument that ANY participant should be excused for lack of training or for confusing torture with a "frat-house prank". A child of five would intinctively know that such behaviors were wrong and bad, and if we are shipping over boatloads of ADULT individuals who are incapable of recognizing moral truths, then God help us all. And the whole "it was just a bunch of harmless fun" excuse is particularly galling. If indeed this kind of activity is what passes for amusement at frat parties these days, that is a social problem in and of itself, but some important points are conveniently being glossed over: I sincerely doubt that the fun-loving college students engaged in any such rituals have loaded guns pointed at them by a group of foreigners who do not speak their language, and anyone who VOLUNTARILY attends a party with such "festivities" by definition is aware that he is free to go at any time and that it is highly unlikely (but, granted, not impossible) that things will not get so out of control that he may not survive the experience. Furthermore, he is reasonably certain that the "party" is of finite duration and then he can presumably resume his life with only memories of whatever thrill he supposedly received.

These prisoners of war had no such understandings. In fact, they had no reason to believe that they would ever emerge from the nightmare in which they found themselves -- and that is why it is clearly abuse and torture. It is
ludicrous to insult the intelligence of the world by suggesting otherwise. And it has forever tarnished America's ability to impose a moral obligation where injustice by others is exposed. How can we ever be taken seriously again if we want to intervene in others' activities which we deem unacceptable, when we have shown ourselves to be just as ugly or more so?

And this brings me to the point I actually intended to make here: if "average" Americans can become so easily and quickly and completely and unapologetically morally bereft -- what kind of population will be returning to US when (and IF) this mess ever gets straightened out? Do we really want tens of thousands of people with this mentality rejoining the ranks of OUR society? Think about it. Once a man hits his wife or girlfriend once, it is easier to do so the second time, third time, fourth time, tenth time. Once one has raped or killed or robbed or done *anything* which crosses those imaginary lines which hold us back and allow us to live in a civilized society, the moral compass is permanently reset.

Are we prepared to deal with the re-integration of a whole generation of people who have apparently wandered over the lines?