The repercussions from the Abu Ghraib scandal will be felt by our military and our citizens for the foreseeable future. When that scandal broke, I felt that it would take many years and possibly decades for our military to regain the international respect that it lost from that incident. Yes, horrible things happen in wartime and atrocities are committed by all sides. That is a fact of war. I had mistakenly assumed, however, that what made America different was how we dealt with these actions when they do happen. A Democratic country that is governed by the rule of law holds the perpetrators of such atrocities accountable. And, it holds those in command accountable for the actions of their subordinates. While we prosecuted the perpetrators, those in command at the highest level of government faced few repercussions.
Nearly two years after the exposure of the Abu Ghraib scandal we are once again faced with reports of atrocities that are even worse – the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by American Marines. The story of what happened at Haditha is truly horrific. According to some reports, after the tragic death of an American Marine by an IED, a group of Marines went into several houses and killed as many as 24 civilians in cold blood. Four of these were children. The youngest was 1 year old. An unverified account of the event was posted in a recent Washington Post article.
As we hear more about these types of incidents, they seem less like the isolated aberrations that the President proclaims them to be. In fact, on Sunday Nir Rosen wrote another account of an execution of a Sunni man that happened at the hands of Americans soldiers. If this account is true, it is another damning revelation of the type of justice being carried out in the name of our country.
The reaction of Iraqis to the recent revelations of the Haditha massacre is disturbing in that it seems dismissive and jaded towards such reports. This in itself is frightening because it gives the impression that such actions by America forces have become the expected norm for Iraqi citizens. If that is the case, I fear that we have already lost.
While it is tragic that these incidents possibly happened, what compounds that tragedy is the fact that few at the top have paid for these atrocities. Certainly, those who committed these atrocities must be brought to justice. However, it is equally important that those in leadership positions who create a climate that allows such activity be removed from their positions, and replaced with those who will set a tone and an environment that brings honor to our service men and women.
Nir Rosen’s op-ed clearly gives the sense that Iraq would be better off if America pulled out. While well intentioned people from both parties disagree about whether or not this is the right solution to the Iraq conflict, one thing that we should be able to agree on is the appropriate conduct of the war. Democrats and Republicans alike must do more than simply denounce these atrocities. They must demand that those at the highest levels who allowed such actions to take place be removed. This will be the first step in a long and difficult recovery process.
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