Topic: Government & Politics

Bi-partisan Ethical Blindness
(5/12/2004)

The national response to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere should not be a matter of controversy. It should be loudly, unanimously and remorsefully condemned, without excuses, rationalizations, or qualifications. It should be rejected as a violation of American values and principles. And it should be stopped for all time. Anything less than these three actions will leave America bereft of its greatest asset, here and in the world. That asset is its idealism, its belief that the American way is a path that leads to unfettered life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus our elected representatives fail in their responsibility as citizens when they focus instead on scoring self-serving political points at the expense of the national interest, or when they use this crisis of values as an opportunity to expose their own ethical confusion.

Two inexcusable examples:

Republican Senator James Imhofe of Oklahoma had this to say:

"I'm probably not the only one up at this table [the panel investigating the abuse] that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment. These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

One would be inclined to dismiss Senator Imhofe's disgraceful (and sadly, sincere) comments as the eccentric ravings of an electoral aberration, except that 1) he may well be correct that he isn't the only one, and 2) his comments closely track with those of many conservative media commentators, notably the appropriately named Michael Savage. The US Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment was an 18th century declaration of civilization, and respect for the rights of mankind. The Senator's attitude has no ethical antecedents at all: it is based on revenge, pay-back, and retribution. Like so many others, he warps the Golden Rule into "Do unto others as they have done unto you." It is a call to the lowest of human instincts, and implicitly endorses the lowest of human behavior: degradation, sexual assault, abuse of the defenseless, pleasure in the pain of others. These are all documented in photographs, with soldiers acting in America's name performing the deed. Senator Imhofe believe that this is not worthy of outrage. The complete ethical vacuum that is an indispensable predicate for a statement such as Imhofe's should disqualify anyone from serving as a Senator, mayor, parent, teacher, or dogcatcher. If America elects senators who think like this, it is small wonder that the country can also produce soldiers who would sic a vicious dog on a naked prisoner.

Then we have the case of House Democrats…not all of them, by any means, indeed, not a majority. Most of the party correctly understands that an unequivocal posture of unity and agreement regarding America's rejection of the prison abuses was both the will of the people and internationally imperative. But the far left of the party, obsessed with hatred of George Bush and focused only on electoral gains, chose to vote against a House resolution that should have been neither partisan nor controversial. It condemned the torture, called for Pentagon investigation, and endorsed punishment up the chain of command. But some Democrats wanted more language condemning private contractors, to lay the groundwork for further Congessional investigations. This is not an inherently bad idea, but when it was rejected for different language, these Democrats refused to vote for the resolution, the only value of which was to be able to show the world that Congress, the voice of the American people, unanimously reject the abominations that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison. Their tunnel-vision robbed America of the chance to speak with one voice. It was an abdication of the ethical value of citizenship, sacrificed to blatant partisanship. Instead of a meaningful unanimous vote, 49 Democrats (plus the ever-enigmatic libertarian and independent rep from Texas, Ron Paul) rendered the resolution meaningless, and barely newsworthy.

Here is the resolution. Following are the names of the Representatives who couldn't remember that they are Americans first, and politicians second.

Whereas the American people and the world are dismayed by revelations of abuses inflicted upon detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad; (Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by House)

HRES 627 EH

H. Res. 627

In the House of Representatives, U.S.,

May 6, 2004.

Whereas the American people and the world are dismayed by revelations of abuses inflicted upon detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad;

Whereas the military justice process so far has resulted in charges being brought against six individuals, three of whom have been recommended for trial by court martial;

Whereas the investigation by the United States Central Command has identified problems of leadership, chain of command, and training that contributed to the instances of abuse;

Whereas the Congress was not fully informed of the existence, or the seriousness, of those abuses or of the investigation of those abuses until after they had been disclosed in the national media;

Whereas such abuses are offensive to the principles and values of the American people and the United States military, are incompatible with the professionalism, dedication, standards and training required of individuals who serve in the United States military, and contradict the policies, orders, and laws of the United States and the United States military and undermine the ability of the United States military to achieve its mission in Iraq;

Whereas the vast majority of members of the Armed Forces have upheld the highest possible standards of professionalism and morality in the face of illegal tactics and terrorist attacks and attempts on their lives;

Whereas members of the Armed Forces have planned and conducted, frequently at great peril and cost, military operations in a manner carefully intended to prevent or minimize injury to Iraqi civilians and property;

Whereas over 138,000 members of the United States Armed Forces serving in Iraq, a total force comprised of active, National Guard, and Reserve personnel, are executing a courageous and determined mission to rebuild and rehabilitate a proud nation after liberating it from the tyranny, oppression, and genocide of Saddam Hussein's evil regime;

Whereas the Department of Defense has awarded members of the Armed Forces serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom at least 3,767 Purple Hearts, as well as thousands of commendations for valor, including at least 4 Distinguished Service Crosses, 127 Silver Stars, and over 16,000 Bronze Stars;

Whereas members of the Armed Forces, United States citizens, over 30 Coalition partners, and patriotic Iraqis are working to finally return the government of Iraq to the Iraqi people after decades of despotism;

Whereas since the deposing of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi people have enjoyed substantial improvements in essential services, including major water, sewage, power, infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, and food security projects that already benefit millions more citizens than under the Ba'ath Party regime;

Whereas the quality of life for Iraqis has significantly improved in the areas of food availability, health services, and educational opportunities since the downfall of the Hussein government; and

Whereas security provided by the United States Armed Forces, the Coalition partners of the United States, and the Iraqi people has permitted the adoption by Iraq of a Transitional Administrative Law, with the promise of a sovereign Iraqi Interim Government, national elections, a constitution, and democracy: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) deplores and condemns the abuse of persons in United States custody in Iraq, regardless of the circumstances of their detention;

(2) declares that the alleged crimes of a handful of individuals should not detract from the commendable sacrifices of over 300,000 members of the United States Armed Forces who have served, or who are serving, in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

(3) reaffirms and reinforces the American principle that any and all individuals under the custody and care of the United States Armed Forces shall be afforded proper and humane treatment;

(4) urges the Secretary of the Army to conduct a full and thorough investigation into any and all allegations of mistreatment or abuse of detainees in Iraq;

(5) urges the Secretary of the Army and appropriate military authorities to undertake corrective action to address chain of command deficiencies and the systemic deficiencies identified in the incidents in question;

(6) urges the Secretary of the Army to bring to swift justice any member of the Armed Forces who has violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice to ensure that their actions are not allowed to impugn the integrity of the United States Armed Forces or undermine the United States mission in Iraq;

(7) reaffirms the need for Congress to be frequently updated on the status of efforts by the Department of Defense to address and resolve issues identified in this resolution;

(8) expresses the deep appreciation of the Nation to the courageous and honorable members of the Armed Forces who have selflessly served, or who are currently serving, in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

(9) expresses the support and thanks of the Nation to the families and friends of the soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen who have served, or who are serving, in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and

(10) expresses the continuing solidarity and support of the House of Representatives and the American people for the partnership of the United States with the Iraqi people in building a viable Iraqi government and a secure nation.

Attest:

Clerk.

Voting "no" were 49 Democrats and one independent.

ARIZONA

Democrats -- Grijalva

CALIFORNIA

Democrats -- Lee; Millender-McDonald; Miller, George; Pelosi; Stark; Waters; Watson; Waxman; Woolsey

FLORIDA

Democrats; Hastings; Mee

GEORGIA

Democrats --Lewis

HAWAII

Democrats -- Abercrombie

ILLINOIS

Democrats Gutierrez; Schakowsky

MARYLAND

Democrats --Cummings; Hoyer

MASSACHUSETTS

Democrats -- Frank; Markey; McGovern; Olver;

MICHIGAN

Democrats -- Conyers; Kilpatrick

MINNESOTA

Democrats -- McCollum; Oberstar; Sabo

NEW JERSEY

Democrats --Pallone; Payne

NEW YORK

Democrats --Hinchey; Owens; Rangel; Serrano; Towns; Velazquez

NORTH CAROLINA

Democrats -- Watt

OHIO

Democrats -- Brown; Jones; Kaptur; Kucinich; Ryan; Strickland

OREGON

Democrats -- Blumenauer

PENNSYLVANIA

Democrats --Fattah;

SOUTH CAROLINA

Democrats -- Clyburn

TEXAS

Democrats --Jackson-Lee

Republicans --Paul

WASHINGTON

Democrats --Inslee; McDermott

WEST VIRGINIA

Democrats -- Mollohan

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