Can we fix the mess in Iraq? |

Can we fix the mess in Iraq?

Butch Mazzuca

The mistreatment of prisoners of war is as old as war itself. The Sumerians, Greeks and Romans all engaged in practices of torture. The North Vietnamese didn’t adhere to the Geneva Convention in its treatment of our prisoners at the infamous Hoa Lo prison (the Hanoi Hilton.) Ninety miles from our shores at Cuba’a Isla de Pinos prison, prisoners suffered unimaginable violence and torture.

During previous conflicts around the globe, POWs have been placed naked into tiger cages for years. In Eastern Europe’s former dungeons of torture, prisoners frequently had the doors and windows welded shut. In many cases, POWs have been prodded with wooden poles every few hours during their incarceration, so sleep was impossible for years and thus their very sanity was a mere shadow.

Russia’s iniquitous Lubiyanka Prison was a veritable laboratory in uses of unspeakable methods of physical and psychological torture. Closer to home, the Confederate prison at Andersonville during the Civil War is replete with accounts of appalling maltreatment and suffering.

So what’s the difference between the instances mentioned above and what has transpired at Abu Garhib in Iraq? It’s simply that the bar has been set much higher for 21st century America than perhaps any other nation in history.

The transgressors at Abu Garhib were not “a few bad apples.” A few bad apples don’t pose in front of digital cameras with broad relaxed smiles on their faces unless they had a pretty good inkling that what they were doing was condoned by someone higher up the chain of command. I also find it highly unlikely that a few “bad apples” got together and rounded up dog leases, hoods and other paraphernalia designed to humiliate Arab men.

Americans are justified in asking the question of whether or not these practices of abuse were systemic and a part of the culture of these Army units.

At the same time, it’s my sincere wish that Americans don’t allow this issue to become politicized. This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats or even the Geneva Convention. This is about American values, culture and specific military instructions that were or were not carried out.

Finally, the cruelty and recklessness of those responsible cannot be allowed to overshadow the good that American soldiers have done in Iraq.

There are positives to the situation. It appears that the Army began its investigations early on – perhaps not early enough, but at least it appears that they began investigating the matter as soon as someone in authority became aware of the situation.

The Army also made two press announcements that it was investigating the issue, one in January and a second in March, albeit only a few paragraphs. But if nothing else, there’s evidence that the matter was not swept under the rug.

I thought Secretary Rumsfeld comported himself admirably and took responsibility when he was questioned. The president also handled himself adroitly when questioned and was proactive enough to express regret over Arab TV. The vice president, on the other hand, was way out of line when he said the press should “Get off of Secretary Rumsfeld’s back,” because ultimately this matter is the responsibility of Secretary Rumsfeld and by extrapolation, President Bush. Therefore questioning the secretary is fundamental to the entire issue.

Which brings us to the question of whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign.

See Mazzuca, page A13

My response is yes he should, but only if it will benefit the nation in fighting the war on terror. However, with an election looming, plans for changes in force rotation on the front burner and our forces engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, I don’t see the efficacy of Mr. Rumsfeld resigning at this time. I think it would cause far more problems than it would solve.

With that said, it also appears that the lack of adequate training and detailed instructions-orders regarding the treatment of prisoners is yet another mistake in the post-war planning done under the auspices of Secretary Rumsfeld. The fact that American soldiers would humiliate Iraqi prisoners as we’ve seen in the photos is appalling. But if the greater charges of rape and murder proven to be accurate, this travesty will take on an even far more urgent and sobering complexion.

I trust the Congress will do its job and the investigation will undoubtedly reveal more repulsive evidence and malfeasance. But we will survive.

How we handle this situation may do more to teach the Arab world about American values than all the foreign aid or peacekeepers or talk about liberty and democracy could do in a hundred years.

These abominable incidents will injure our credibility in the eyes of the Arab world, and unfortunately for all Americans, they continue to illustrate to the world that we are an imperfect society. But throughout history, Americans have proven to be decent and honorable. While our system may not be perfect, which one is better?

We have problems in Iraq, but America has always faced its problems and more than any other peoples on earth we fix them. Personally, I trust this administration and our Congress to begin fixing this one, too.

Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at

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