Wooten keeps it real
Thanks to alert Dopster Maybesomeday for steering me to this excellent piece by the illustrious Don Wooten, who isn't exactly a wild-eyed "hippy". (to use one of our resident troll's favorite terms.) Wooten says what I'd like to say... only much better.
The semi-literate, goaded by the Irrational Right, went into orbit last week over a statement made by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin about torture techniques used at Guantanamo.
It was a classic case of people hearing words, not sentences.
Durbin read a statement from an FBI agent -- an official document -- detailing inhumane treatment of prisoners he had witnessed at Gitmo. After that recitation, Durbin observed that, had you read that account in isolation, you would have assumed it concerned the kind of treatment used by Nazis, or in Russia's Gulag, or by some atrocity-ridden regime, such as that of Pol Pot.
And that's true. You would not think Americans capable of such behavior. But he had used the words "Nazi," "Gulag," and "Pol Pot" which brought Sen. John Warner harrumphing to the floor to denounce the comparison of American soldiers with such people.
Of course, Durbin hadn't, but it would spoil the fun to treat what he said on its own terms. Better to re-cast the whole thing to make it outrageous and, in the process, gloss over the reality: we are treating other human beings -- regardless of our suspicions about them -- in a manner no civilized society should condone.
By making an issue over words, administration backers hope to distract us from the heart of the issue. They try to make the case that to "support our troops" we must ignore any wrong doing.
The fact is that our troops, fighting in a Vietnam without trees, are in the kind of situation which invites atrocities. As in Vietnam, they can't tell friend from foe. Even those who are friendly want them out. They have been put there for no valid reason and no one in Washington knows what to do next. And some of them die every day.
Let's also not forget that our military personnel are like all other groups of people: some are good, some are bad, most of them -- like most of us -- are in the grey middle of morality. Given a certain set of circumstances, they can jump either way.
Take any profession: doctors, lawyers, firemen, teachers, corporate executives, factory workers -- they all fall into the same divisions of behavior. We set standards, extol them, exhort their practice; but that doesn't mean they will always be followed.
There is another consideration which applies to the people we have incarcerated at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and dozens of other prisons: the administration made some sly decisions about classifying detainees and made it quietly clear that interrogators could treat them just about any way they wanted.
You can forget the president's pious words, Vice President Dick Cheney's characterization of the people we are holding, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's protestations that we do not condone torture. The green light was given from the top and the torture followed. And continues.
And some of those prisoners are innocent. A young man recently tortured to death in Iraq was considered by most of his captors not to be a terrorist, but a cab driver who was collected in a general sweep of civilians. He's just as dead as if he were guilty of something.
The administration believes that what they say is true; not what they do. Cartoonist Mike Luckovich recently published a telling panel depicting Bush and Cheney turning a corner from incompetence into fantasy. Our soldiers deserve leadership grounded in reality. Without it, God knows what will happen.
Stories come out, but some don't get much play. Have you seen a published total of the prisoners who have been killed under interrogation? It's not an inconsequential number. We hear that these people don't deserve humane treatment, but how can you judge that? Especially when we have had to let a number of people go after years of internment because we realized their capture was a mistake.
The real mistake is to assume that we must be as brutal as terrorists in order to ferret them out. This is the thinking of weak men who pretend to be strong. And yes, I'm referring to the leaders who have dodged combat, but who blithely send men into battle, not to protect our national interest, but on a gut feeling.
Sen. Durbin takes heat, as the shouting heads address his words, not his sentences. But he made a valid point. Would you have thought that we would ever be guilty of things we'd consider war crimes in others?
It's happening. It has to be addressed -- and stopped.
Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster; firstname.lastname@example.org.