What Does the Geneva Convention Say About S&M?

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Ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine percent of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are noble and honorable souls doing wonderful work. How do I know that? Well, the media, members of Congress and virtually every talking head I’ve seen on TV tell me that.

You’ve heard the reports and watched the interviews, too:

INTERVIEWER: This is appalling stuff, these images of Abu Ghraib prison and the abuses American soldiers perpetrated on Iraqi prisoners. Now, we know the overwhelming number of soldiers in Iraqi are doing the Lord’s work, and sacrificing themselves to help the downtrodden Iraqi people. How could these few bad apples get away with this?

INTERVIEWEE: Indeed. We don’t want to malign the wonderful, sacrificial, amazing, astounding, honorable work that the many, many, many honorable men and women serving this country are doing in Iraq. But, yes, there was some kind of breakdown. A few bad apples, yes. If only the lines of communication were better, and if only the U.S. government would spend more money on training. Don’t forget — and I’m not trying to excuse the actions of a few bad apples, or those higher-ups who may have encouraged them — that the interrogators worked in really tough conditions, and they didn’t have access to a copy of the Geneva convention.

The last argument, made mostly by relatives of the accused abusers, is my favorite. Had only those soldiers — the one giving the thumbs up as he stands above an orgy of naked Iraqi soldiers, or the woman laughingly pointing at an Iraqi man’s genitals — had access to that document, they would have known better. They could have looked up the section on sado-masochism, and learned that it’s not OK to put a dog leash on a prisoner and make him walk around on all fours and bark.

I’m guessing about the barking.

Why do Americans assume that their fellow Americans would never do the evil things that people from other countries do? Why do American commentators of the Left and Right insist that what took place was clearly an aberration, when evidence continues to portray a more widespread pattern of torture and abuse?

Why the heck are we surprised?

There used to be a time when Americans understood what the readers of this Web site still understand: Government officials routinely abuse their charges. It is the nature of humanity that some people like to kill, rape, abuse, torment and torture their fellow human beings. Some improperly socialized and evil souls engage in such misbehavior outside the law. But many more will engage in that behavior if they are doing it under the authority of the state.

That’s why government needs to be strictly limited.

Let’s face another uncomfortable truth: The people on the front lines, carrying out the orders and doing the dirty work, are not always the most honorable people in society. That’s true when we’re talking about police forces and federal agents in America and it’s true about armed forces occupying foreign lands.

Think about it. Who becomes a member of the armed forces, especially during a booming economy?

I know there are good and decent people in the military. But often the kind of people attracted to such a career are people who: a) Have few other skills or options available to them; b) Like to give or take orders; c) Like to blow things up and kill people; d) Are most comfortable in a highly regimented, bureaucratic environment where they don’t have to make nuanced moral distinctions.

The abuses at Abu Ghraib are not at all unbelievable to me. I wouldn’t have thought that such abuses were as routine as they appear to be, but I am not at all surprised. I am pleased the abuses have seen the light of day, although I suppose the only real punishments will be imposed on a handful of low-level, though despicable, military grunts.

But I’m even more appalled at some of the supposedly honorable things our military men and women are doing. After the military called off a full-scale assault on Fallujah, the Los Angeles Times ran a story interviewing the Marines who were about to stage the assault. They were sorely disappointed that they weren’t going to be allowed to attack the city. As one of them said, there are a lot of people there that need to be killed.

Surely, they had to know that any assault on the city would have meant a good deal of collateral damage. (I doubt any of these soldiers would consider their own moms, sisters, wives or sons as mere "collateral damage.") Nevertheless, they were disappointed that the mission was postponed.

This is the thinking of good soldiers, not of rogues or of the types who ran Abu Ghraib.

Maybe 99.9999 percent of our soldiers are decent folk, but instead of treating them always as heroes, we should treat them as participants in an unjustified and shameful war and occupation. They need to be brought home, safely, and encouraged to find productive employment at home (and I don’t mean police work!).

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register.

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