Again, May God Forgive Us

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The eyewitness account provided by Abu Ghraib inmate Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, describing one of numerous episodes of sexual abuse by U.S. interrogators, including rape, homosexual rape, sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon and a phosphorescent tube, and other forms of sexual abuse and humiliation of detainees.

We need to dispense immediately with the idea that releasing the second batch of photos depicting torture and other abuse at Abu Ghraib and six other installations would create an unacceptable danger to U.S. troops in the region.

Though it seem callous of me to point out as much, we should recognize that people who enlist in the military are paid, trained, and equipped to confront danger. We should also recognize that we do the cause of liberty no favors if we make it easier to invade and occupy foreign countries; indeed, we ought to do everything we can to accentuate the difficulty of carrying out criminal enterprises of that sort.

While we should focus most of our hostile attention on the policymakers responsible for sending the military on imperial errands of that sort, we shouldn’t ignore the moral responsibility of every individual who enlists in the military and carries out the killing business such immoral policies entail.

Given the pervasive stench of imperial corruption exuded by all of our public institutions, I cannot understand how anybody possessing the moral equivalent of the sense of smell could enlist in the military, or remain therein — as if that particular organization enjoys some peculiar immunity from the decadence that afflicts the rest of the Regime.

Conservatives and others who revere the founders of our late Republic might recall that the men who won our independence and wrote the Constitution opposed a standing army, not only because it could be employed as an instrument of domestic tyranny, but also because it would offer irresistible opportunities for foreign adventurism. In this, as in so much else, the Founders’ wisdom has withstood the passage of time.

Yes, it’s entirely likely that releasing the photographs of torture and sexual assault — including homosexual rape and, God forgive us, the defilement of children — would lead to dangerous and potentially lethal complications for armed government employees who are killing people and destroying property in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, countries they invaded and continue to occupy by force.

If our rulers were genuinely concerned about danger to “our troops,” they would release the Abu Ghraib documents and bring the troops home. There — problem solved! Instead, they are illegally suppressing the photos and keeping the troops in the field — and now letting it be known that the U.S. military will remain mired in Mesopotamia (which is the more tractable of the two ongoing conflicts) for another decade or longer.

I suspect that the “danger” that preoccupies the ruling Establishment is not that confronted by the troops (about whom that Establishment cares little), but rather the danger potentially posed by those troops if enough of them escape the mental dungeon of official indoctrination and take a good, critical look at the people, institutions, and causes for which they’re hired to kill and die. Exposure to the abuse photos, and the battlefield consequences that would ensue, would tend to focus the mind in that direction.

An observation by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib abuses, seems to underscore my point.

“I am not sure what purpose [releasing the 2,000 additional photos of prisoner abuse] would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy — “

Hold it right there: Taguba said “protectors of our foreign policy,” not “defenders of our independence” or “guardians of our liberties.” The foreign policy referred to entails open-ended entanglements in the affairs of nearly every nation on earth, as well as plundering huge sums from taxpayers to sustain a grotesquely huge military establishment and bribe political elites abroad.

That foreign policy cultivates misery and harvests war and terrorism. Why in God’s Name would any decent human being defend that foreign policy in the abstract, much less spill blood to implement it?

Although I wish harm or death on no human being, it seems to me a good idea to adjust the current set of incentives in such a way that at least some American military personnel, as they deal with another gust of blowback, will have an overdue confrontation with their conscience and decide unilaterally to end their service of the world’s largest criminal enterprise, the government of the United State (spelling intentional).

Am I trying to incite desertion?

Reducing the matter to terms simple enough for Sean Hannity to understand them — yes, I am, in those circumstances where desertion is necessary in order to avoid carrying out immoral, unsustainable policies in the service of a depraved Regime.

Desertion is a moral imperative when continued service implicates a soldier in crimes against God and mankind. Indeed, there are times when desertion is a moral duty.

Yes, American enlistees swear an oath in God’s Name. Then again, so do Mafiosi. Nobody outside of that criminal fraternity considers it improper for a Mafia foot soldier to renounce his oath.

No oath of service can sanctify participation in a criminal enterprise. What should distinguish a republican military from an armed gang is a sacred commitment to the rule of law — meaning the defense of individual liberty and property, and the enforcement of measures that limit the power of government.

At least some military and law enforcement personnel (or do I repeat myself) have come to understand that the oath they swore requires that they be willing to disobey certain orders. In exceptional circumstances, fidelity to constitutional principles would require wholesale repudiation of military service, rather than selective refusal to comply with illegal orders.

We applauded the courage of those who “defected” from the Red Army during its occupation of Afghanistan. (Interestingly, I don’t recall the correct term, “deserted,” being used to describe such cases.) Apart from nationalistic special pleading, I can’t think of a way of framing an argument to justify the Soviet deserter while execrating an American stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan who follows the same course of action for the same reason: The triumph of conscience over programming.

For those whose conscience can withstand such an assault, another motive might prove effective. Those who have seen the film Braveheart remember its depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge: Huge, serried rows of British infantry, archers, and heavy cavalry assemble across the field from a large, poorly armed, and indifferently motivated throng of Scottish foot soldiers, all of them hapless conscripts forced by their feudal lords to fight.

Near the front of the Scottish host the lords — whose allegiances are divided by favors dispensed on them by the English King Edward I — are seen frantically discussing a negotiating strategy. The camera then pans to a conversation between two serfs, who in disgusted terms discuss the impending sell-out, which will follow the same blueprint as several before it: The armies will briefly skirmish, then a negotiation will ensue leaving the lords richer and the serfs paying more in taxes.

“That’s it lads,” one of the serfs exclaims. “I’m not fighting for these bastards!”

At some point, if liberty is to have a fighting chance, American military personnel are going to have to experience an epiphany and decide that they’re no longer going to fight on behalf of the bastards running the Regime.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] writes the Pro Libertate blog.

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