Passing the Buck in Iraq
The allegations of prisoner torture by our troops in Iraq are disturbing, and clearly drastic action must be taken to ensure such conduct stops immediately. But why are we condemning a small group of low-level reservists when we do not yet know the full story? As revolting as the pictures are, we cannot know with certainty what took place in Iraq’s prisons based on a few photographs. We do not and cannot know the full story at this point, yet we jump to condemn those who have not even had the benefit of a trial. We appear to be operating on the principle of guilty until proven innocent. It seems convenient and perhaps politically expedient to blame a small group of “bad apples” for what may well turn out to be something completely different – as the continuously widening investigation suggests.
Some of the soldiers in the photographs claim their superior officers and civilian contractors in charge of the interrogations forced them to pose for photos. We have heard that some soldiers put in charge of prisons in Iraq were woefully unprepared for the task at hand. We have heard they were thrown into a terribly confusing, stressful, and dangerous situation with little training and little understanding of the rules and responsibilities. What additional stresses and psychological pressures were applied by those in charge of interrogations? We don’t know. Does this excuse reprehensible behavior? Not in the slightest, but it does suggest we need to get all the facts before drawing conclusions. It is disturbing that little mention is made of the scores of civilian contractors operating in these prisons who may have been the instigators of abuse.
Our current presence in Iraq is nothing more than a nation-building exercise, despite the justifications given before the war. Nation building is an inherently dirty and difficult task, one that our military forces are not trained to perform. Endless occupation of a dangerous and resentful nation is not part of a soldier’s job description. We should condemn unequivocally any soldiers who are found guilty of torturing prisoners, but surely we must also condemn those who put those soldiers into such a rotten situation in the first place.
Members of Congress decry the fact that the administration did not inform us of these abuses and purposely kept Congress out of the information loop. Yet Congress made it clear to the administration from the very beginning that it wanted no responsibility for the war in Iraq. If Congress wanted to be kept in the loop it should have vigorously exercised its responsibilities. This means, first and foremost, that Congress should have voted on a declaration of war as required by the Constitution. Congress, after abandoning this responsibility in October 2002, now complains it is in the dark. Who is to say the legal ambiguity created by the congressional refusal to declare war may not have contributed to the mentality that prisoners need not be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention? Until Congress takes up its constitutional responsibilities, complaints that the administration is not sufficiently forthcoming with information ring hollow.
Congress has the power – and the obligation – to keep itself better informed. Congress should hold hearings on the torture allegations, exercising its subpoena power if necessary. Demanding that the administration investigate the matter is simply another example of Congress passing the buck. That’s what got us into trouble in the first place.