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Freedoms of Democracy
Jonathan Lindsey • What American abuse of Iraqi prisoners really shows
Commencement 2004

With all the attention the media has placed on the recent prisoner abuse scandal and the ensuing murder of Nicholas Berg, one can easily become lost in a mass of answerless questions. Between all the finger pointing and accusations dispersed between concerns of lacking legitimacy and failed leadership, one can easily become confused.

In brief, the whole story really comes down to two questions: why did it happen and what do we do now? Underlying that is the question: does the American prison abuse scandal undermine the conservative cause? A close examination tells us it does not.

In fact, an analysis of how the prison abuse came about bolsters conservative criticisms of modern American culture. Anyone who has seen the photos of the prison abuse scandal realizes that not only do they portray acts of indecent treatment— they are also graphically obscene. However, if a person travels to their local adult video store, they could no doubt find obscene material that parallels these photos all too closely. Of course, it is a completely different playing field when we are talking about prisoners of war being subjected to such measures against their will, but one must still question the likelihood of this happening if societal standards were set at a higher level. Ideas to treat prisoners in such a manner do not come without a source, and it is logical to see that within a society so saturated with obscenity, such ideas are easily formed. This is not a claim that banning obscene material would eliminate the possibility of something like this happening, but that it would greatly decrease the amount of detrimental source material available.

Does the prison abuse scandal weaken the credibility and legitimacy of Republican goals in Iraq? People should keep in mind that although much of the news media wishes to portray it otherwise, the group of soldiers who committed these acts is not representative of the American cause in Iraq. Contrary to Ted Kennedy’s statement that “the torture chambers of Saddam have been reopened under new management — US management,” the majority of soldiers fighting in Iraq are American heroes fighting for the cause of freedom, not employees of a massive torture system. If this nation’s past failures in establishing newly formed democracies abroad have taught us anything, it is that support from the people is necessary to complete the task at hand. It is ultimately most important that the American people recognize the microscopic nature of this abuse scandal and continue to give their support to the men and women fighting to liberate the people of Iraq.

What is important now is for us not to linger on the subject of the prison abuse scandal but to proceed to fulfill our actual objectives in Iraq. Many people are scared of its implications, taking the attitude of “someone’s head has to roll.” But we have to get over these inertia-inducing fears; after all, the terrorists have already achieved their retaliation—witness the murder of Nicholas Berg. As for the necessity to punish high-ranking military officials, the administration has already denounced those directly involved in the scandal. The guilty will be punished, while those who were not a part of it (e.g. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) should move on, pursuing the cause in Iraq with renewed vigor. The fact is that condemning people for the crimes they have committed is not using them as “scapegoats.” On the contrary, it is justice. Those who argue that someone higher up on the chain of command has to take the fall because someone far below them abused their power are irrational and will only succeed in damaging the American project in Iraq. The prison abuse scandal should not be seen for more than what it is—the perverse actions of a few American soldiers—and should not be allowed to interfere with the real issues at hand.

Jonathan Lindsey is a rising sophomore in Morse College.


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