Not a clean, precise war

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the American military.

(Kunin) By now we have seen most of the dreadful photographs of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Bagdad. The images of hooded victims, dog leashes used on people, piles of shackled bodies stacked in a pyramid are hard to erase from our minds.

It is even more difficult to imagine that some young men and women could be capable of inflicting such pain and humiliation on other human beings. And perhaps that’s why these abuses took place. The Iraqis were not considered human beings.

And that’s why the shock for the us and the rest of the world was so great – suddenly we were faced not just with an anonymous enemy with no name, no features, no body and no family – we were faced with human beings cowering, crawling, trying to shield themselves from the next blow.

As we learned in Vietnam and in the beginning of the War in Iraq, it is easy to destroy the enemy if he is not visible.

Dropping bombs from thousands of feet in the air is clean work. Targets are hit, missions are accomplished, and if there is a death toll, it is merely a number. Not a husband or a son.

Throughout the War on Iraq we hardly ever were told of Iraqi deaths. It was assumed that those who died deserved it – they were the enemy. They didn’t count.

With the disclosure of prisoner abuse and torture, we are less sure of who the enemy is.

Many, we now know, were simply rounded up, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others may have been plotting against our troops, but even they – when we see them as human beings – deserve to be treated with decency, as defined by the Geneva Convention.

It is unlikely that these photographs represent just a few bad apples. But we may never be able to prove who was in charge, who gave the orders and who simply obeyed them, and whether these commands came from the very top of the pentagon and the administration.

What we do know is that when we see these photographs, they represent the humanization of “the enemy” of “the terrorists”- terms that can be used with abandon to justify torture and killing until the very moment when we see them – stripped naked, as people.

It is then that we experience disgust, horror, and shock, when suddenly war is no longer clean and precise, it is dark and dirty.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

(Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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