Saturday, June 16, 2007

No, I don't

This is my first post here, cross-posted from Lotus, and I might as well get myself in trouble right away.

I do not support the troops.

Not even a little.

As people, as individuals, deserving by their very nature, by their very existence, as human beings of love and decency, yes, I do support them, most definitely and very likely well beyond the support they do and would get from those who scream "support the troops" the loudest, particularly those who increasingly let slip that the phrase really means "support the war," support the death, the terror, the carnage.

But not as "troops." Not as occupiers. Not when they exist, as Colin Powell recently said, for the purpose of "apply[ing] state violence."

Not when as far back as 2004 there were documented accounts of "widespread" abuse and torture of detainees, including electric shock, mock executions, burning with lit alcohol, and prisoners forced to kneel - legcuffed, handcuffed, and hooded - for up to 24 hours.

Not when the Pentagon's own survey of soldiers in Iraq just last fall showed more than 1/3 of them approving of torture, 2/3 saying they would not report a team member for abuse of civilians or destruction of their property, and less than half thinking non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect.

Not when one in 10 in that survey admitted they themselves had mistreated civilians.

Not when they engage in massacres at Haditha and war crimes in Fallujah.

Not when we know that Abu Ghraib was not an aberration.

Not when we know that Abu Ghraib had its roots in Guantánamo, where our paragons of honor and virtue took part in subjecting prisoners to beatings, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other "stress and duress," now doubly euphemized to "enhanced interrogation techniques."

And not when their superiors cover for them, lie for them, conceal for them, not when those superiors regard the complaints of Iraqi civilians as "outlandish" and not worthy of investigation - while killed American soldiers are "fallen angels."

And not when those superiors will even celebrate what a good job they are supposedly doing, as when Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, acting Army surgeon general, actually called last fall's Pentagon survey good news because more people admitted approving of torture than admitted having done it: "Not acting on those thoughts" proved the military's "leadership."

Now, yes, of course, it is proper and right that we call the higher-ups to account, that we make clear how they have sanctioned, even encouraged - sometimes tacitly, sometimes by suggestion, sometimes openly - the brutality, the abuses, the crimes. What's more, it's easy and natural to sympathize with those who are back home and now are haunted by the memories of what they did. It's even possible to sympathize with, beyond that, to understand, the situations the soldiers were in, the pressures to go along, the emotional desire to wrap themselves into the psychological climate surrounding them.

But while sympathy and understanding may eventually lead to forgiveness, they do not and must not lead to acceptance, to endorsement, to support. Over three years ago, I wrote this in response to the argument by a lawyer for one of the Abu Ghraib defendants that their client should not be held responsible because they had not received "proper training" about the treatment of prisoners:

Well, dammit, so what? Who the flaming hell cares? What kind of "proper training" does it take to realize that it's wrong to do things including

"[b]reaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee,"

along with stacking them naked in a pile, forcing them to simulate oral sex, forcing them to masturbate while you point, laugh, and take pictures?

I don't have to read the Geneva Convention to know that's just wrong. Just no excuses, no finessing, no evasions, flat-out wrong. And it can't be excused on the grounds of inadequate supervision.

I said it before: War brutalizes, war dehumanizes, war hardens the soul and drains the spirit. It turns you into what you say you oppose. It turns ordinary people from "a small town in Virginia" into brutes of a kind they likely would have claimed was impossible just a few months earlier. But at the same time remember that this came to light because one person refused to countenance it. One person, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, refused in at least this case to surrender to the dehumanization of war and reported it instead of reveling in it.
Conscience can stand against the tide.

I sympathize. As best as I can, not having lived through it, I understand. I support, I embrace, the human beings inside the uniforms.

But I do not support the troops.