Wednesday, August 03, 2005

What One Iraqi's Death Says About Us

We liberals know the conservative strategy all too well: No matter how much we talk of the sorrow we feel at the loss of American soldiers in Iraq, any mention of our side unjustly taking Iraqi lives is likely to be met with charges that we are unpatriotic or giving “aid and comfort to the enemy."

But I don't care.

“You are growing up in the greatest country in the world,” my mother would tell me when I was a little boy. I grew up believing that was true and knowing that my country was, despite how little I knew about the Vietnam war, fundamentally the best hope for justice and equality in the world.

So it hits me hard when I open the Washington Post and see a story on the front page titled “Documents Tell of Brutal Improvisation by GIs.” This excellent – though horrifying – piece of reporting by Josh White, tells the story of Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a former Major General in the Iraqi military, who was killed in 2003 while in United States custody.

Mowhoush died after 16 days of American interrogation in which, according to classified documents, he had been beaten using fists, clubs and a rubber hose. The 56-year-old Mowhoush was killed on the sixteenth day, in Interrogation Room 6, when American soldiers stuffed him into a sleeping bag, wrapped it in electrical cord and allowed him to suffocate.

This all took place in Qaim, Iraq at about the same time similar – and now infamous -- acts were taking place in Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad.

While the Defense Department first claimed that Mowhoush had died of natural causes after saying he was feeling sick, a secret Army memo, now available because of the investigation into the Iraqi's death, says otherwise.

"Although the investigation indicates the death was directly related to the non-standard interrogation methods employed on 26 NOV, the circumstances surrounding the death are further complicated due to Mowhoush being interrogated and reportedly beaten by members of a Special Forces team and other government agency (OGA) employees two days earlier," said the May 10, 2004 Army memo.

Conservatives will inevitably look at this news and claim tit-for-tat justice, in which an entire nation of people that they assume to be potential suicide bombers (and those beheading innocent foreigners) get what they deserve.

Even if you accept such a broad, unsubstantiated premise, that's really not the point.
We can't just beat our chests and claim to be better than less-civilized societies -- we actually have to be better.

Part of what has always made me so proud of my country is that, in an insane and sometimes brutal world, our country can be looked to as an example of how an enlightened nation conducts itself – even under trying and fearsome circumstances.

Axis-power war criminals rounded up after World War II were tried in a world court of law, not murdered or tortured in the manner they had treated both innocents and Allied forces.

We have always been a nation that has set a goal of being better than our worst instincts and one that can truly be held up to the rest of the world as an example of the best in mankind.

Whether we like it or not, we have lost our humanitarian high ground and any right to feel morally and ethically superior to the rest of the world. One needs only look at American treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the killing of 100,000 Iraqis since the start of the Iraq war.

We are a country whose leader misled all of us and our elected representatives about the reasons to attack another country and whose White House has now stooped to treasonously divulging the identity of CIA agents when it suits their political agenda.

And we are the country that, unsure of his exact status, murdered Abed Hamed Mowhoush.

I served my country in the military and love the United States intensely. I can tell my son that we offer freedom and opportunity that much of the world envies. I can describe our proud lineage and fill him with the ideals that have, in the past, truly made our country a beacon of hope.

But, at this moment in our history, I cannot look my little boy in the eye and tell him that America is making the world a better place in which to live.
I cannot tell my son he is growing up in the greatest country on earth.

And, for that, George W. Bush and his administration should be profoundly ashamed.