. . . Tuesday May 4, 2004

Into the Darkness

Lawmakers are demanding that Donald Rumsfeld appear on the Hill to answer questions related to Iraqi prisoner abuse. The key question at this point seems to be whether this was an isolated incident or just a sampling of widespread corruption.

The other key question is why is the American public and others are just hearing about this when the report of these abuses has been completed and circulating for months. (That one is of course a little easier to answer.)

While this, like everything, will become deeply politicized, some of the shock from politicians seems out of place. Yes, these soldiers went way over the line. But let’s make no mistake. This business is ugly. We have dropped people in a place that is well down the river towards Kurtz’s heart of darkness resort, and we’ve left many of them there for more than two years. This is war. People get beaten. Homes get destroyed. There is looting and stealing and humiliation and brutality. Nearly 20,000 civilians have been killed.

None of this is meant to suggest that the actions of few should be used to discredit the many. Nor should it be seen as an effort to downplay the impact that the release of these pictures will have on our relations with Iraqis and the broader region (because the impact will be massive and long-lasting).

But this is ultimately a story that is more about the pictures than it is about the actions (Don’t take my word for it, ask the Pentagon why they didn’t make a peep until CBS broadcast the images).

Let’s get to the bottom of this and see from how high the orders came. But let’s not discredit the very meaning of war by pretending that these are the worst images we’d see if snapshots had been taken of everything (in this war or any other).

Concentration is important!