Politics & Policy

Kate’s Take: Reality Tv

If only terrorists in Iraq had ready access to C-SPAN. Maybe then they would not have missed last Friday’s orgy of regret by American politicians and so savagely killed 26-year-old Nick Berg to avenge the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Again on Tuesday, members of Congress in their camera-ready red ties lectured men in uniform about the shameful conduct of the abusive MPs as though those who wear the same uniform and who have taken the same oath don’t feel the shame more sharply than a politician ever could. Congressmen performing on Capitol Hill are Washington’s version of reality TV. With no responsibility for life-and-death decisions and no accountability for mistakes, they regularly appear to torment those who operate in the real world, with real consequences.

Of course, congressmen make the ritual disclaimers about not blaming the entire military and offer rhetorical praise for those serving honorably before calling into question the honorable service of the senior commanders arrayed beneath them like errant schoolboys in need of a good scolding. Our politicians proclaim that no apologies will suffice to repair the damage to our reputation in the eyes of the world, before launching more apologies on our behalf. Our friends around the world, however, know that the abuse is an aberration. So do our enemies, but they are eager to exploit it for their own murderous ends. The apologies are aimed at the delicate sensibilities of our enemies, now no doubt delighting in the videotaped execution of Nicholas Berg with no concern about America’s outraged reaction.

Last Friday, Senator Mark Dayton (D., Minn.) angrily accused General Myers of improperly “suppressing” the news by appealing to 60 Minutes II to delay broadcasting the photos from Abu Ghraib prison for fear of retribution against Americans in the hands of terrorists in Iraq. Americans like Nick Berg. General Myers rightly bristled at the ignorant criticism, explaining that he knew the pictures would eventually be made public, but the timing was particularly sensitive. He obviously made his case to the satisfaction of CBS; the network responsibly held off broadcasting the pictures until they were going to be made public elsewhere. Unlike Senator Dayton, General Myers operates in the real world and bears the direct responsibility for American lives. With apologies flying all over Washington, perhaps Senator Dayton could offer his to General Myers.

Our representatives are now calling for the release of more photographs of the detainee abuse. How many more pictures would they like to make public? Another dozen? Two dozen? Enough already. We know that contrary to Army regulations, detainees were physically abused. An Army investigation promptly uncovered the abuse and charges were quickly filed. Ongoing investigations, begun well before Congress noticed the publicized inquiries and charges, will appropriately assign responsibility up the chain of command. Additional photographs will only fuel both our representatives’ self-flagellation and our enemies’ murderous rage. In the real world, we invite another savage killing of another American.

Military commanders also operate in the real world of military justice. There is good reason why General Myers doesn’t butt into ongoing criminal investigations to seize evidence to publicize before heading to TV cameras to condemn the actions of the accused. There will be no convictions if defense attorneys can make a credible showing of improper command influence. Imagine the propaganda disaster of the guilty going free. Do you suppose congressmen who have demanded that military commanders interfere with the investigations and publicly judge the accused will accept responsibility for botched prosecutions?

In the latest example of Congress’s specialty–second-guessing from the safety of Capitol Hill–military officials are being criticized for being insufficiently attentive to concerns raised by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Between March and November of last year, the ICRC made 29 visits to 14 internment centers in Iraq. Some cover-up. The president of the ICRC met with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Paul Wolfowitz in January. Some blow-off.

There were no ICRC visits to where Nick Berg was being held.

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