Let's get the preliminaries out of the way first: If members of America's armed forces violated any rules and mistreated prisoners of war, they should be punished in accordance with accepted military law. That having been said, there are several other things that also need to be addressed.
First, we don't know the identity and intentions of these allegedly abused prisoners. Did they have and withhold information vital to the protection of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians? War is nasty business, and the rules don't always comport with a book of etiquette.
Second, Iraqis and insurgents from other countries have made sport of knocking off American and British troops by sniper fire and exploding devices. Newspapers recently carried the story of a young boy who shot and killed an American soldier. The American thought the child was a noncombatant. The boy bragged that he suspected as much and hid his rifle until the soldier turned away, whereupon he shot him and kept firing "until I saw smoke coming from his body." No doubt the boy will be considered a hero in some circles and never brought to justice.
Third, where was the world's outrage when mass graves, rape and torture rooms and other evidence of Saddam Hussein's genocide and other inhumanities were revealed? There was some initial horror but nothing like the vindictiveness reserved for the United States and Britain. The difference between alleged American mishandling of prisoners and what Saddam did is that the American incidents are contrary to regulations and the rules of war to which the United States subscribes. Saddam's policies of torture, murder, rape, incarceration and humiliation were the norm for him, his now dead sons and the regime's leadership that carried out his specific orders. (In a similar vein, hardly a peep is heard by those critical of America and Britain when a pregnant Israeli woman and her daughters are murdered by a Palestinian sniper.)
There's much talk about how the pictures of prisoner abuse will look in the Arab world and how they might set back American efforts to pacify Iraq and advance U.S. policies throughout the region. The Arab world does not need excuses to excoriate the United States. Even so-called "allies" such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt regularly vilify America in sermons from their mosques, on state-controlled television and in government newspaper editorials, columns and political cartoons.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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