Ted Kennedy should be ashamed of himself. On Monday, Kennedy proclaimed from the floor of the Senate, "We now learn Saddam's torture chamber reopened under new management." We have learned no such thing. As disgraceful, vicious and wicked as the actions of a handful of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison were, they are not morally equivalent to the systematic torture and murder of thousands of men, women and children that took place for decades under Saddam Hussein.
We still do not fully know what happened at Abu Ghraib between October and December 2003, when American soldiers photographed naked Iraqi prisoners in humiliating, sexually degrading poses. But the picture that has emerged this week in testimony by those who have investigated the incidents suggests the abuse was not part of some systematic policy of trying to break down prisoners before interrogation, but the actions of a small number of U.S. military personnel who suffered from "a lack of discipline; no training whatsoever; and no supervision," according to the report of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. "We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition," Taguba testified this week.
Months before the pictures of abused prisoners were broadcast around the world on CBS two weeks ago, setting off a storm of outrage, investigations into the incidents were underway, and several persons had already been reprimanded, relieved of their duties or were awaiting criminal prosecution. There appears to be no cover-up here, no dereliction of duty to punish those guilty of abuse. So why have some Democrats tried to turn the Abu Ghraib abuse into a partisan weapon?
Twenty years ago, former U.N. ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick coined the phrase "the blame-America-first crowd" to describe Democrats' attitude when any problem cropped up around the globe. "When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the 'blame America first crowd' didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States," Kirkpatrick said in a speech to the 1984 Republican convention.
"But then, they always blame America first," she noted, listing a series of contemporary examples of Democrats' tendency to find fault with America for everything that goes wrong in the world.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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