Today's picture on the front page of the newspaper shows a naked Iraqi prisoner on the floor. A leash is tied around his neck. Holding the leash is an American soldier.
This is a disaster.
These photographs are a dagger in the heart of our hopes for Iraq and the wider Middle East. It isn't yet clear whether the damage is reversible, but first let's be clear about what the damage is.
Many have been at pains to object that what we have so far seen does not amount to torture. True. This is not pulling out fingernails. And yet, of all things to do to Arab men, to humiliate them sexually, particularly before female soldiers, is among the worst.
The Arab culture is based upon shame and honor. Most Arab men would gladly endure physical pain or even death before such dishonor as we have caused. Modesty in their women is something they will defend to the death (usually the woman's death, but that's not the point right now). Modesty in men is prized, as well. To strip them naked and force them to pantomime sex acts is to deny them their most precious possession -- their dignity.
The Americans who did this are idiots -- and one just doesn't know what to say about those who thought it would be good idea to snap photos.
Yes, yes, the Iraqis in those pictures are probably bad actors who may have known where the next IED (improvised explosive device) was going to be planted that would kill Americans. But coercion doesn't necessarily elicit truthful information. And look at what this tactic has cost!
Our hope in Iraq was not just to disarm Saddam, but to gain a foothold in the war of ideas. Our war against terror is founded on the notion that certain tactics are out of moral bounds no matter what the cause. The Muslim terrorists -- who happen to have a terrible cause and hateful tactics -- draw no such distinctions. We say that we do. We claim that democratic government, religious tolerance and the rule of law prevent abuses of the kind Arabs endure daily from their despotic, narrow rulers.