WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Just days ago, I was in Iraq with Marines and soldiers who have left their families to defeat terrorists. They are defending America's interests and safety, building a democracy and befriending the Iraqi people. It's a difficult job, no doubt about it. These young men and women -- America's finest -- work long hours of tough, physical labor in the hot sun, sometimes for days at a time before they get to shower or sleep.
Most of these young Americans are in their early 20s. They are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment and the lives of their fellow soldiers and Marines. If that weren't enough, they also carry on their shoulders the hopes and dreams of Iraqi citizens who yearn for freedom and safety after years of torture and oppression under Saddam Hussein. It's a lot of responsibility for them. After all, the biggest decision of their peers back home is what movie to see on Friday night.
Yet they accept this responsibility willingly and carry out their difficult mission with a positive attitude and an optimism that has always embodied the American spirit.
Back home, there is nothing but a relentless stream of pessimism and criticism from the media and Congress, who have put their indignation into high gear after seeing photographs of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The media's "compassion" for these imprisoned miscreants and suspected terrorists is a front for their journalistic jihad against the administration.
Administration officials have rightly condemned the repugnant behavior at Abu Ghraib prison. President Bush called it "abhorrent." Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld said it was "totally unacceptable and un-American." White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, "The president is sorry for what occurred." Yet that is not enough. The piranhas in the press are calling for Rumsfeld's resignation. Liberal senators on the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees -- eager for the same media attention given to the 9-11 Commission -- rushed to the nearest television camera and demanded full-scale investigations. But their outrage seems directed more to score political points than to find the "truth."
Let's face it, they have politicized the War in Iraq.
John Kerry made sure of that when he manipulated First Lt. Paul Rieckhoff into delivering the Democrat response to the President's Radio Address last weekend. Rieckhoff, a guardsman who spent 12 months in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry, criticized President Bush and his civilian leaders, saying: "When we got to Baghdad, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for us. There were not enough vehicles, not enough ammunition, not enough medical supplies, not enough water. There was not enough body armor, leaving my men to dodge bullets with Vietnam-era flak vests."
"Mr. President, our mission is not accomplished," Rieckhoff accused in a war protest that was the modern day equivalent of tossing your medals, er, uh, ribbons -- (what's the difference, really?) -- over a fence.
Rieckhoff's address was planned, facilitated and promoted by John Kerry's presidential campaign. I don't know what Rieckhoff's experience was or wasn't in Iraq, but in all the time that I was there, I did not see what he saw. To the contrary, I saw armor save the lives of American soldiers and Marines. Morale was high, supplies were sufficient.
And when Kerry was finished exploiting Rieckhoff, he climbed into the echo chamber and said he was "disturbed and troubled" by the "disgraceful" abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison and insisted that the president immediately "owed the world an explanation," since the response of the administration has been "slow and inappropriate."
Give Kerry this much -- he's got chutzpah. It's an interesting demand from a man who said he committed "atrocities" in Vietnam; knew of others who committed atrocities; and 30 years later has never explained himself, or explained why, as an officer, he failed to hold those accountable for crimes they supposedly committed.
The media's feeding frenzy around the Abu Ghraib prison photos and Kerry's exploitation of Rieckhoff are creating a false impression of what is really happening on a wide scale in Iraq.
Over the past two years, I have spent nearly six months with U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East. During the march to Baghdad last year, I saw hundreds of Iraqis taken prisoner -- many of whom turned themselves in to American forces knowing they would fare better in U.S. custody than in Saddam's army. They were all treated humanely.
In battle, I watched a Marine risk his life to rescue a wounded Iraqi woman. Troops in the units with which I was embedded treated the Iraqi people with dignity and respect. U.S. forces have played soccer with the kids, befriended the Iraqi people and built schools with supplies sent by the American public. I've seen Marines give their last MREs to hungry Iraqi children.
I've also seen why these troops are in Iraq. I've looked into Saddam's mass graves -- a site that makes you sick to your stomach. I saw the videotaped evidence of atrocities committed by Saddam, Uday and Qusay -- tapes showing innocent Iraqis having their tongues cut out, or being blindfolded, bound and marched off the edge of two and three story buildings. I saw Iraqi schools turned into ammunition depots and mosques used as bunkers.
After Sept.11, I visited the Pentagon and Ground Zero. I've met some of the families whose lives were changed forever that day.
Yes, some soldiers made mistakes at Abu Ghraib prison. They will be held accountable, and rightfully so. But those mistakes are an aberration of the highest order compared to the thousands of acts of kindness that U.S. troops are showing to the Iraqi people daily. Let's keep it in perspective, and remember who the real enemy is.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.