Fighting a war with unfair odds

Posted: Jun 21, 2004 12:00 AM

Why have the media continued to report, obsess and revel in the same old humiliation photos from U.S.-controlled Abu Ghraib even as they ignore never-before-aired videotape that documents the hacking, maiming and bloody torture that took place at Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein?

When the New York Post's Deborah Orin posed this excellent question to terror expert Michael Ledeen, he responded that "most journalists want Bush to lose."   Former Defense Department official Richard Perle also blames "faint hearts in the administration" who believe it's "politically incorrect" to showcase the savage reality of Saddam Hussein's regime. Orin offers another explanation: "We highlight U.S. prisoner abuse because the photos aren't too offensive to show. We downplay Saddam's abuse precisely because it's far worse -- so we can't use the photos."

Or don't want to. That might burst the bubble. The beautiful, shining sanctimony that lines the stormy denunciations of abuse at Abu Ghraib (and by extension at prisons for suspected Islamic terrorists the world over) would lose some of its feel-good luster. This goes a long way to explain why, as Orin noted, "the world sees photos of U.S. interrogators using dogs to scare prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But not the footage of Saddam's prisoners getting fed -- alive -- to Doberman pinschers."

More than anything else, the emanations of Abu Ghraib have enveloped opponents of the Iraqi war policy in a vacuum-packed morality, a cocoon of virtuousness from which they judge the world as it should be, not the world as it is. In their never-never land, there is never, never cause for mistreatment of any kind. This condition may feel good, particularly as it eliminates the need to weigh the well-being of suspected terrorists against the well-being of unsuspecting victims, and act accordingly. Indeed, there is no need to act, period -- except, that is, on the urge to "feel good about yourself." In pursuit of this essentially selfish experience, terrorism and defeat become interchangeable with security and victory.

Seeing the world as it should be (something resembling a croquet lawn) rather than the world as it is (consumed in a global struggle against Islamic jihad to reclaim national and international security) is not unique to Abu Ghraibists basking in a rosy glow.

The Bush administration, for example, pledges to Arab-American leaders to eliminate security checks for men entering the country from mainly Muslim countries. Is such a pledge appropriate at this precarious stage in the war?

I'd rather see the Bush administration pledge to Arab-American leaders to eliminate security risks entering the country from mainly Muslim countries.

But maybe that's not good manners. "Our long-term goal," said Homeland Security's Asa Hutchinson, "is to treat (all visitors) the same way, and not based on where you come from." This may sound polite -- an Equal Rights for Aliens Amendment in the making -- but it is wholly incompatible with national security.

During the trial of Fawaz Damra, an Ohio-based based imam charged with lying to immigration authorities about his terror-network connections, a federal judge told prosecutors not to mention "Osama bin Laden" or "Al Qaeda." Despite evidence linking both Damra and bin Laden to a Muslim-aid group in Brooklyn that the government says later evolved into a branch of Al Qaeda, mum's the legal word. Huh? According to U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin, "the risk of inflaming the jury is great." Prosecutors can't even call Damra, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center attack (and they can't mention that, either), a "radical Islamic militant." Clearly, the specter of saying the wrong thing looms larger than the importance of seeking the right verdict. Which begs the question: Is this a terrorism trial or a tea party?

Maybe it is this fear of the faux pas that prevented the media -- with the notable exception of's Ben Johnson -- from pointing out that Mohammad Magid, the imam invited to Ronald Reagan's funeral at the National Cathedral, has "disturbing ties to suspected terrorists." Across the pond, a similar reticence characterized the BBC's reporting on Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al Sudais, the Saudi-appointed imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque who recently visited London to open a massive new Islamic center.

Describing the sheikh as "one of Islam's most renowned imams," the BBC failed to mention his well-documented record of poisonous invective toward Jews, Christians and Hindus.

External threats aside, Western civ appears to be threatened from within by a paralyzing attack of terminally good manners: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil (except Abu Ghraib). This may be one way to ride out the war on Islamic terrorism. It's no way to win it.