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Going cowboy

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"I have to say that I'm not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment." --Sen. James M. Imhofe (R-Okla.)

"Some might call that decent punishment, some might say here's a taste of your own medicine." --Rush Limbaugh

"Worse things happen in frat houses across America." --Jonathan Last, editor of The Weekly Standard

"All this that's going on? All these pictures all over the place, the whole world hating even more the United States? If two specialists could see how serious it was, how come nobody else could?" --A military intelligence soldier assigned to interrogation duties at the Abu Ghraib prison, who says he complained to his superiors last year about abuses there

So that's the question, and it goes far beyond just the horrific photos of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. If a young military intelligence soldier assigned there could see instantly the evil of parading prisoners around naked (and much, much worse), how is it that Senators and learned commentators don't? If half of America now sees the Iraqi invasion and its crumbling aftermath as a fiasco, why doesn't the other half?

I have my theory. Those who don't, we can only conclude, think that everything that we've done so far is OK.

It was OK to seize on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to engineer a war on Iraq. It was OK for Cheney and Wolfowitz and Co. to override concerns by the intelligence community and make the connection between Saddam and Osama. It was OK for us to ignore the findings of both U.N. and our own weapons inspectors and insist--lie--that there was certain knowledge of weapons of mass destruction. It was OK to dismiss the concerns of the rest of the world and go to war with virtually no international support.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it was OK to rush through an anti-terrorism law that allows the government to detain its own citizens and hold them indefinitely with no right to an attorney. It was OK to cut taxes on the rich, turn a budget surplus into the largest deficit in history, and gut three decades of environmental protection.

In post-invasion Iraq, it's OK that our troops are inadequately supported, trained and equipped. It's OK that we don't have a clue who the players are and how to work with them. It's OK that the Iraqi people, particularly the ones who despised Saddam Hussein, are now sick of our occupation and want us to leave. And it's OK that we've cast aside the Geneva Conventions and now are torturing innocent Iraqis, just as Saddam Hussein did, in his own despised prison.

I think there's a side of America that just likes the idea of "going cowboy." The phrase comes from former News & Observer reporter Todd Richissin's revealing story last Sunday in The Baltimore Sun, in which he interviewed two young military intelligence officers who were sent to Abu Ghraib prison last year and were stunned to find utter chaos--untrained personnel, no supervision, prisoners who'd been locked up for months without being interrogated, and beatings and abuse done with the full knowledge of military intelligence.

"MI would drop off a guy who wasn't talking, and the MP would say, 'So looks like I'll be going cowboy on him,'" one of the officers said. That meant he'd be beaten.

This country has gone cowboy in the last three years, and many people seem to think that's OK. Well, it's not OK, and we're going to pay the price for years to come.

To read Richissin's story, go to: www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/iraq/bal-te.guard09may09,0,2180279.story?coll=bal-home-headlines

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