Monday, February 02, 2004

A couple of interesting pieces showed up on blogs over the past few days regarding the humanitarian case for the war in Iraq.

Nathan Newman points out the hollowness of claims that we're improving womens' rights in Iraq -- with reference to a detailed article in, of all places, David Horowitz's Front Page magazine.

But the real shockers are to be found in this piece from Billmon, which features, among other things, a report of a meeting with Col. Nate Sassaman, already notorious for his advocacy of "a heavy dose of fear and violence" in dealing with Iraqis. Among other shockers are complaints of some of the Iraqis who are afflicted with Col Sassaman's rule:

Military people had previously acknowledged to us a policy of "45 seconds of rage and fury"on entering a house. They consider this necessary to obtain immediate submission and keep their troops safe. Soldiers break down doors, yell commands to lie on the floor, run through the house, and generally try to frighten the occupants into submissive behavior.

"Why do the soldiers break down our doors and smash our cupboards. We would give them the key if they just asked?" was a typical question from the outraged lawyers.

"When Saddam raided," said one, "he took only the person he was after. Now the whole family is taken, even when the soldiers know they have the wrong house."

The treatment of women infuriated some of these men. With embarrassment, one lawyer claimed that US troops had raided a house, found a couple naked in their bed and took them away in that state. "This is not acceptable in our culture," he said."

Got that, folks? The Iraqi people themselves are saying that on a day to day basis, in important respects, Sassaman is worse than Saddam. Saddam didn't win hearts and minds like that, and neither will we. (And there's more -- read the whole thing, including Sassaman's unproked arrest of an Iraqi human rights lawyer, and a thoroughly unconvincing attempt at a rebuttal from someone who claims to be in Sassaman's unit).

Which seems like an appropriate juncture to talk about the notion of "support for the troops" -- a notion which is often used by war supporters to try to shout down opponents. ("You're not supporting the troops!"). Which is an odd notion to someone who went to anti-war rallies before the invasion, chanting "support our troops, bring them home" -- the troops themselves are unambiguously worse off now than they would have been had we stayed out of this ill-considered invasion.

My attitude toward the troops has been that they have been thrust into a situation they were ill prepared for by leadership that refused to think ahead, and that they're doing the best they can. But that has its limits. It is easy to say that we don't support the actions of a Sassaman, who is clearly a bad apple. What bothers me very much is this: how much support do we give, and how, to soldiers who have followed orders for, say, those "45 seconds of rage and fury" without complaint?


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