"We had to destroy Ben Tre in order to save it."

Four months after hearing arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the release of information concerning allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other overseas detention facilities. These records suggest a pattern of abuse that is inconsistent with the Bush administration's attempts to dismiss the highly publicized tortures at Abu Ghraib as isolated and aberrant incidents. Moreover, the records indicate that the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) and other high-ranking military personnel are actively involved in efforts to conceal these wrongdoings. I can't decide which revelation is more disturbing, but I'm not surprised by either.

The War on Terror is fought on many fronts, at home and abroad. Even in the U.S., encroachments upon the civil liberties of U.S. citizens are tolerated in the interest of preserving "national security." It should come as no surprise that more extreme and disturbing violations of human rights are accepted as unavoidable collateral damage in the war abroad. The American military learned in Vietnam that a war against non-traditional combatants necessitates the abandonment of the distinction between enemy soldiers and civilian non-combatants. The hamlets of Vietnam were not populated by families, women and children, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, but by gooks. The massacre of civilians at My Lai and the destruction of Ben Tre were not examples of a war machine out of control, but the logical and inevitable consequence of the blurring of the line between soldier and civilian. In today's War on Terror, this disturbing logic has transformed the globe into a battlefield, and the systematic dehumanization of Muslim peoples has made possible the sacrifice of entire populations. There is an inextricable link between the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the prosecution of this war. They are inseparable events, two sides of the same coin, and the resolution of one problem cannot be accomplished without radically altering our beliefs about the other. Unless and until we recognize the madness of our pursuit, incidents like these will proliferate, and our collective security will be further undermined, along with our international credibility, and our very humanity.


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