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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Retrain Rumsfeld and Bush - by Arthur Greif - Bangor Daily News (Maine)

In the wake of the sad news that more than 20 United States Marines were being investigated for alleged war crimes in Haditha, Iraq, the entire U.S. armed forces in Iraq are now undergoing rigorous retraining in the ethics and core values that should accompany any military mission. This willingness to look for a system-wide response to a disturbing incident shows, once again, that our armed forces rightly deserve their reputation for excellence.
 
Regrettably, the chain of command does not allow the armed forces to insist upon this rigorous retraining for those above them in the hierarchy. If it did, this retraining wouldn't stop until both George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld were asked to engage in some deep soul-searching as to how America's best and brightest soldiers could find themselves on a missionless mission, looking for an unseen enemy amid hundreds of roadside bombs, and knowing with every step that they are unwelcome strangers in a strange land.
 
Ethics and values retraining for Bush and Rumsfeld would begin with emphasis on the core value of honesty: every secretary of defense and every commander in chief owes it to the soldiers whose lives will actually be at risk to explain the real reasons why their services and sacrifices are needed. If those real reasons are insufficient, the service should not be rendered and the sacrifice should not be made.
 
Every American soldier embarked on the Iraqi mission because Rumsfeld and Bush told him or her that this was the only option for ridding Iraq of "weapons of mass destruction" that would otherwise threaten the homeland. Setting aside the claim that the CIA had "misinformed" Bush and Rumsfeld by telling them what they had insisted they be told, war was hardly the "only option." The threat of war had forced Saddam Hussein to readmit United Nations weapons inspectors in early December 2002 and those inspectors, in more than three months of diligent efforts, had found nothing. This was surprising, given Rumsfeld's boast that he knew where the weapons were hidden.
 
Rather than let that process go forward to a predictable conclusion that Saddam had no "weapons of mass destruction," Bush used the threat of war to force U.N. weapons inspectors out in early March 2003 and announced that war would ensue unless Saddam surrendered power. Suddenly, the reasons for invading Iraq were changing to fit the needs of the moment: "weapons of mass destruction" was replaced by regime change, which was later replaced by a curious reverse domino theory that announced that exporting democracy at the point of a gun to Iraq would somehow revolutionize the Arab world. Now, the Iraqi misadventure is justified as necessary so that the almost 2,500 slain soldiers would not have "died in vain."
 
Saying that 2,500 soldiers have died so that they didn't die in vain doesn't answer the core question of just why they did die. George Bush assumed power determined not to repeat the two "mistakes" that he felt sure had cost his father re-election: raising taxes and leaving Saddam in power. The war in Iraq was designed to undo the latter mistake and assure George Bush's re-election. Bush should accept that the core value of honesty requires that he announce the real reason for the war: his re-election, which is the only mission that this Iraqi misadventure has accomplished.
 
A second core value in which Rumsfeld and Bush need retraining is that of complying with the law. If the allegations about U.S. Marines' actions in Haditha are true, then one or more U.S. soldiers have violated both U.S. and international law. I do not condone such actions, but they appear to have engaged in revenge killings of innocents after being overwhelmed at seeing a fellow soldier die from a roadside bomb: what the law would consider manslaughter, rather than murder, because of its lack of deliberative premeditation.
 
Bush and Rumsfeld, by contrast, have with cold calculation decided that certain laws can be freely flouted. Both domestic and international law prohibit torture of prisoners, yet Bush approved a policy that defined torture as treatment that resulted in either death or major organ failure. Think about the type of actions that inflict overwhelming pain, but neither death nor organ failure: ripping out fingernails one at a time, removing teeth without anesthesia, almost drowning a prisoner by water-boarding; the list is as endless as a depraved human mind can imagine.
 
As surely as night follows day, the torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and undisclosed CIA prisons ensued. It all violates the law, but Bush and Rumsfeld appear to feel that the law is for lesser men. Their actions and their words recall Nixon's claim during Watergate: if the president authorizes it, it isn't illegal.
 
Yes, it is time that Bush and Rumsfeld undergo retraining in the basic values of honesty and respect for the law. But perhaps we give them too much credit for their prior experience by calling this "retraining." Their actions suggest that they have never been trained in either value. If they had, each surely would have resigned in disgrace by now in recognition of the havoc his lies and lawlessness have wrought.
 
Arthur Greif is an attorney practicing in Bangor.
 
© 2006 Bangor Daily News

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