Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bobbing for Apples

The "rotten apples" meme has always been a way to dodge responsibility. But it's still true: a fish rots from the head, and a bureaucracy, especially one as structured as the U.S. military, does not tolerate "rogue elements."

"Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Mr Powell until last January," has decided to go public with his criticisms of the Bush Administration. As the article notes, this is "the harshest attack on the administration by a former senior official since criticisms by Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism czar, and Paul O'Neill, former Treasury secretary, early last year."

Mr Wilkerson said his decision to go public had led to a personal falling out with Mr Powell, whom he served for 16 years at the Pentagon and the State Department.

“He's not happy with my speaking out because, and I admire this in him, he is the world's most loyal soldier."
That sentence raises two issues simultaneously. One: loyal soldiers do what they are told. They don't go "rogue," and decide on their own to torture, abuse, and violate other human beings. My Lai was not a random incident or a matter of demonic possession. Neither is Abu Ghraib, or Gitmo. The other issue: what are the proper limits of loyalty? Doesn't the kind of loyalty Colin Powell is displaying border on the kind justly denounced at Nuremberg? At some point morality has to trump even the most loyal government employee, which, after all, is all a soldier truly is. They are not the government, nor the embodiment of the ideals of that government or its people. They are individuals, responsible for their actions, and responsible to others for the evil they see, and refuse to expose.

As Colonel Wilkerson says:

The detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was “a concrete example” of the
decision-making problem, with the president and other top officials in effect
giving the green light to soldiers to abuse detainees. “You don't have this kind
of pervasive attitude out there unless you've condoned it.”

He doesn't think much of Condoleezza Rice, either:

Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and now secretary of
state, was “part of the problem”. Instead of ensuring that Mr Bush received the
best possible advice, “she would side with the president to build her intimacy
with the president”.

Yesterday Secretary Rice refused to rule out the possibility of going to war with Syria. And, given the undeniable evidence of Abu Ghraib and of Gitmo (it may be in Cuba, but it affects Iraq and Afghanistan, where the prisoners come from), how can this statement be interpreted as anything but a lie?

"I have said our strategy is to clear, hold and build," Ms. Rice said. "The enemy's strategy is to infect, terrorize and pull down." She explained that this meant efforts to clear out insurgents' sanctuaries, occupy these areas with Iraqi and other forces and build a political consensus while reconstructing the country.
The abuses of which our military stands guilty can only be defined as: "infect, terrorize, and pull down."

But to say that, would be to take responsibility; and we can't let that happen. We have to remain loyal to our highest ideals.

Even as we trample them beneath our feet.

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