Iraq 26: “This war is also about sex” (2) Kicking body parts of dead Jews

May 11, 2004

* Palestinians play soccer with the body parts of murdered Israelis in Gaza

 

CONTENTS

1. Hamas press release
2. "This war is also about sex" (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, May 7, 2004)
3. "Media Missteps" (By Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, May 7, 2004)
4. "Staying morally superior to sharks" (By Yashiko Sagamori, Freeman Center Broadcast, May 9, 2004)
5. "Abu Ghraib" (By Victor Davis Hanson, Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2004)


[Note by Tom Gross]

This is the latest in an occasional series of dispatches concerning Iraq. I attach four articles. (In the first case, the article is attached in full. There are summaries of the other articles first.)

These articles all seek to "place in context" the repulsive photos now dominating the news. Please may I again remind recipients of this list that I do not necessarily agree with the sentiments expressed in articles I attach. Needless to say, any American or British soldier found guilty of acts of torture or prisoner abuse should be punished with the full force of the law, regardless of the lack of any such legal action against those who commit worse acts in Arab societies and many other countries.

Today, body parts of six murdered Israelis were paraded around in Gaza as trophies by Palestinian mobs, including members of the Palestinian Authority security forces. Some even played football (soccer) with some of the body parts in the street. One disembodied head was placed on a table so television cameras could film it close up. Can you imagine the outcry among the international media and European and Arab politicians if Israelis did the same?

 

A subscriber to this email list (a pro-American Palestinian) who wishes to remain anonymous adds:

"Of course it would have been much easier and safer for the Israeli government to destroy the Palestinian bomb-making labs from the air, but then they wouldn't do that because it would risk civilian Arab casualties.

"Why is it that rough horseplay is on the news 24/7 but people holding up body parts ripped from corpses is on for only a minute with no one complaining.

"Will CNN and other channels post these pictures and cover these atrocities 24/7 for the next two weeks, to make sure everyone has the proper perspective? I think not. Instead they will no doubt issue some statement saying: 'As a matter of policy we will not be showing these images which viewers will find disturbing; instead have a 183rd look at those poor Iraqi criminals being humiliated.'"

 

HAMAS PRESS RELEASE

[Tom Gross adds: please note Hamas admits filming the murder of Israelis today. This was faxed to news agencies today and also posted on the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades web site in Arabic.]

Text of military communique from Hamas military wing, the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, entitled "Six Israeli soldiers killed; Al-Qassam Brigades document the operation on film", report by Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades web site on 11 May

"It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest a handful of dust, it was not thy act, but Allah's [Koranic verse]."

Masses of our Arab and Islamic nation, masses of our mujahid Palestinian people,

With the help and guidance of Almighty God, the Martyr Izz-al-Din al-Qassam were able to face up to the blatant Zionist incursion into Al-Zaytun neighbourhood in Gaza city, which started at approximately 0030 [2130 gmt] today, 11 May 2004.

Our hero mujahidin were able to set up a military ambush of a Zionist personnel carrier. The carrier was drawn to an area planted with high explosive charges. The mujahidin aimed a Battar missile towards the carrier and as soon as the carrier approached, they fired the missile and followed up by detonating the charges from all sides.

Following the heroic operation, the Zionist enemy radio admitted that six Zionist soldiers were killed.

With the grace of Almighty God, the mujahidin were able to document the operation on film, which will be published as soon as possible, God willing. A number of Zionist bodies are shown in the footage.

While we at the Al-Qassam brigades announce our responsibility for this operation and ask God to accept it, we pray to God to guide our mujahidin to carry out even better operations.

It is jihad until victory or martyrdom.

[signed] Martyr Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades

[dated] 11 May 2004

 

SUMMARIES OF US/UK PRISONER ABUSE-RELATED ARTICLES

THIS WAR IS ALSO ABOUT SEX

1. "This war is also about sex" (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, May 7, 2004; Page A33).

On Sept. 11, 2001, America awoke to the great jihad, wondering: What is this about? We have come to agree on the obvious answers: religion, ideology, political power and territory. But there is one fundamental issue at stake that dares not speak its name. This war is also about -- deeply about -- sex.

For the jihadists, at stake in the war against the infidels is the control of women. Western freedom means the end of women's mastery by men, and the end of dictatorial clerical control over all aspects of sexuality -- in dress, behavior, education, the arts.

Taliban rule in Afghanistan was the model of what the jihadists want to impose upon the world. The case the jihadists make against freedom is that wherever it goes, especially the United States and Europe, it brings sexual license and corruption, decadence and depravity.

The appeal of this fear can be seen in the Arab world's closest encounter with modernity: Israel. Israeli women are by far the most liberated of any in that part of the world. For decades, the Arab press has responded with lurid stories of Israeli sexual corruption.

The most famous example occurred in the late 1990s, when Egyptian newspapers claimed that chewing gum Israel was selling in Egypt was laced with sexual hormones that aroused insatiable lust in young Arab women. Palestinian officials later followed with charges that Israeli chewing gum was a Zionist plot for turning Palestinian women into prostitutes, and "completely destroying the genetic system of young boys" to boot.

Which is why the torture pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison could not have hit a more neuralgic point. We think of torture as the kind that Saddam practiced: pain, mutilation, maiming and ultimately death. We think of it as having a political purpose: intimidation, political control, confession and subjugation. What happened at Abu Ghraib was entirely different. It was gratuitous sexual abuse, perversion for its own sake.

That is what made it, ironically and disastrously, a pictorial representation of precisely the lunatic fantasies that the jihadists believe -- and that cynical secular regimes such as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority peddle to pacify their populations and deflect their anger and frustrations. Through this lens, Abu Ghraib is an "I told you so" played out in an Arab capital, recorded on film.

Jihadists, like all totalitarians, oppose many kinds of freedom. What makes them unique, however, is their particular hatred of freedom for women. They prize their traditional prerogatives that allow them to keep their women barefoot in the kitchen as illiterate economic and sexual slaves. For the men, that is a pretty good deal -- one threatened by the West with its twin doctrines of equality and sexual liberation.

It is no accident that jihadists around the world are overwhelmingly male. It is very rare to find a female suicide bomber. And when you do, as with the young woman who blew herself up in Gaza, killing four others in January, it turns out that she herself was a victim of sexual subjugation -- a wife accused of adultery, marked for death, who decided to die a martyr rather than a pariah. But die she must.

Which is what made one aspect of the Abu Ghraib horrors even more incendiary -- the pictures of female U.S. soldiers mocking, humiliating and dominating naked and abused Arab men. One could not have designed a more symbolic representation of the Islamist warning about where Western freedom ultimately leads than yesterday's Washington Post photo of a uniformed American woman holding a naked Arab man on a leash.

Let's be clear. The things we have learned so far about Abu Ghraib are not, by far, the worst atrocities committed in war. Indeed, they pale in comparison with what Arab insurgents have done to captured Westerners, and what Saddam Hussein did to his own people.

The American offenders should surely be judged by our standards, not by others'. By our standards, these were egregious violations of human rights and human dignity. They must be punished seriously. They do not, however, reflect the ethos of the U.S. military, which has performed with remarkable grace and courage in Iraq, or of U.S. society.

The photographs suggest otherwise. Which is why the abuse at Abu Ghraib is so inflammatory and, for us and our cause, so damaging. It reenacted the most deeply psychologically charged -- and most deeply buried -- aspect of the entire war on terrorism, exactly as Osama bin Laden would have scripted it.

 

MEDIA MISSTEPS

2. "Media Missteps" (By Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, May 7, 2004).

"Because it is required to repeat the obvious as if it were catechism during feeding-frenzy moments like this, let me say again: The abuse of Iraqi prisoners depicted in those now world-famous photos is an outrageous scandal and the perpetrators must be punished.

O.K., now can I say something else? CBS should be ashamed for running those photos. Since the journalistic priesthood insists that context is everything, let's get some context. The investigation into these abuses was long and well-underway before CBS's 60 Minutes II broke the story. In fact, it was the U.S. military that really broke the story by putting out a press release in January. the case for broadcasting those photos to the world would be much, much stronger if the good reasons to do it weren't vastly outweighed by the bad.

The good reasons are obvious. The people have the right to know... The bad is that uproar from these pictures drowns out all other messages, explanations, and journalistic "context."... Lost is the fact that in America torturers get punished, while in the Arab world they get promotions. Huge percentages of Arabs are illiterate, which means these pictures will tell the whole story, particularly in the hands of the vilely anti-American Arab media. This will harden hearts against us and almost certainly result in lost American and Iraqi lives.. The media decide which images are too disturbing, too sensational, too dangerous all of the time. the Danny Pearl murder-video was "too sickening to broadcast even once."... Of course, CBS had every right to do what it did. But . now we'll all have to live with the consequences - and some of us will die from them.

[This article was written before the beheading of Nick Berg, released today on video in Egypt. Full article below -- TG]

 

STAYING MORALLY SUPERIOR TO SHARKS

3. "Staying Morally Superior to Sharks" (By Yashiko Sagamori, Freeman Center Broadcast, May 9, 2004).

"... the prison, where [during Saddam's regime] untold thousands of people suffered brutal torture and painful death for the terrible crime of displeasing Saddam, became the center of the world's attention only after a happy looking young woman in an American military uniform was photographed standing next to a naked, hooded prisoner.

"... The common outrage against this incident is perfectly understandable. What I find very hard to understand, however, is a total lack of common outrage against certain other recent events. Take, for instance, the spontaneous celebration in Fallujah, which culminated in the murder of four American civilians and mutilation of their bodies. Or consider the execution-style murder, also by Arabs, of an 8-month pregnant Jewish woman and her four young daughters. A few governments and international organizations made some vaguely appropriate but totally meaningless sounds. Arabs unanimously pronounced the killers heroes; nobody objected to that. Neither the EU nor the US stopped their financing of Arafat's gang of murderers; nobody expected them to.

"The most eloquent reaction came from the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He strongly condemned a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, but managed not to even mention the murder of the Jewish woman and her children although the two attacks occurred within hours from each other. Had he sent Arafat an open letter congratulating him on his latest accomplishment, the effect would've been exactly the same.

"Why does the world take the murder of Jews and Americans by Arabs in stride, while even the slightest perception of mistreatment of Arabs at the hands of Jews or Americans causes such widespread protests? . maybe the world doesn't really care who does the killing as long as the victims are Jews and Americans. Especially Jews. Do you have a better explanation?

"... By the way, there were no military objects in the Twin Towers. The Madrid commuter trains were 100% peaceful. The car and the pregnant woman with her four children were going about their business presenting no danger whatsoever to anyone at all. The two reservists lynched in Ramallah in 2000 were soldiers, but the treatment they received at the hands of the Arabs was a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions..."

 

ABU GHRAIB

4. "Abu Ghraib" (By Victor Davis Hanson, Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2004).

"... These seemingly inhuman acts are indeed serious stuff. They also raise a host of dilemmas for the U.S. -- from the pragmatic to the idealistic. We must insist on a higher standard of human behavior than embraced by either Saddam Hussein or his various fascist and Islamicist successors. As emissaries of human rights, how can we allow a few miscreants to treat detainees indecently -- without earning the wages of hypocrisy from both professed allies and enemies who enjoy our embarrassment? In defense, it won't do for us just to point to our enemies and shrug, "They do it all the time."

"The guards' alleged crimes are not only repugnant but stupid as well. At a time when it is critical to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, a few renegade corrections officers have endangered the lives of thousands of their fellow soldiers in the field.

"... Yet without minimizing the seriousness of these apparent transgressions, we need to take a breath, get a grip, and put the sordid incident in some perspective beyond its initial 24-hour news cycle.

"... first, investigations are not yet completed. Lurid pictures.. are not yet proof of torture... Second, already the self-correcting mechanisms of the U.S. government and the American free press are in full throttle. Responsible parties, from Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt to President Bush himself, have condemned the accused guards and promised swift punishment when and if they are found guilty...

"Third, we must keep the allegations in some sort of historical context. Even at their worst, these disturbing incidents are not comparable to past atrocities such as the June 1943 killing of prisoners in Sicily, the machine-gunning of civilians at the No Gun Ri railway bridge in Korea, or My Lai. Beatings and rumors of sexual sadism, horrific as they appear, are not on a par with executions that have transpired throughout all dirty wars -- such as the simultaneous reports that Macedonians are now accused of murdering Pakistanis. American soldiers are not ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Kuwait [by Saddam] or executing Kurdish civilians, crimes that in the past went largely unnoticed in the Middle East..."


FULL ARTICLES

MEDIA MISSTEPS

Media Missteps
Context gets lost in hysteria and grandstanding.
By Jonah Goldberg
National Review Online
May 7, 2004

Because it is required to repeat the obvious as if it were catechism during feeding-frenzy moments like this, let me say again: The abuse of Iraqi prisoners depicted in those now world-famous photos is an outrageous scandal and the perpetrators must be punished.

O.K., now can I say something else?

CBS should be ashamed for running those photos.

Since the journalistic priesthood insists that context is everything, let's get some context. The investigation into these abuses was long and well-underway before CBS's 60 Minutes II broke the story. In fact, it was the U.S. military that really broke the story by putting out a press release.

In January, the U.S. Central Command announced, "An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility." Other investigations were well underway by the time CBS ran its story.

Also, journalist Seymour Hersh was preparing an article for The New Yorker on the abuses. 60 Minutes II knew this because they'd tried to hire him as a consultant.

This is all very relevant, to me at least, because the case for broadcasting those photos to the world would be much, much stronger if the good reasons to do it weren't vastly outweighed by the bad.

The good reasons are obvious. The people have the right to know. The scandal firestorm sharpens the resolve of politicians and the military to investigate and stop the abuse of prisoners. The bad is that uproar from these pictures drowns out all other messages, explanations, and journalistic "context."

Lost is the fact that in America torturers get punished, while in the Arab world they get promotions. Huge percentages of Arabs are illiterate, which means these pictures will tell the whole story, particularly in the hands of the vilely anti-American Arab media. This will harden hearts against us and almost certainly result in lost American and Iraqi lives.

Now before you get all pious with table-thumping sermons about the glories of the First Amendment and the need to publish news without fear and all that, consider a few facts.

In 1994, ten Belgian peacekeepers were horribly mutilated alive (castrated, their Achilles tendons slashed, etc.) in Rwanda. The full extent of the barbarity wasn't disclosed for a long time for fear of reprisals.

Just a month ago, television news networks agonized about how much they should show of the butchery of Americans in Fallujah. They opted for very, very little.

Within 48 hours of the 9/11 attacks, the major news networks and leading newspapers were settling on a policy to stop showing images of victims leaping to their death from the World Trade Center. NBC ran one clip of a man plunging to his death, and then admitted it was a mistake. An NBC News v.p. told the New York Times, "Once it was on, we decided not to use it again. It's stunning photography, I understand that, but we felt the image was disturbing."

In fact, post-9/11 coverage illuminates an interesting cultural cleavage in the media. When shocking images might stir Americans to favor war, the Serious Journalists show great restraint. When those images have the opposite effect, the Ted Koppels let it fly.

In 2002, Salon.com - the left-wing web magazine - ran a finger-wagging story full of condescending quotes and observations about how America was too obsessed with 9/11. The author, Michelle Goldberg (no relation), wrote that the appetite for documentaries about the attacks "suggests a voyeuristic impulse cloaked in patriotic piety."

Maybe what stoked America's appetite wasn't pious voyeurism but the decision of the networks to withhold the footage in the first place?

Regardless, now Salon asks another question. The lead story by Eric Boehlert on May 6 asks: "The media are finally showing the war in its full horror. What took them so long?"

That's a fair, if slightly creepy, question. But it underscores my point: The media decide which images are too disturbing, too sensational, too dangerous all of the time. Ms. Goldberg, for example, spoke for the establishment media when she declared that the Danny Pearl murder-video was "too sickening to broadcast even once."

So the question is, What was gained by releasing these images now? CBS could have reported the story without the pictures. They could have still beaten their competition to the punch.

But these pictures are so inflammatory, so offensive to Muslim and American sensibilities, whatever news value they have is far, far outweighed by the damage they are doing. "Context" - the supposed holy grail of responsible journalism - is lost in the hysteria and political grandstanding.

Of course, CBS had every right to do what it did. But that's irrelevant. Nobody's suggesting the government should have stopped them. I'm suggesting that CBS should have stopped itself. Now we'll all have to live with the consequences - and some of us will die from them.

 

STAYING MORALLY SUPERIOR TO SHARKS

Staying Morally Superior to Sharks
By Yashiko Sagamori
Freeman Center Broadcast
May 9, 2004

Here's a joke so old that some of you may not have heard it. A young officer of Her Majesty's Navy fell overboard and was attacked by a shark. He tried to outswim it, which, as you understand, was a pretty hopeless task. Fortunately, he was saved at the last possible moment, and while he was standing, all wet, on deck and the disappointed shark was still snapping its terrible jaws in the air, one of the sailors asked him, "Lieutenant, you have your dagger on you. Why didn't you try to fight the shark off?" The lieutenant's response was, "You don't cut fish with a knife."

What's really funny about this joke is how precisely it describes the civilized world's approach to the War on Terror. We have one hell of a dagger on us. We could've fought it off. But we've been taught to never cut fish with a knife, and we are not going to, despite a very significant difference between the maladroit naval officer and us: there is no one to pull us out of the water. If we don't save ourselves, the shark will eat us. It's as simple as that.

However, at this particular moment, we, along with the rest of the world including all our false friends and genuine enemies, have more important issues on our mind. We are busy condemning the terrible crimes committed by the US military at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. While Saddam was still in power, the prison was famous for atrocities against its inmates. Nevertheless, while Iraqis were enthusiastically torturing and killing other Iraqis there, the world had many more important issues to take care of. For some strange reason the prison, where untold thousands of people suffered brutal torture and painful death for the terrible crime of displeasing Saddam, became the center of the world's attention only after a happy looking young woman in an American military uniform was photographed standing next to a naked, hooded prisoner. On some of those photographs the young lady is laughing her head off, pointing at the prisoner's genitals. The spot that attracted her attention was modestly edited out of the pictures, so we will never know whether her laughter was an expression of happiness at the sight or meant as ridicule. Not that it makes any difference. The participants in that unsavory affair have once again proven that no matter how incredibly disgusting and idiotic a sick person's imagination may be, someone has already done something much worse and enjoyed it tremendously.

The common outrage against this incident is perfectly understandable. What I find very hard to understand, however, is a total lack of common outrage against certain other recent events. Take, for instance, the spontaneous celebration in Fallujah, which culminated in the murder of four American civilians and mutilation of their bodies. Or consider the execution-style murder, also by Arabs, of an 8-month pregnant Jewish woman and her four young daughters. A few governments and international organizations made some vaguely appropriate but totally meaningless sounds. Arabs unanimously pronounced the killers heroes; nobody objected to that. Neither the EU nor the US stopped their financing of Arafat's gang of murderers; nobody expected them to.

The most eloquent reaction came from the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He strongly condemned a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, but managed not to even mention the murder of the Jewish woman and her children although the two attacks occurred within hours from each other. Had he sent Arafat an open letter congratulating him on his latest accomplishment, the effect would've been exactly the same.

Why does the world take the murder of Jews and Americans by Arabs in stride, while even the slightest perception of mistreatment of Arabs at the hands of Jews or Americans causes such widespread protests? I think two factors are at play here: first, the fact that the murderers are Arabs; second, that their victims are Jews or Americans. It's quite possible that I have it all wrong, and the truth is exactly the opposite: first, it's the fact that the victims are Jews or Americans; second, that the murderers are Arabs. Or maybe the world doesn't really care who does the killing as long as the victims are Jews and Americans. Especially Jews. Do you have a better explanation?

Let's now talk about morals. Why was bombing innocent civilians of Belgrade moral, while decisively putting down the vicious rebellion in the completely irrelevant and inherently hostile town of Fallujah was not? Why were Arabs allowed to desecrate Joseph's Tomb? Why is Muqtaba al-Sadr allowed to use the "sanctity" of another irrelevant Iraqi town, Najaf, to evade capture and prosecution? Why would evicting Israel's enemies from Israel's land by the Israeli government be immoral, but evicting Israelis from Israel's land by the Israeli government would not be?

The usual reference to the Geneva Conventions is moot in this case. The Geneva Conventions assume that both sides of the conflict follow them and explicitly free one side of obligations when the other side doesn't comply. During WWII, responding to German violations of the international rules of war, the Allies began systematic destruction of German cities, ruthlessly killing civilians. Was it cruel? Very much so. Was it unfair? Not at all. German civilians brought Hitler to power; German civilians had to pay a terrible price for that mistake. There was not a single military object in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. But the civilian population of those cities, and, to a lesser degree, the rest of Japan, had to pay for their support of the militaristic policies of their government. Without such inevitable cruelty, we wouldn't have won the war.

By the way, there were no military objects in the Twin Towers. The Madrid commuter trains were 100% peaceful. The car and the pregnant woman with her four children were going about their business presenting no danger whatsoever to anyone at all. The two reservists lynched in Ramallah in 2000 were soldiers, but the treatment they received at the hands of the Arabs was a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, as was the murder of the four American civilians in Fallujah. The list of unpunished Arab crimes is long and getting longer by the hour.

By common sense, by basic fairness, and in full compliance with the international law, Arabs have lost their right of protection that the Geneva Conventions grant to innocent civilians during armed conflicts. Arab innocence is no more. And if our civilization is to survive, sooner or later, Arabs will have to pay a terrible price in blood for their celebrations of mass murders and mass murderers, for their systematic turning of their own children into cannibals, for their support of terrorism, for their jihad, for their hatred towards everything healthy that exists in our world. This will be terribly cruel, but absolutely fair.

Unfortunately, the obvious fact that our enemies happen to be less moral than even sharks does not mean that our own morals are beyond reproach. The perverted games that a few American soldiers played with the inmates at Abu Ghraib are far from the worst of our deeds. For instance, the compensation paid with our hard earned money to the families of killed enemies is shamelessly immoral. This whole war for which we are paying with hundreds (soon, it will be thousands) of our soldiers killed and tens (soon, it will be hundreds) billions of dollars is itself an obscenity. Don't take me wrong: I am not suggesting that Arabs should be left alone; I am saying that our war against them should have been conducted in a way that would render them forever incapable of ever again hurting the United States or Israel, and it is getting more obvious every day that this is not going to happen.

Bush's humble apologies are way more obscene than whatever those soldiers have done to Iraqi prisoners. Someone should've explained to him that demonstrating good will towards people whose culture has failed to produce the concept of good will is counterproductive and, therefore, immoral: when we let them live, they perceive it as our weakness, because they themselves never miss an opportunity to murder those who are weak.

Even more obscene is the celebration by the Democrats of the scandal during a presidential campaign. They would gladly sacrifice the country if only they could rule over its ruins. What makes it even worse is the obvious futility of their efforts. The powerful Clinton clique will never let a Democrat win the elections this year, because such a victory will destroy Hillary's presidential ambitions. And in 2009, when Hillary moves into the White House, the immorality of the United States will need a different scale for measurement, a scale which will leave sharks barely visible even with a powerful microscope.

But the most immoral of all today is the government of Israel, which is ready to surrender its land to an evil, but impotent, enemy, while substituting the defense of its citizens' lives with symbolic gestures, unable to postpone the next mass murder of Jews by Arabs even by a few hours.

In response to my calls for an honest war, a reader sent me a letter asking how the Jews would keep their moral superiority over the Arabs if the former finally start fighting the latter in earnest. I explained to him that in the eternal struggle between good and evil, good inevitably wins, because the right to decide what's right and what's wrong invariably goes to the victor. Therefore, the only way to lose one's moral superiority to a shark is to allow oneself to be devoured.

My sincerest apologies to the sharks for the unflattering comparison to Arabs.

 

ABU GHRAIB

Abu Ghraib
By Victor Davis Hanson
Wall Street Journal
May 3, 2004

Pictures of American military police humiliating and, in some cases, allegedly torturing Iraqi prisoners in Saddam's old Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad now flash across the world. "The Shame!," Egyptian papers blare out at the sight of a pyramid of contorted naked males amid a smiling female GI. Various human-rights organizations in the Arab World, we are told, are about to condemn formally such barbarism.

Good. These seemingly inhuman acts are indeed serious stuff. They also raise a host of dilemmas for the U.S. -- from the pragmatic to the idealistic. We must insist on a higher standard of human behavior than embraced by either Saddam Hussein or his various fascist and Islamicist successors. As emissaries of human rights, how can we allow a few miscreants to treat detainees indecently -- without earning the wages of hypocrisy from both professed allies and enemies who enjoy our embarrassment? In defense, it won't do for us just to point to our enemies and shrug, "They do it all the time."

The guards' alleged crimes are not only repugnant but stupid as well. At a time when it is critical to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, a few renegade corrections officers have endangered the lives of thousands of their fellow soldiers in the field. Marines around Fallujah take enormous risks precisely because they do not employ the tactics of the fedayeen, who fire from minarets and use civilians as human shields.

Yet without minimizing the seriousness of these apparent transgressions, we need to take a breath, get a grip, and put the sordid incident in some perspective beyond its initial 24-hour news cycle.

* First, investigations are not yet completed. Lurid pictures, hearsay and leaked accounts to the New Yorker magazine are not yet proof of torture, either systematic, brutal, or habitual.

* Second, already the self-correcting mechanisms of the U.S. government and the American free press are in full throttle. Responsible parties, from Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt to President Bush himself, have condemned the accused guards and promised swift punishment when and if they are found guilty.

The number of accused is apparently small. Six soldiers are facing court-martial. Their superior, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, along with seven others, have been suspended from their duties. Although all are innocent until convicted by a military court, the media, government, and officer corps by their initial public pronouncements have apparently erred on the side of the soldiers' guilt. But these are defendants whose military tribunals will not be as sensitive to pretrial prejudice as their civilian judicial counterparts.

* Third, we must keep the allegations in some sort of historical context. Even at their worst, these disturbing incidents are not comparable to past atrocities such as the June 1943 killing of prisoners in Sicily, the machine-gunning of civilians at the No Gun Ri railway bridge in Korea, or My Lai. Beatings and rumors of sexual sadism, horrific as they appear, are not on a par with executions that have transpired throughout all dirty wars -- such as the simultaneous reports that Macedonians are now accused of murdering Pakistanis -- but so far have not been attributed to Americans on either the Afghan or the Iraqi battlefield.

American soldiers are not ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Kuwait or executing Kurdish civilians, crimes that in the past went largely unnoticed in the Middle East. So far the alleged grotesqueries are more analogous to the nightmares that occur occasionally at American prisons, when rogue and jaded guards freelance to intimidate and humiliate inmates. The crime, then, first appears not so much a product of endemic ethnic, racial, or religious hatred, as the unfortunate cargo of penal institutions, albeit exacerbated by the conditions of war, the world over.

* Fourth, there is an asymmetry about the coverage of the incident, an imbalance and double standard that have been predictable throughout this entire brutal war.

The Arab world -- where the mass-murdering Osama bin Laden is often canonized -- is shocked by a pyramid of nude bodies and faux-electric prods, but has so far expressed less collective outrage in its media when the charred corpses of four Americans were poked and dismembered by cheering crowds in Fallujah. The taped murder of Daniel Pearl or a video of the hooded Italian who had his brains blown out -- this is the daily fare that emanates now from the television studios of the Middle East.

Indeed, if Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera could display the same umbrage over mass murder that they do over these recent accounts of shame and humiliation of the detained Iraqis, much of the gratuitous violence of the Middle East would surely diminish. The papers that now allege war crimes are the same state-controlled and censored media that print gleeful accounts of death and desecration of Westerners and promulgate an institutionalized anti-Semitism not seen since the Third Reich.

* Fifth, we are now in an uncertain peace in Iraq. Gone are ranks of the uniformed Republican Guard and the terrible clarity of the three-week war when there were at least lines of combat. Those who have killed over 400 Americans since last April have no uniforms. They shoot from mosques. At night they place bombs indiscriminately on public thoroughfares, and have blown up hundreds of innocent Iraqis who were guilty of nothing more than trying to restore civilian services under the auspices of what promises to be a consensual government.

Right now we see only revolting pictures that properly shock our sensibilities. But because we do not know the circumstances of the interrogations, the conditions of confinement, or the nature of the acts that warranted imprisonment, we are also ignorant to what degree, if any, these men were responsible for horrendous acts -- or if their clumsy interrogators were trying to shame and humiliate them to extract information to save other lives.

We who are appalled in our offices and newsrooms are not those who have had our faces blown off while delivering food in Humvees or are incinerated in SUVs full of medical supplies -- with the full understanding that there will be plenty of Iraqis to materialize to hack away at what is left of our charred corpses. War is hell, and those who do not endure it are not entirely aware of the demons that are unleashed, and thus should hold their moral outrage until the full account of the incident is investigated and adjudicated.

* * *

If a small number of soldiers has transgressed, then let us punish them severely, as well as the officers who either ordered or ignored such reprehensible behavior. But let us also accept that the reaction to this incident is indicative of larger moral asymmetries that are the burdens of the West when it goes to war, a culture that so often equates the understandable absence of perfection, either moral, political, or military, with abject failure -- a fact not lost on our enemies.

We have seen terrible things since September 11 -- monotonous public executions, taped decapitations, videos of brutalized hostages, diplomats gunned down, aid workers riddled with bullets, children's bodies blown apart by improvised explosive devices, nuts, bolts and rat poison added to suicide bombs -- most under either the sponsorship of some autocratic Middle Eastern governments or of terrorist cabals that could not exist without at least the tacit support of thousands in the Arab street.

So as we in America address the moral inadequacies of a handful of our soldiers, let those in the Middle East take heart from our own necessary and stern democratic inquiries and audits, and thus at last now apply the same standards of accountability to tens of thousands, far more culpable, of their own.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.