Sunday, June 25, 2006

Captured Americans found dead

The Iraqi occupation government is reporting that the two kidnapped American soldiers, Private First Class Thomas Tucker (25y.o.) and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca (23y.o.) have been found dead.

No doubt Tucker and Menchaca have friends and family who will morn their loss. According to early accounts, it is likely they didn't die easily, and there is no evidence that they deserved to die horribly. (That's not to say they were innocent lambs -- they were volunteer soldiers, willingly taking part in an illegal war of aggression and occupation of a sovereign nation, one where there have been no shortage of atrocities on all sides.)

A few days earlier, Pharyngula expressed a wish that his country could take the moral high ground:

I can, in good conscience, sit here and hope that they are treated in a civilized fashion by their captors, and are eventually released unharmed; this will, of course, make American treatment of Iraqis look beastly and barbaric by comparison. If they are abused and humiliated, smeared with excrement, photographed naked in degrading poses, attacked by dogs, or otherwise maltreated, I can again in good conscience condemn their captors as barbarous animals; I'm not sure what the right wing in this country will do. Sneer at the ineffectual frat-boy hazing? [...]

Thanks to the inhumane policies of our government, we are now in a lose-lose situation. There is no reason to expect or demand any kind of moral treatment of our captured soldiers when we aren't willing to give such treatment to Iraqi prisoners.

The Rude Pundit also raises the question:
(Warning: contains extreme language.)

The Rude Pundit can't help thinking, though, about the implied "What if" of the capture, on the field of battle, of American soldiers, prisoners of war, if you will.
What if [...] the captors put the nude soldiers into rooms that are heated to hellish temperatures, followed by rooms that are impossibly cold with colder water tossed onto them? What if the soldiers are made to stand for days on end? [...]

What if they strap one or both of those Americans to a board and hold them underwater until their drowning reflex forces them to panic, thrash, claw desperately for air, only to be brought up to breathe and then placed underwater again? And again? Until the captors get the answers they seek?
What will our government do? What could it do? Could it condemn the actions as not abiding by the Geneva Conventions? Could it call the actions "torture"? Could it demand accountability? Could it demand that the soldiers be treated as POWs?

There is no moral high ground in Iraq. The war over Iraq isn't being fought between the good guys and bad guys ("us" and "them", or, if you prefer, "them" and "us"). It is being fought between bad guys and worse guys -- and it isn't exactly clear who are the worse guys.

This is hardly the first time, nor will it be the last. Scalping, that quintessential example of "barbarous" Amerindian behaviour, was rare (but probably not non-existent) in North America until it was taken up by the Europeans, who scalped natives themselves, paid bounties on scalps, and encouraged their native allies to scalp prisoners. On the other hand, many of the native tribes did have a very ... robust ... approach to torture, long before Europeans arrived.

It takes very little to make monsters from people. Civilization is the constant battle to keep from turning into a monster, and those who live in a state of denial that "we" could possibly be monstrous are halfway there.

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