"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Something is rotten in America
Cape Times
War in iraq spawning moral decay
February 15, 2005
By Allister Sparks

If Lord Acton was right in warning that power corrupts, surely the same can be said of war, which is the ultimate assertion of power. The warrior ethos has been glorified through the ages and continues today, as the chorus of praise one hears in the United States for its troops fighting in Iraq amply testifies.

Yet war is in fact a grim and brutal business that eats into the soul not only of the individuals engaged in it but of a whole nation.

As evidence, I offer you the words of a senior American general, Lieutenant-General James N Mattis, described as a revered figure in the Marine Corps, in the course of a lecture he gave the other day at a forum on strategies for America's "war on terrorism".

An audio recording made by the Associated Press captured his exact words.

"Actually it's a lot of fun to fight," Mattis told his audience. "You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

Mattis was not fired or demoted or even suspended for that statement. But he was reprimanded.

In a front page report on the affair, The New York Times tells us that General Michael W Hagee, Mattis's commanding officer at the head of the Marine Corps, issued a statement "scolding" the general.

"I have counselled him concerning his remarks," Hagee's statement said, "and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully." I just love that! So there is nothing wrong with the sentiments Mattis expressed, it's just that he chose his words a little clumsily.

A semantic slip, no more.

One is left wondering how those sentiments about the pleasures of shooting people might have been expressed a little more, shall we say, delicately.

Let's try this for size. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you all realise that in whatever career you follow, job satisfaction is important. You must enjoy your work if you are to be successful.

"Well, we in the military, and especially in the Marine Corps, are no different. We like our work. We find it enjoyable to take out people, especially those who have done things that make them less manly than we are."

Any better? Hardly. If anything, the euphemistic language makes it even more sickening. It's not the words but the sentiment Mattis expressed that reveals the extent to which this general who commanded forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq has devalued human life.

And when those who hold even more senior positions in a country that prides itself on its moral values cannot see that, it is time to worry.

The real point about all this is that Mattis's repulsive remarks, and his commanding officer's glossing over them, are not isolated events. They are evidence of the extent to which President George W Bush's so-called "war on terrorism" is leading the US into a morass of moral perfidy that is doing it more harm than the terrorists themselves ever could.

It started with the establishment of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which America uses as a naval base on a 100-year-old lease from Cuba, where thousands of suspected terrorists have been held for upward of two years in wire cages.

It is a site with a unique legal status that was deliberately chosen to enable the US government to circumvent its own revered constitution to hold these suspects indefinitely and to interrogate and even torture them.

This pattern of behaviour reached a notorious climax with the publication of those photographs taken at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq - the unforgettable image of that tiny female soldier in baggy military pants standing over a nude Iraqi man who lay cringing before her on a dog leash while she smiled and made gestures mocking his genitalia.

She has been court martialled, as has her immediate superior and lover who supervised the torturing and took the pictures.

But what of those above them, who knew and approved of the humiliations and the torture methods that were used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay?

"Extreme interrogation" is the official term used and there is evidence that it is still going on with tacit approval going right to the top.

Now the point of ultimate condonement has been reached.

Recently, the US Senate confirmed the appointment of Alberto Gonzales, the man who more than any other has come to represent the administration's role in paving the way for the abuse and torture of those prisoners, as attorney-general of the US.

Gonzales has had a long relationship with Bush. He was Bush's legal adviser during his six years as governor of Texas, in the course of which he routinely presented the governor with cursory little memos advising him to reject pleas for clemency from people facing the death sentence.

The result was that Bush presided over 152 executions in his six years, more than any other governor in the recent history of the US.

Bush took his legal adviser with him when he entered the White House, and it was there that Gonzales proffered the advice that made Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib possible. It was he who told the president that because Guantanamo Bay was not American territory, the US constitution would not apply to prisoners held there.

It was he who told the president that if he categorised the suspected terrorists as "illegal foreign combatants", the Geneva Conventions covering the treatment of prisoners of war would not apply to them.

It was he who proffered the legal opinion that the president, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the military, could override the constitution and authorise the use of "extreme interrogation" methods to extract information from imprisoned suspects that he considered vital for the security of the state.

In other words, that the president could declare himself above the law.

And it was Gonzales who, in written responses to senators' questions during his confirmation hearings, argued that intelligence agents could "abuse" prisoners as long as they did it to foreigners outside the US.

This is the man the president has appointed to the top legal post in the US, and whose appointment the Senate has approved by 60 votes to 36.

With such an example at the top, is it any surprise that there have been atrocities committed lower down, or that Mattis could speak publicly of what fun it is to shoot people in a war that is supposed to be liberating them from tyranny, or that his commanding officer should feel that deserved no more than a mild scolding?

As Shakespeare's Marcellus might have put it, something is rotten in the state of America.

# Sparks is a veteran journalist and political commentator