Moral Lessons of Iraqi Abuse

There is a reason that the religion writers at the Dallas Morning News keep winning all those awards. It's stories like this-- an exploration of the moral lessons from the abuse of Iraqi prisons.

No simplistic, finger pointing or sermons here. Just lots of context. They say a picture is better than 1,000 words, but what if they are the wrong words, or if some words are missing. The pictures don't tell us the why--what motivated the US guards to act in this way. Was it simply for kicks, or did they think they were doing the right thing. That's what reporter Jess Weiss asked:

What would make the abuses caught in the photos seem like a morally justifiable idea to those involved?

There may have been a reasonable intelligence goal behind the humiliation of the Iraqi prisoners, said Dr. Earl Tilford, history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and the former director of research at the U.S. Army's Strategic Studies Institute.

"They didn't take those pictures for their own pornographic amusement," he speculated. "They intended to show the pictures to new prisoners, to tell them that tthis could happen if they didn't cooperate. That was a perfectly legitimate tactic."

Weiss also asked--how is it that President Bush's message--that the Iraqi people are not the enemy--got lost.

One reason is that the practices of warfare--in which you try and kill the enemy--don't exactly make you want to see your enemies as human beings. That's the point made by Rev. Steve Munson, a Baptist pastor and Army chaplain who Weiss tell us wrote weekly dispatches for The Dallas Morning News for almost a year.

"Emotionally, it's much harder to take the life of someone you recognize as completely human," he said

Then Weiss makes this point about what went wrong at the Abu Ghraib prison. There were no chaplains there.

The chaplain corps is supposed to be one bulwark against immoral commands and commanders, said Mr. Munson, a former Marine sergeant.

Chaplains, he said, "are the ethical or moral conscience of the battalion. How effective we are varies."

Chaplains are trained to seek potentially unethical or immoral behavior, and soldiers are told to seek the chaplain if they have ethical questions about orders, he said.

Hopefully, enough congressman and Pentagon and administration folk will ask the same questions Weiss did, and not simply look for a scapegoat, like PFC Lynndie England. She may have done some reprehensible things, but unless we figure out what the pictures don't tell us, she may get more blame than she deserves.


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