Incalculable damage has been done to U.S. efforts to establish a stable, free government in Iraq.
All it took were a few photographs. The appalling pictures of U.S. soldiers forcibly posing nude Iraqi prisoners in degrading positions may very well have set back our efforts to achieve stability in that region for decades. It was incredibly wrong and incredibly stupid. The guards who committed these acts have no idea of the fresh hatred they have kindled for all things western among Arabs throughout the world. America's enemies couldn't have asked for an incident that would do more to serve their destructive purposes.
To his credit, President George W. Bush didn't try to hide behind legal niceties or references to abuse allegations when he spoke with Al-Arabiya television. He described what he saw in the pictures as "abhorrent" and pledged to fully to prosecute those who are responsible.
This, of course, is the difference between the regime of Saddam Hussein and the United States government. When atrocities were committed by Saddam's forces there was never an accounting or a reckoning with justice. The U.S. government, as flawed and imperfect as it sometimes is, has institutional safeguards and the nagging presence of a free press to ensure that crimes will be investigated and prosecuted.
Great care should be taken to determine whether these brutal acts were isolated incidents or part of a calculated intelligence procedure to break down prisoners.
Now, the task before the U.S. is to try to figure out how to establish a free Iraq when U.S. credibility in that region of the world has been shattered. Clearly, the U.S. is going to require the help of the United Nations or other nations as it seeks to bring political order to the mess that is Iraq.
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