The cold and inhuman acts of abuse committed at the Abu Ghraib prison are, sadly, the first signs of the decline of a great power.
As a former U.S. soldier who served in Iraq, I am ashamed of the abuse inflicted on Abu Ghraib prisoners by American troops [May 17]. The actions shown in the photographs were deliberate, and the soldiers' excuse that they were simply following orders is absurd. Every U.S. service member has the right to decline an order that is morally wrong. All the proper training in the world cannot replace a lack of morals. This scandal undermines everything that I and many others did to help the Iraqi people.
We should be angered by the extensive outrage over Abu Ghraib. It's easy for people to judge these soldiers, but I thank them for the job they are doing. They are dealing with fighters who kill Americans without thought or concern. The critics should shut up, unless they are willing to put their lives on the line.
Just as Muslims want others to differentiate between the peaceful side of Islam and the violent side practiced by some of its followers, so must the West want to differentiate between those who live up to Western ideals and those who do not. Both cultures have failed.
Redhuan D. Oon
President George W. Bush has apologized for the mistreatment and torture of Iraqi prisoners. Now it is time for Muslim clerics to denounce the terrorists or admit that Islam is fighting a war with us—a religious war. The pictures of prisoner abuse were not meant for public distribution, unlike the videos of the beheadings of noncombatants taped by Islamic murderers. The mullahs must show that this barbaric behavior is not tolerated—or admit to being accomplices.
How did it come to this? When Bush launched an illegal war, he created an atmosphere that led some Americans to believe that anything goes. Please, America, don't blame the soldiers. Blame Bush, and hold him responsible in November.
If leadership creates culture and culture sanctions behavior, then look to the mind and behavior of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before you search elsewhere for answers to your cover's question, HOW DID IT COME TO THIS? Rumsfeld's acceptance of "full responsibility" for the Abu Ghraib scandal means nothing while he remains in office. Can't Bush see that?
The inhumane treatment at Abu Ghraib becomes even more abhorrent if one considers that the U.S. State Department regularly releases reports on human-rights practices around the world. Bush and his associates should perhaps spend less time sticking their noses into the business of the rest of the world and more time teaching a few basics to the soldiers they send on "liberation" missions.
I am Italian. I've been to the cemetery at Omaha Beach, touched hundreds of white crosses, read the names of the dead, prayed, cried and said thank you to all Americans for my liberty. On 9/11, I was traveling in California, and I was emotionally destroyed. When U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan, I supported them. When Bush decided to invade Iraq, I wasn't sure about the weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but I trusted the Americans. When no stockpiles of WMD were found, I turned against Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. After the scandal of Abu Ghraib, I am unable to find the words to express my disgust. I will never forget that Americans liberated Italy, but Bush does not reflect the America of the days of World War II. I hope he will be sent packing in the next election and the U.S. will return to being a republic, not an empire.
The Abu Ghraib jailers claim they were only following military orders. But as the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis showed, that is not a justifiable excuse. No individual possessing even an ounce of humanity would execute such orders. But the American soldiers did. Bush would have us believe that those troops do not represent American values. Yet they do show a moral black hole in the American psyche.
Oke G. Pamp
How can anyone in the Arab world ever again defend what the U.S. stands for? The shocking pictures displayed on TV screens in Arab homes only confirm the hypocrisy of U.S. policy in the Middle East. While things the Israelis do are condoned and shielded by the U.S., Iraqis are tortured and humiliated. How can moderates in the Arab world advocate the American democratic system as a model for their own countries? The U.S.'s plans and policies for the Middle East are a complete mess.
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
In "Their Humiliation, and America's" [May 17], essayist Nancy Gibbs wrote that the pictures from Abu Ghraib forced Americans "to see ourselves as the world sees us"—as oppressors without respect for other countries' citizens, their culture or history. I don't believe that Americans are that way, but the scandal has given jihadists a gift of incalculable value. How many gruesome, savage executions will they commit as retribution for the humiliation and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners?
Gibbs chose the right word to describe the effect of the prison-abuse scandal: humiliation. Some photo images find the retina of the heart and never go away: the fallen G.I.s on Omaha Beach on D-day, the napalmed girl in Vietnam and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. And now the photos of depraved acts perpetrated against Iraqis by Americans at Abu Ghraib have soiled and overwhelmed the sensibilities of good people everywhere.
I understand Gibbs' lament that we Americans are losing our moral authority, but as a Vietnam veteran, I want to tell people that the real problem is the evil of war. When we follow in lockstep behind an Administration that has rained down high-tech death on thousands of innocent Iraqis while our own country faces no imminent threat, how can we think the U.S. had any moral authority to begin with? If ever we are to claim some semblance of respect, we must become champions of nonviolent conflict-resolution policies, something about which the Bush Administration seems to have not the slightest clue.
The Games Must Go On
"How Safe Is Athens?" [May 17] reported that although the three bombs that went off behind an Athens police station did not injure or kill anybody, they hurt global confidence in the security measures for the upcoming Olympic Games. As an Athenian, I was terrorized more by the gloomy perceptions of foreign journalists and security experts than by the bombs. The media's reaction was disproportionate to the seriousness of the incident. Greece has done more than enough to safeguard the success of the Games. Athens is quite a safe place—no need to panic. Most of my compatriots have canceled going away on their usual August holidays in order to attend the Olympic Games. Come to Athens and watch the athletic contests, expose yourself to Hellenic civilization and take a vacation in the beautiful Greek Islands.
The Trouble with Tribesmen
"Tribal Tribulations" [May 17] described Pakistan's abandoning of its campaign to flush out Islamic militants hiding in Waziristan, near Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan. You stated that "Pakistan's decision to pull back is leaving others to question again Islamabad's commitment to the war on terror." Although I support the war against terrorists and al-Qaeda, Pakistan should do what's best for Pakistan. After all, the U.S. does what is good for the U.S. Why are we Pakistanis expected to destroy our country and kill our own people to please the U.S.? If Pakistan goes against the Wazir tribal people with force rather than negotiate with them, the result will be the destruction of more mosques and churches and the deaths of more Pakistanis. The Pakistani military entered this troubled area only last year. You can't expect things to change so fast. It will take time. Be patient.
Telemarketers in Iraq
A continuing stream of resentments is turning Iraqis against the U.S. [May 10]. That's what happens when one country invades another with no clarion call from a significant portion of its population, not even from those who are being persecuted. How lucky for the U.S. that in the 19th century there was no nation strong enough—or presumptive enough—to attack our country to rid it of the dreadful scourge of slavery. Without having been asked, America is inflicting its desires and aspirations upon others. The U.S. might be likened to a telemarketer, and before you know it, we may find ourselves being called Uncle Spam.
America's choices in Iraq are meager. Short of a complete makeover, which would cost at least $1 trillion and take 20 to 30 years, the only practical solution is to apologize and give Iraq $100 billion to repair the damage we have done and put someone like Saddam Hussein in charge. Although the man's behavior was demonic, we have found that we cannot run his country without using some of his methods.
Paul N. Nash
The People's Economy
Re "Where Presidents Have No Power" [May 10]: essayist Charles Krauthammer had the guts to say what every Republican knows—that in a capitalist country the people, not the President, affect the economy. If Americans spend billions of dollars on foreign products, U.S. unemployment goes up. If they buy products made in America, our unemployment goes down. It's human nature to blame the President for our mistakes, but if we really cared about U.S. workers, we would support them by buying U.S.-made products.
Cleve Mark McVane Jr.
Pleasant Hill, U.S.
"Reconsidering Friends," James Poniewozik's analysis of how the hit TV series redefined the idea of normal family life, was right on target [April 26]. The message of Friends is that there is no "normal" anymore. This witty sitcom showed that there is the possibility of grace in the midst of what cultural conservatives disdainfully refer to as dysfunctional relationships. The grace is evident in the characters' unconditional love and acceptance of one another's foibles and downright annoying idiosyncrasies. The best thing about the show is not so much its humor but the way it depicts the virtues of true friendship.
Emmanuel V. Arcenas
Easy Does It—Again
Our story "Life on the Front Lines," about the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines' Easy Company and its operations battling Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah [IRAQ, May 10], drew a number of letters from veterans who believed that the company's name wasn't Easy but Echo. According to the military's phonetic alphabet—Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo—E Company would logically be called Echo Company. So why isn't it? As the Marine Corps News reported in January 2003, "The Marines of the current Echo Company have recently been given the green light ... to refer to their company once again, in all but official matters, as Easy Company." Reason: during World War II, the company's original nom de guerre was Easy Company. The unit fought tenaciously in the Battle of Tarawa and other key actions, and as the Marine Corps News noted, "the unit's current Marines felt a need to establish a link to that history." Terry Kindlon of Albany, New York, was one of several readers who questioned the name, and when he learned the reason for the Easy Company's designation, he noted, "That's a great story. And although there's obviously nothing 'easy' about what Easy Company is doing in Iraq, that is just the sort of irony that appeals to Marines, who are known for their lighthearted, whistling-past-the-graveyard sense of humor."
Setting the Record Straight
In the story on British Olympic pentathlete Georgina Harland [May 17], we said that in the pistol-shooting section of the pentathlon, "competitors are given 40 seconds to fire off 20 shots." The 40-second time limit applies to each shot fired, not the entire 20-shot match.