Friday, May 07, 2004

A Few Bugs in the System
This morning, NPR profiled Joseph Darby, the Pennsylvania soldier credited with reporting prisoner abuse to his superiors, thus blowing the lid off the situation in Iraq. Darby wasn't the only person who knew about it--the International Committee of the Red Cross said today they'd been complaining about it for over a year--but if he hadn't slipped a note under a superior officer's door, the abuse might have gone on longer. To go by the comments of friends and neighbors in the NPR profile, Darby almost comes off as a fictional character--quiet, kind, the sort of kid who wouldn't cut through a neighbor's yard to visit a girlfriend even after the neighbor gave him permission to. Opie Taylor in fatigues.

It's hard to be a lone wolf, especially in the military, "army of one" notwithstanding. But Darby saw an injustice and said something about it when other people didn't, which is mighty damn brave in my book--and more heroic than anything Jessica Lynch did. So where's Darby's book deal and TV movie? My guess is that he might get something else first. Unlike Lynch, whose largely-manufactured plight served the interests of the war machine, Darby's actions brought worldwide condemnation onto the Bush administration, and we all know what happens to anyone who dares to speak ill of our Maximum Leader. So how long until the right-wing smear machine cranks up to destroy this kid for daring to speak out?

I have to hand it to Rumsfeld, though. In an appearance before Congress today, he apologized for the abuse in an explicit fashion: "I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't, and that was wrong. So to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was inconsistent with the values of our nation. It was inconsistent with the teachings of the military, to the men and women of the armed forces. And it was certainly fundamentally un-American."

That is precisely what needs to be said. (Bush should have said it too.) But it shouldn't have taken this long. It's clear that the administration would not have gone this far in apologizing if the story could have been made to go away at any point in the last couple of weeks. And it's clear also that the Bush apology yesterday and Rummy's mea culpa today are intended to signal that it's time to move on and that there's nothing more to see here. But there ought to be more, and everybody who knows anything about how Washington usually works knows it. In other administrations, people as senior as Rumsfeld have been terminated with extreme prejudice over far less. It's indicative of the intransigence of the administration that nobody is going to get fired over this.

Recommended reading: By the time the November election happens, it will have been handicapped in every way imaginable. In the New Yorker, Ben McGrath introduces us to Kathryn Cason, whose field is textual analysis. Based on her analysis of the two candidates' rhetorical styles, she is 100 percent certain that Kerry will beat Bush--but by her formula, Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley Braun would, too. So maybe there are a few bugs in the system.

Tonight on Best of the Blogs (yep, I'm still posting over there sometimes): Road Trip.

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