Did the Iraqi prisoners deserve it?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2005

They’ve been called a disgrace. They’ve been called embarrassments to America. They’ve called them barbarians. And now Spc. Charles Graner has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and many more soldiers are about to be charged for helping to torture Iraqi prisoners, forcing them to pose for pictures piled up naked, pointing at their genitals, holding a leash around the necks of naked men, and doing other &uot;obscene&uot; things to them.

With all the visual evidence, it’s tough to defend the soldiers’ actions. Chances are, many of them will either cut a plea deal or be found guilty at trial.

However, maybe we shouldn’t be discussing whether or not the soldiers are guilty. Let’s talk about whether they were wrong.

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Did the soldiers do things that could be considered immoral? Sure they did. But the issue here isn’t morality and it isn’t torture. It’s about the fact that we as Americans are supposed to better than the scumbags over in Iraq that would kill every one of us if they got the chance. We’ve always had a pretty high opinion of ourselves, and, in most cases, rightfully so.

Remember the Associated Press photographs that ran in so many newspapers and magazines of jubilant Iraqis dragging dead Americans through their streets? Do you recall the throngs celebrating after thousands of innocent Americans died on Sept. 11? So do I. But ever since then, we as Americans have looked at parasites like them and said, &uot;You people celebrate the pain and suffering of people you never met, never knew, never cared about. We don’t do that. We don’t rub people’s faces in their own agony. We don’t mock those that are already in pain.&uot;

Again, for the most part, we were right, because on that level, most Americans are vastly superior to the barbarians that have ruled Iraq and Afghanistan for years.

Problem was, people like Graner showed that we might have been wrong. He and the rest of his comrades displayed a side of Americans that we try to hide.

It’s easy to criticize them and. look down on them. But are these soldiers truly evil, hurtful beings, or just doing the things that most of us would have probably loved to have done if we got the chance?

The people that those graphic photos showed being humiliated would have done the same thing to Americans if they could. Just about every Iraqi soldier, every member of Al-Queda, so many anti-Americans from across the globe would love to see Americans humiliated, tortured, even killed.

Maybe that’s what the Americans were thinking. Maybe they thought, &uot;You know what, these people have been doing everything in their power to hurt my countrymen, to laugh in the faces of those that have already lost their friends or family, to shoot them down without any conscience at all, and now they’re going to pay. These detainees aren’t here because they’re innocent citizens snatched from their homes. They’re here because they tried to kill me and my friends. And now they’re going to pay. Now I’m going to take matters into my own hands. Now they’re going to see what happens to those that try to hurt Americans. Now I’m going to do it to them

and let them see how their own medicine tastes.&uot;

Did Graner and the soliders really humiliate America? I don’t think so. I think that they just revealed that we, like everyone else in the world, truly have a dark side. I don’t believe that the people that are criticizing them, the people that are portraying the people that they tortured as victims, really believe what they’re saying.

Those soldiers aren’t victims. They’re not sympathetic. If they could tie us up naked, if they could torture us, if they could see us in even more pain, they would. The fact that they haven’t (not yet) doesn’t detract from the fact that they’re our enemies (and before I get any nasty e-mails blaring about how we shouldn’t be there, that’s not relevant either. People like Graner didn’t beg to go to Iraq and get the chance to do what they did. They went because they were ordered by the commander-in-chief.

Yes, it’s easy to condemn these people. But now let’s show our willingness-to-be-intellectual side and try to understand why they did it. Rather than just slap them with a label and sweep them under the rug, let’s go into this a bit more. Let’s prove that we’re better than most people, and show that we have the know-how to explore a situation on an academic level.

We as outsiders can’t know what they were feeling. But if we were in the same position, moral beings though we may be, maybe we’d let our own darkness out to play. Maybe we’d see the images of them celebrating death and destruction flashing through our own memories, and decide that it was time for redemption. With the images of our dead parents, brothers, sisters, and children in our head, maybe we wouldn’t want to hold back if we could make the people that did it pay.

So maybe that’s what we really need to think about – if we were in the same position, might we have done the same thing? And if so, maybe we shouldn’t be criticizing someone else for doing it.

Jason Norman is sports editor of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9614, or via e-mail at jason.norman@suffolknewsherald.com.