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Inhofe Already!
May 15, 2004
By Alex Hacker

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Of all possible reactions to the news of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse and the uproar it has caused, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe's outrage is perhaps the most shocking, not because the Republican Senator has expressed outrage at the atrocities that were committed by American soldiers, but because he had the unbelievable gall to take umbrage at those who have responded to these incidents with horror and dismay.

During Tuesday's session of the Senate Armed Services Hearing on Iraqi Prisoner Treatment, Inhofe voiced his concern over "this outrage everyone seems to have about the treatment of these prisoners... I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment. The idea that these prisoners - you know, they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cell block 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

And so the cycle of outrage continues, because that is an outrageous statement for anyone to make, and moreso for an elected official purporting to represent his country.

First of all, no one "seems" to have outrage over these brutal, unlawful acts. We are outraged, period. Perhaps if Inhofe paid attention to the overwhelming response of people and politicians all over the world he might understand why. But instead he just says that he is "more outraged by the outrage" than he is "by the treatment."

That is perhaps the most stupid, backward, and inhumane thing said by any politician since the war began (quite an achievement), and the fact that Inhofe has support for his statements from some of his peers in Congress and a portion of the populace is very scary and itself outrageous, for his stance is representative of the kind of attitude that can only lead to more atrocities.

Since Inhofe seems not to understand why "we're so concerned with the treatment of those individuals," perhaps what seems obvious to most of the human race needs to be stated again. We are concerned because such atrocities are cruel and inhuman, and they should not take place against anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances. It is quite simple. There can be no excuses.

Inhofe, like President Bush, thinks it is somehow appropriate to bring up Saddam's record of brutality, but that is a weak and childish attempt to shift focus in the hope of escaping guilt. "I would guess," he said, "that these prisoners wake up every morning thanking Allah that Saddam Hussein is not in charge of these prisoners." At one point Saddam was presumably in charge of those prisoners, and surely they would wish he still was, but that's beside the point: it's doubtful that they thank anyone for anything when they awake.

Inhofe is suggesting that what those soldiers did to the Iraqi prisoners was bad, but nothing compared to what evil Saddam has been doing for years. The funny thing about comparisons is that they work in two directions, and once the focus is shifted back from Saddam onto the US soldiers, their acts look more atrocious, not less.

The fact is that no amount of explanation or talking around the subject can negate the feeling of repulsion, the natural and human feeling of outrage that the majority of people everywhere felt on seeing the photos of American soldiers torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners. We are concerned and outraged because supposedly U.S. forces are over there to end such atrocities, not propagate them. Did someone forget to inform the troops?

Inhofe seems to believe that the nature of these prisoners' crimes has something to do with this issue, with how they should or should not be treated. This is mere rhetoric, of course, standard political tripe, and it is entirely irrelevant. The claim that they are murderers, terrorists, and insurgents is worse than irrelevant: it is, from a political and juridical standpoint, untrue, because it has yet to be proven; no trials have taken place; the prisoners are detainees, awaiting tribunal, which happens to be one of the most basic of human rights.

Those prisoners are there because they are prisoners of war, and there are international codes of conduct for the treatment of such prisoners, the violation of which falls into the category of war crime. Since the Bush administration has seen fit to ignore international agreements in pursuing this war, perhaps it is not surprising that the soldiers it employs should follow suit, which is reason enough that responsibility for these abuses be placed on the shoulders of those at the highest levels of authority.

Inhofe says of Saddam that "when he was in charge they would take electric drills and drill holes through hands, they would cut their tongues out, they would cut their ears off." And when Bush was in charge they sexually molested them.

Inhofe's outrage looks suspiciously like an attempt to hush the dissenters before responsibility has time to step up the ladder to the highest rung of authority. He makes a feeble attempt to suggest that everything is under control, that it's all been taken care of, with the implicit suggestion that we should all just go back to our business now: "I hasten to say yeah, there are seven bad guys and gals that didn't do what they should have done. They were misguided, I think maybe even perverted, and the things that they did have to be punished. And they're being punished."

Bad? The epithet is far from the mark. More appropriate would be one the President is fond of: evil. Those acts were evil, and yes (not maybe), "even perverted." And Inhofe has it backwards, of course: it's not that they "didn't do what they should have done," but that they did do what they shouldn't have done. They did things that they, nor anyone else should ever do. And if they were "misguided" in doing such things, then who was their guide? It is not only seven "guys and gals," (Is that supposed to make them seem more likeable? As in "Oh, he's just one of the guys, you know, a sadistic sexual pervert.) who are responsible; it is an entire chain of command.

It doesn't stop here. If those with authority are going to suddenly divest themselves of responsibility, there can be no guarantees that more atrocities will not take place. Inhofe's statements, his outrage at the outrage of others, is a barrier to such guarantees. That is, in the end, why Inhofe's statements are so inappropriate, for these are not, to use his tasteless remark, "traffic violations." They represent, in the words of a recent statement issued by a conference of eight Arab nations and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and basic principles of humanity."

Inhofe would have the whole scandal swept under the rug immediately, along with international law and everyone's humanity. It is a blatant political move to make those of us in this country who would (and will, despite or because of him) continue to speak out and point fingers and express our outrage, feel somehow guilty for doing so.

And he doesn't stop there: "I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons, looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying." This statement is virtually impenetrable. Since when did humanitarian do-gooders become a target for disparagement? Does he expect them to go out and fight the good fight, with our "heroes," our troops, seven of whom are now being tried for what amounts to war crimes?

Inhofe sounds like Saddam trying to avoid more inspections, and his remark can only be interpreted as concern that perhaps there is more to come. If outrage should fade, as he wishes, and these investigations are not carried through to the very end, to the very highest levels of authority, then that concern could turn into yet another in a long string of outrageous realities perpetrated by the Bush administration.


Alex Hacker lives in Washington, DC.

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