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June 03, 2006

Life and War Are Full Of "Inconvenient Truths"

This morning, the veil of innocence was rudely torn from our eyes...

It was a little trippy last night at the 92d Street Y. Sitting with an old friend, Dan Savage, and a seventies icon, Erica Jong, talking about sex in front of a few hundred Upper East Side denizens is not something you do every day. I said the f-word first, I'm happy to say, and after that, it was all downhill.

For me the interesting point came when Dan and I agreed that moderate hypocrisy - especially in marriages - is often the best policy. Monogamy is very hard for men, straight or gay, and if one partner falters occasionally (and I don't mean regularly), sometimes discretion is perfectly acceptable. You could see Jong bridle at the thought of such dishonesty. But I think the post-seventies generation - those of us who grew up while our parents were having a sexual revolution - both appreciate the gains for sexual and emotional freedom, while being a little more aware of their potential hazards. An acceptance of mild hypocrisy as essential social and marital glue is not a revolutionary statement. It's a post-revolutionary one. As is, I'd say, my generation as a whole.

... and suddenly, in one of those bizarre epiphanies that only seem to happen when you're listening to lustrous pearls of wisdom drop from the mouth of someone with a British accent, everything became so very clear.

Monogamy is hard for men. Fidelity: the ridiculous presumption that people should honor their promises, that they can be trusted, relied upon even when the going gets tough; has gone the way of the dinosaurs. I mean, does anyone really believe that sort of Pollyanna-ish nonsense these days? Certainly not our generation. We're far more sophisticated than that, these days. We wear our cynicism like a badge of honor.

Let's admit it, constancy is unnatural. It requires commitment. And we all have our own needs. No one in today's world seriously expects people to keep that sort of charade up indefinitely, do we? That kind of hypocrisy went out with circle skirts and narrow ties, with showing twin beds in the bedrooms of married couples on our black and white TVs.

Let's be real.

And if monogamy is hard, think of the other promises we make that often prove even more difficult to fulfill. What of them? How realistic are our expections where they are concerned? Child rearing is, at times, unbearably hard. So unnatural to put aside your own selfish interests for some little monster who doesn't even love you back, at first.

And war. War is hard.

Really hard, as we learned to our sorrow when the news of Haditha hit us like a fist to the solar plexus. The military, the one institution Americans still love and trust, was revealed to have feet of clay. War, contrary to all the John Wayne movies we love to watch on Saturday afternoon, really is hell. The investigations are incomplete and the reports have yet to be released, but luckily for us the verdict is in. The Marines are guilty and Haditha is the My Lai of Iraq: living proof that wars are dirty and dishonorable business and we should not have fought there. Haditha is My Lai and Iraq is Vietnam. It's deja vu all over again: the circle is complete.

The lips of the unnamed officer who briefed Congress must barely have had time to stop moving when Rep. Murtha (D, Iraq=Vietnam) charged from the House floor with the light of battle in his eyes. The Marines were clearly guilty and in light of the horror America was inflicting in the name of spreading democracy, it was time to throw in the towel:

One man was killed with an IED, and after that … they actually went into the houses and killed women and children. And there was about twice as many as originally reported by Time.

..."Eighty percent of the Iraqis want us out of there," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine veteran and prominent critic of U.S. policy in Iraq, on "Good Morning America." "Forty-seven percent say it's all right to kill Americans. Yet when we went in, they thought it was wonderful to topple Saddam Hussein. Now we've lost that war, and now it is time to redeploy."

Rep. Murtha has been declaring our military broken and the war lost for months now, so it was hardly a surprise that he would seize on this latest opportunity. But in all the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth about Haditha, amid all the hyperbole and the outrage lie a number of inconvenient truths no one wants to admit.

Truths like this:


Pictures of dead Iraqis, with their necks slashed, their eyes gouged out and their genitals blackened, fill a bookshelf. Jail cells, with dried blood on the floor and rusted shackles bolted to the walls, line the corridors. And the screams of what could be imprisoned men in an underground detention center echo through air shafts and sewer pipes.

"This is the place where Saddam made people disappear," said an Iraqi soldier named Iyad Hussein, 37, describing Iraq's Military Intelligence Directorate in the northwestern suburb of Kadimiya. "It is a chamber of death."

The secrets of Saddam Hussein's reign of terror are beginning to emerge. Iraqi civilians who had longed feared speaking out about the alleged atrocities for fear of government retribution are revealing in detail what the Iraqi dictator and his regime inflicted on some of the country's 26 million people.

They paint a picture of arrests, killings and torture that have led human rights groups to condemn the Iraqi leader in the strongest terms. The groups have charged that tens of thousands of Iraqis, from Kurds in the north to Shiites in the south, were tortured and killed after Saddam seized power in 1979.

The American public has been literally bombarded with photos of American abuses at Abu Ghuraib. What is rarely spoken of is what went on at Abu Ghuraib before the US-led invasion of Iraq:


In 2001 the prison is thought to have held as many as 15,000 inmates. Hundreds of Shi'a Kurds and Iraqi citizens of Iranian ethnicity had reportedly been held there incommunicado and without charges since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War. Guards fed shredded plastic to prisoners. There are allegations that some of these detainees were subjected to experiments as part of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons program.

The killings in just a single month in 1997 were staggering:

The total number killed at Abu Ghuraib prison and the Radwaniyah detention center in late November and early December may have reached 800 to 1,500 persons. Opposition groups alleged that all political prisoners with sentences of more than 15 to 20 years were summarily executed. Qusay Hussein again was named as instrumental in this program of executions, allegedly ordering that the prisons be "cleaned out."

But we are told by those who know better that the Iraqis were "better off under Saddam". We are told we have no right to "impose democracy" on a country that has had a complex and ferocious tribal culture since the Gardens of Babylon were still hanging, that the sometime abuses of a minority of Iraq's liberators are far, far worse than the systematic and brutal policy of a government which ruthlessly used torture to suppress 80% of Iraq's populace for over three decades. Iraq is worse off, you see, because we are in Iraq now and these abuses contradict everything we believe in. No doubt the casualties of war feel even more dead, even more traumatized knowing that we have violated our own principles. What we've done in Iraq is worse because in trying to stop tens of thousands of instances of systematic rape, mutilation, torture, and murder, in trying to bring an end to decades of unbelievable horror, we have been unable to prevent bad things from happening, mistakes from being made.

What incredible arrogance. What were we thinking?

We are told that democracy brought death to Haditha, as though death had been a stranger to Iraq before we came there.

Yes, it would be far "better" for the Iraqis if we withdrew and allowed the kind of men who strap bombs to young people and women, who intentionally target civilians instead of going after the uniformed "occupiers" of Iraq, to have their way.

Better for whom? Were the Kurds "better off" under Saddam?

Documents captured by Kurds document the arrest and execution of 8,000 men and boys in 1983.

Amnesty International estimates over 100,000 Kurds were killed or "disappeared" during 1987-88.

A chemical weapons attack on the town of Halabja killed 5,000 civilians and injured 10,000 more.

Were the Shia?

Shias are the majority community in Iraq, making up 60% of the population, but any religious or tribal leader that becomes too prominent is killed before he or she is a threat to the regime.

More than 100 Shia clerics have disappeared since the 1991 uprising. The most senior among them, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was murdered in 1999.

Entire Shia villages were destroyed in response to attacks on government buildings in southern Iraq.

Marshes in the south have also been drained to force Shia Marsh Arabs - a distinct indigenous group who have lived on the marshes for millennia - to move to cities where they could be more easily controlled by President Saddam's security apparatus.

Half the estimated 400,000 Marsh Arabs are now living in refugee camps in Iran. The remainder are internally displaced in Iraq.

How about the children of Iraq?

The skeletons of unborn babies and toddlers clutching toys are being unearthed, the investigators said.

The body of one woman was found still clutching a baby. The infant had been shot in the back of the head and the woman in the face.

"The youngest foetus we have was 18 to 20 foetal weeks," said US investigating anthropologist P Willey.

"Tiny bones, femurs - thighbones the size of a matchstick."

Mr Kehoe investigated mass graves in the Balkans for five years but those burials mainly involved men of fighting age and the Iraqi finds were quite different, he said.

"I've been doing grave sites for a long time, but I've never seen anything like this, women and children executed for no apparent reason," he said.

Surely women were better off, as we've been repeatedly informed by the media?

Under the pretext of fighting prostitution, units of "Fedayeen Saddam," the paramilitary organization led by Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son, have beheaded in public more than 200 women throughout the country, dumping their severed heads at their families' doorsteps. Many families have been required to display the victim's head on their outside fences for several days. These barbaric acts were carried out in the total absence of any proper judicial procedures and many of the victims were not engaged in prostitution, but were targeted for political reasons. For example, Najat Mohammad Haydar, an obstetrician in Baghdad, was beheaded after criticizing the corruption within health services. (Amnesty International Report, Iraq: Systematic Torture of Political Prisoners, August 2001; Iraqi Women's League in Damascus, Syria)

The Iraqi Government uses rape and sexual assault of women to achieve the following goals: to extract information and forced confessions from detained family members; to intimidate Iraqi oppositionists by sending videotapes showing the rape of female family members; and to blackmail Iraqi men into future cooperation with the regime. Some Iraqi authorities even carry personnel cards identifying their official "activity" as the "violation of women's honor." (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2001, March 2002; Iraq Research and Documentation Project, Harvard University)

The Iraqi Government routinely tortures and kills female dissidents and the female relatives of Iraqi oppositionists and defectors. Victims include Safiyah Hassan, the mother of two Iraqi defectors, who was killed after publicly criticizing the Iraqi Government for killing her sons after their return to Iraq. Women in Saddam's jails are subjected to the following forms of torture: brutal beatings, systematic rape, electrical shocks, and branding.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein introduced Article 111 into the Iraqi Penal Code in a calculated effort to strengthen tribal support for his regime. This law exempts men who kill their female relatives in defense of their family's honor from prosecution and punishment. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women reported that more than 4,000 women have been victims of so-called "honor killings" since Article 111 went into effect. (UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, January 2002)

Yes, women in especial must long for the return of Sunni anti-democratic minority rule in Iraq. After all, Iraq was a much safer place before the brutal, illegal and unjustified American occupation.

Over and over during the past few years, I have heard critics of the administration and the war, pundits, bloggers on the left and right, and even those who support what we are trying to do express outrage, frustration, sadness, and above all a profound sense of disquiet about war.

Welcome to the real world. War is ugly. It is horrible. It is deeply, profoundly disturbing. But there are worse things than war:

"Date: 9/25/03 8:27:01 PM Dear Mom and Dad: I have learned that the right thing and the necessary thing are not synonymous, rarely are they even in the same ballpark. It's very depressing to see the results of some necessary actions, it's never pure, and there is no purity here . . .

"People ignore what they cannot see. They just don't want to know. The truth is too ugly and vicious to comprehend . . .

"In a natural state a human will kill, and kill not always for necessity, but for convenience as well. The only way that I know I am still me is that I hate that fact; I hate it more than anything I have ever known."

Indifference is worse. Right now, the very same pundits who decry our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan are screaming bloody murder about Darfur. Strange, then, that they've been so quick to forgive Saddam Hussein for the genocide he practiced in pre-war Iraq. Strange that the very same folks who complain about the quality of life to Iraq today, about electricity that doesn't work and oil lines that don't flow as freely as they should, skip right over the tens of thousands of Iraqi babies who died during the UN-imposed sanctions we used to 'contain' Saddam Hussein.

If only we could go back to the good old days, when there was no news coming out of Iraq and we didn't have to confront the horror. When we could tell ourselves, even if it wasn't true, that our hands were clean.

I hope one of these smart people, who are so disturbed over our "failures" in Iraq and Afghanistan can tell me what they propose to do when we pull out? What do they think will happen? Why do they think a small minority of Iraqis are planting bombs and practicing terrorism against their fellow Muslims - innocent civilians - in order to prevent a democratic government from being formed?

The insurgents, too, long for the good old days. And right now, we are the only thing standing between them and their heart's desire. And that's an Inconvenient Truth we all too often forget when the media is parading an endless stream of sensationalized stories about Abu Ghuraib and Haditha before our eyes.

Yes, we are disturbed. We should be, when things like this happen. But the fact that we are finding out about them at all indicates that the rule of law and freedom of the press are, at long last and however imperfectly, coming to a land that has suffered for decades in silence. We are in a battle for the heart and soul of the Arab world. We are fighting to determine whether it will come forward into the light, or recede back into the darkness. And every step we take has been dogged by critics who long for a return of the good old days, when America sat, and fulminated in occasional outrage on the Op-Ed pages of the NY Times about what a bad, bad man Saddam was.

And did nothing.

When we stood silently by and allowed babies to be slaughtered, women to be raped and beheaded, men to have their genitals burned out and their tongues cut from their mouths. This is, we are told, vastly preferable to a world in which Iraq and Afghanistan have the chance to determine their own future, one in which people will still commit crimes, innocents will still die, and savage men will still try to control their future, but they have a fighting chance. But fighting, we are told, never resolves anything. Better to suffer in silence and hope for a better tomorrow. Fighting only stirs up the terrorists, makes them ornery. The good old days were preferable to a world in which good men sometimes falter and fail to live up to their ideals, one in which we are confronted with the visible evidence that not even democracy can completely prevent man's occasional inhumanity to man, but there are laws and courts and a press that attempt, however imperfectly, to bring them to justice. How dare we try to bring that kind of change to Iraq? It's disturbing. Messy, too.

Make no mistake: the good old days are what the insurgents are fighting for. They do not want freedom of the press. If they win, we won't see any more Abu Ghuraib-style photos in the Western media.

We won't hear about any more Hadithas.

But not even Andrew Sullivan's "generation" can believe that that sort of thing will no longer occur. They just won't be inconvenienced... they won't be disturbed by it because in that brave new world, there will be no trials. No coverage by CNN. When the world's most powerful nation admits that war is "too hard" for them, that it's no longer realistic to expect a perfect war in which everyone always behaves impeccibly 100% of the time, we can all go back to wondering why America doesn't do anything about the killing in Darfur.

What a relief that will be.

CWCID, Saddam torture photo.

Posted by Cassandra at June 3, 2006 10:19 AM


I hope and pray our culture is worthy of an epitaph other than "They Were Victims Of An Inconvenient Truth!"

Posted by: vet66 at June 3, 2006 12:32 PM

wow, you nailed it

Posted by: Jane at June 3, 2006 01:58 PM

Well said Cass. Better than I would have said it thats for sure.
War is mean. War is nasty. And- if you don't want to see killing then don't send in the Marines. (Ogre said that...)

Posted by: Raven at June 3, 2006 03:54 PM

First time I've ever visited your site, I'll definitely be back. You're dead on, Cass. War is hard, it's rough, and not pleasant to look at. That's why we save it as a last option.

Posted by: SFC D at June 3, 2006 04:37 PM

Hooah for putting things so clearly!

Posted by: Greta (Hooah Wife) at June 3, 2006 05:21 PM

I think what bothers me so much is that there doesn't seem to be much recognition of just how hard the Marines (all our troops, really) try not to kill indiscriminately. Or of how many of us have died as a consequence of that policy.

We are trying to do something extraordinarily difficult over there. Obviously that does not excuse wrongdoing. But it would be nice to see a bit more perspective instead of either the knee-jerk "They're killing innocent civilians because of the stress" (what a load of crap - if that were true we'd have been knee deep in Hadithas ages ago) or the "brutal killers" meme (again, an unfair and ridiculous exaggeration.

It's easy to carp. What's hard is to put forth workable alternatives. And I'm not sure that from a 'progressive' standpoint, doing nothing was a moral alternative. If it is, perhaps they can explain the calls to intervene in Darfur, Bosnia, etc. In this case self-interest coincided with humanitarian concerns, which is the only reason I can see asking an all volunteer force to risk their lives to free another people.

Because it's hard, because it has been imperfectly executed like every other stinking war in the history of mankind, does not make it the wrong decision.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 3, 2006 06:57 PM

You are obviously a crazed right-wing jingoist! I read my objective, latest edition of The Nation and it clearly said our babykiller Marines killed at least 30 million innocent Iraqi civilians! NPR also confirmed this, so it MUST be true!

Rep. Murtha has war medals and everything, just like John Kerry, and everyone knows decorated liberals are like holy saints, if we believed in all that religion garbage that is. So when Murtha said Bush was personally beheading babies and impaling their heads on stakes in Baghdad, I know its true.

You would think Bush would be too tired from stealing all the oil to give to his cronies at Halliburton to go on beheading sprees, but he is relentless and tireless in his evil (if we believed in making moral judgments like "good" and "evil" that is).

Yeah, Bush is really screwing this one up. The French loved us and worshipped the ground we walked on until Bush made them hate us over the Iraq war. In fact, all those socialist europeans, and the rest of the world for that matter, were having parades in America's honor until Bush destroyed our world reputation.

Me and all my liberal friends know that Iraq was a stupid distraction from the War on Terror. Bush should have focused on Afghanistan, even though we also opposed his decision to invade there as well. It was a sovereign nation after all!

If a democrat had been in charge, we wouldn't have made the mistakes that Shrub did! We would have gotten another dozen or so UN resolutions! That would tell Al-Quada what for! The French might have been willing to send a stiff diplomatic note to Osama telling him that, this time young man, you are in big trouble! He might be sent to his cave with no supper!

A democrat would also have known to work cooperatively with local govts to chase Al-Quaeda, rather than using illegitimate means like bombs and troops. We would have gone, for example, to the Afghanistani Supreme Court for permission to serve warrants on terrorists there. Naturally, we would have used indigenous Taliban peace officers to do this. First, though, we would have to train the Taliban sheriffs on US Constitutional law so that they know how to properly mirandize detainees, and follow the strict guidelines of the 4th Amendment on proper search and seizure guidelines. To verify that they are following strict Constitutional protocols, a small army of ACLU lawyers will be sent to Afghanistan to monitor compliance.

Any alleged terrorist will be brought to the US for prosecution, since detainment camps like Guantanamo are abominations created by the Bushreich. The "detainees" will be entitled to all legal protections enjoyed by american citizens, even though they are not. We are still discussing with Sen. Kennedy whether they should be allowed amnesty as undocumented aliens.

Anyway, since those bloodthirsty Republicans will want to seek the death penalty against the poor, oppressed terrorists, they will be entitled to all constitutional protections, including endless appeals, of capitol cases. This should take no more than 10-12 years to prosecute.

While this is going on, we would impose the same economic sanctions which got rid of Saddam (with the prior approval of France and the UN, of course) on terrorist nations.

So, you see, we liberals could have won the War on Terror by using stromg, iron-jawed diplomats and lawyers, not through military adventurism like Bush did. By the way, did I mention Bush stole both elections?

-- a visiting liberal to this website

Posted by: a former european at June 3, 2006 07:34 PM

Wow. Well said Cassandra, thank you.

Posted by: LindaSoG at June 3, 2006 11:33 PM

Excellent job, Cass, as usual.

Your commenter "former european" was pretty funny.

Posted by: Maggie at June 4, 2006 01:05 AM

Wow! You did a great job with this!

Posted by: Wild Thing at June 4, 2006 01:56 AM

Applause for Cassandra with a big Hooah! and I really enjoyed former EU's comments.

Posted by: kat-missouri at June 4, 2006 02:03 AM

Very, very well said Cassandra. An excellent analysis and right on target.

To the visiting liberal from Europe - if the liberals could have taken care of this problem with diplomacy - then why haven't they? They've been trying diplomatic means for many, many years.

Posted by: beth at June 4, 2006 07:53 PM

Beth, its called sarcasm, my dear. Try re-reading my post with your tongue firmly in your cheek (left or right cheek, either one will do). :)

Posted by: a former european at June 5, 2006 01:28 AM

A great post and why we love Cassandra over at http://the

Posted by: Jason at June 7, 2006 01:35 AM

Thank you, Jason :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 7, 2006 09:51 AM

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