Generous Orthodoxy  




Sunday, June 19, 2005

New events in Iraq suggest further thoughts about the Christian imperative concerning enemies

Amateurs like me cannot pretend to know the whole picture, but today's NYTimes reports some things that would seem indisputable. First, many of the insurgents in Iraq treat their captives with extreme brutality and often kill them with impunity ("Iraqis Found in Torture House Tell of Brutality of Insurgents", front page). These victims are often seized for nothing more than signing up for the Iraqi army, or for nothing at all.

The temptation in such a situation is to say, "See how much worse they treat their prisoners than we do. Saddam Hussein, one of the monsters of our time, is getting three meals a day and medical care." True. But this is not the point. America has always stood for a higher view of individual human life, and the fact that we are such a religious country makes it even more imperative that we maintain strict standards of humane treatment. The very heart and center of the Christian gospel is God's gift of his Son to reconcile his enemies.

The second apparent fact is that disproportionately large numbers of insurgents appear to be coming in to Iraq from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and other African countries. The Army general in charge of "detainee operations" reports that the new group seems "more violent" and "more committed." Senator Biden also reported from Iraq that the new jihadists are "more sophisticated" and "more capable."

As the number of insurgents captured by the Americans has increased, so have the numbers of 3-member military interrogation teams. "Much has been learned about the insurgency," says General Brandenburg.

In recent months I have read a good deal about professional-level interrogation in Israel, and also in British intelligence. They express disdain for the amateurish, poorly controlled American style of interrogation. I believe that it is wrong for Christian leaders to glamorize, romanticize, and valorize our American "heroes" across the board without taking a hard look at the failures of command that occurred at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo. No one in high command has been held even remotely accountable for what went on there. That is one of the reasons that we still don't know what goes on. (More later about the Time magazine cover story this week.)

I personally have spoken with a significant number of people who have close contacts with military people serving in Iraq. Their contacts (sons, friends, colleagues) express dismay at the Administration's lack of planning for this occupation. We are not being told this, although news is beginning to leak out. John F. Burns reports from Baghdad in the NYTimes " Week in Review" that whereas senior commanders are afraid to complain for fear of damaging their careers, officers and enlisted men in the field are saying plenty (6/19/05).