President Obama's "Spock" Rationale On Iraq War Investigation Untenable - 5/30/2009

First published in Huffington Post

In a recent interview with Newsweek, President Obama mentioned seeing the latest Star Trek movie and that everybody was saying he was Spock. In another interview a while ago, the First Lady said, "The President is a very rational man."

This explains a lot. The President's refusal to investigate the Bush Administration's policies and actions relating to the Iraq War is the embodiment of Vulcan logic, free from messy human emotions and moral obligation.

The President has said he wishes the country to move forward instead of looking back--a nice mantra for our collective denial. Let's nail that to the wall, next to Bush Labor secretary, Elaine Chao's call to Iraqi women after their lives had been reduced to rubble by 'Shock and Awe': "In a democracy, the most important factor is energy." Taxidriver husband in Abu Ghraib? Daughter raped in US custody? Teenage son sodomized with a truncheon? Never mind all that. The cure for your blue funk, citizen of Iraq -- whom we saved from Saddam, (ignore that pesky photograph of your Lion with our Fox, Donald Rumsfeld) - is to move forward, without looking back ... with energy.

Other countries have seen the necessity for truth and reconciliation. In Congo and elsewhere, where perpetrators and victims of human rights violations and atrocities are often known to each other--frequently they're neighbors--truth and reconciliation forums are seen as a necessary instrument, one that allows perpetrators and victims to continue living in the same community.

"Taking into account collective memory and the inadequacies of the justice system, one must set up a mechanism which will help people to express themselves, giving truth its proper place. It would help people to freely discuss, as though in a family, those events in which they were the perpetrators or the victims, thus creating an atmosphere for reconciliation," said Gilberta Tandia, a human rights activist in Congo.

There are those who wish President Obama to release the remaining photographs that show, according to General Antonio Taguba, "torture, abuse, rape and every indecency." I am not one of them. I have lived and traveled in Muslim countries long enough to know that strong notions of modesty, shame, communal and familial judgement, and the fear of honor killings of women believed to have been raped in US custody, would prevent most Muslim men and women from supporting the release of these photographs.

But the Pentagon's recent denial that photographs of Iraqi prisoner abuse do not include images of rape and sexual abuse is a confabulation. Following Donald Rumsfeld's testimony on the Abu Ghraib hearings in 2004, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R. South Carolina) said, "The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here." Press Secretary Robert Gibbs can thrash the British media and disavow information all he wants, but this isn't 1990 and this isn't Myanmar. There's this hardly worth mentioning, insignificant little archivist and global memory keeper that can call you a liar in less than a New York minute.

Accounts of these atrocities have already been reported in news outlets around the world including Guardian UK and Australia Age, and the images of rape have already been published in various online news outlets such as La Voz de Aztlan and Jihad Unspun, and posted on porn sites including the Norwegian based Sex and War. According to a 2004 article in La Voz de Aztlan, which was accompanied by photographs of the rape of a young girl in US custody, "It is now known that hundreds of these photographs had been in circulation among the troops in Iraq. The graphic photos were being swapped between the soldiers like baseball cards ... Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Mexican-American soldier told La Voz de Aztlan, 'Maybe the officers didn't know what was going on, but everybody else did. I have seen literally hundreds of these types of pictures.' 'Many of the pictures was destroyed last September when the luggage of soldiers was searched as they left Iraq,' he said."

Vice-President Dick 'We have nothing to apologize for' Cheney, and in the last few days, President George 'I will yield when my gut does' Bush, have made their case, with passion free from logic and legality, about the rightness of the Iraq War and US sponsored torture. We may continue to tolerate their justifications for the biggest American foreign policy blunder of all time, with the bewilderment we reserve for incoherent, delusional people. And we can keep lulling ourselves into a stupor with objective American journalism: "President Bush and VP Cheney say sun rises in the west, others disagree," and unquestioning American patriotism that makes no distinction between the honorable men and women who serve in the military, and the thugs and criminals among them.

But, the longer we wait to investigate how and why our government went to war on false premises, and why our military suspended fundamental American rules of war and violated international laws in the process, the more our national security will be compromised by those who are enraged by our actions and conduct.

The American people may not have the stomach for a lengthy war crimes tribunal to assign guilt and mete out punishment in these precarious times, but we should care enough to at least demand the truth. We ought to support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Iraq War that includes Americans and Iraqis. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) has made such a proposal.

The model for truth and reconciliation work and its success is the commission that was established in South Africa to address the horrors of apartheid. According to South Africa's Justice Minister then, "it was a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation."

President Obama promised transparency as the bedrock of his administration. He would do well to consider Captain Picard's words in Star Trek: "With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably." President Obama's failure to address Bush policies and actions in Iraq makes his administration complicit in the Iraq War, and keeps us from doing repair with each other, with Iraqis, and with the wider world. 


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