Senator Durbin and Conservative Shame
Posted by Lorelei Kelly
Last week I had the chance to talk to an Army officer who had recently returned from Afghanistan where he had led efforts to establish rule-of-law throughout different regions of the country. He told stories of ad-hoc justice successfully applied, about American ingenuity, and about how his colleagues (both civilian and military) had found ways to put forward human rights values even in villages dominated by severe Sharia (religious) law. He related how victories were often small but symbolic: a family that accepted cash compensation instead of two virgins, for example. He also described the good-cop/bad-cop tension the Army faces with its dual responsibility as war fighters and as peacebuilders. He told of how--in order to assuage damaged village relationships--the Army would send in teams of Civil Affairs officers right after door-kicking home searches. These soldiers would have tea, explain the situation, and present the family with a door lock.
Such stories make me proud of our military. I only wish these American soldiers' dedication to rule-of-law by example was shared by our country's conservative leadership. Their contemptible behavior over Senator Dick Durbin's recitation of an FBI report detailing prisoner abuse is an affront to all those who serve. The conservatives' telegenic indignation treats soldiers as if they are stupid.
Every American soldier knows how important it is to uphold international humanitarian standards. This belief is founded in noble American aspirations to be sure, but also because soldiers know that setting the humanitarian example could one day save American lives. Over the past few days, right wing bloggers--hyperventilating over their keyboards. and the conservative demonization of Senator Durbin as an anti-military insurgent sympathizer at every media opportunity has been disgusting. Mentioning Nazis in a floor speech is stupid, but creating a political atmosphere where serious human rights violations carried out by Americans are a third rail, is downright dangerous. It gives the impression that conservatives really aren't interested in supporting our military when the tradeoff is a few cheap political chits. Military professionals know that the most important weapon in our arsenal is setting a rule-of-law example. The conservatives are obviously far more interested in winning the next Illinois Senate race than winning the war on terror.
I asked the recently returned Army officer whether or not issues like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo prisoner abuse ever came up in his day to day dealings with Afghans. He seemed happy that I asked and told me that he used such instances as opportunities for exploration and learning. He would acknowledge what the questioner had seen or heard, but also point out how justice would be achieved when those illegal actions were punished through the American legal system. Afghanistan--and other fragile countries--may well hold the balance of future American security in their hands. They sit at a crossroads between violent anarchy and cautious pluralism. For our own self-interest this is where politics needs to stop at the water's edge. We must align both our policies and political rhetoric to support the latter.
Judging from the behavior of conservatives lately, they would have us fighting impunity with impunity. This is shameful leadership.
Priorities Report: Even with one party rule, Congress remains stingily inadequate with international affairs which is a statement about how much we value funding for prevention. Yesterday, the full House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2006 Foreign Operations Bill by voice vote. Full committee consideration of the bill did not alter the overall amount of $20.3 billion that emerged from subcommittee. That figure for Foreign Operations stands $2.55 billion below the Administration’s request for FY2006. This is approximately one-tenth the amount we've spent on supplementals for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill is expected to head to the House Floor for the full body’s consideration next Tuesday or Wednesday.