“Abuse A Reaction to Looting”

Osnabruck, Germany (New York Times correspondent Richard Bernstein): according to their commanding officer, the three British Soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi civilians near Basra were acting “out of an effort to stop persistent looting of relief supplies”.

Shades of Abu Ghraib? In all of the scandal arising out of that gradual news discolosure and investigation, in which the conduct of US soliders was brought to light, I don’t recall hearing an excuse that pretended that the abuse was somehow justifiable or acceptable.

The excuse that abuse of the rules of acceptable human conduct can be tolerated when the victim “deserved it” needs to be understood very clearly for what it is.

This is the lie offered in justification of the Holocaust. “They had it coming” is the lie that pretends to excuse almost every mass murder and “ethnic cleansing” since the dawn of history. Underlying the lie, is the presumption that individual leaders, or even footsoldiers, are qualified to make such sweeping judgements on their own, outside of due process and the courtroom.

Observers of the domestic abuse scene will already have noted this is the self-justification of the abuser in chronic domestic abuse cases. It’s not a coincidence. In case after case, investigations reveal that the perpetrator had elaborate alibis for beatings and abuse over long periods of time. “She knows when she does that, I get angry. It’s her fault.”

And yet many Americans buy into even this, to some extent. The use of extralegal violence to “teach people a lesson” is still popular and even adulated in the media as a substitute for civil conduct and working within the system.

Even this falls apart when the victim himself or herself sanctions the abuse (which was NOT the case with the Iraqi victims). If we read the victims’ statement, “He’s really a very good man. He wouldn’t have beat me if I’d had my hair done properly”, everyone can see not only that this co-dependency is wrong, but that beating itself is way over the line.

So let’s hear no rationalizations about how our soldiers are put in a tough spot and occasional excesses are regrettable when they get pilloried by the media. The lesson civil and military leaders are trying to put out, probably in vain, is that we are all accountable for our actions as individuals, wartime or not. Don’t go blaming your victim when you break the law.

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