You had to have been under a boulder these past few days if you have yet to see or hear the most despicable news to date out of Iraq: the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody. Apologies, adjectives and sorted remarks are flying fast and furious inside and outside the Beltway. (None more ludicrous than Tom Daschle and John Kerry's cry for an "explanation" of why congressional leaders were not informed of ["leaked"?] the story. Wish that our soldiers knew when and where the insurgentsare going to hit beforehand.) Some Democrats and Republicans are even asking for Don Rumsfeld's head on a platter -- as if that would A) make the horrifying scenes disappear or B) leave us wiping our hands clean of the atrocities.
As heads turn toward the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees, more pressing issues -- protecting the brave men and women in harm's way and the need to meet the June 30 deadline to turn the governance of Iraq over to the hands of freedom-minded Iraqis -- risk easily being sidelined.
The deaths of at least 25 prisoners are under investigation, and there are scores of probes underway by Army investigators and others -- as well there should be. The snapshots add an ugly dimension to the adage a picture is worth a thousand words. In one photo, a woman soldier, with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, poses like a gangster as she points at a naked Iraqi. In another photo, a woman soldier squats in front of several naked prisoners, who appear to be piled atop one another to form a pyramid.
One suspect in the ongoing criminal investigations, Pvt. Lynndie England, found herself reassigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., after she became pregnant. Which came first? The pregnancy or the photo op?
Call it Tailhook Meets Girls Gone Wild or Freaknit Meets Operation Iraqi Freedom.
You can even take the women out of the picture and the disturbing images remain the same. It's no laughing matter.
What were Congress and the Clinton White House thinking when they began, in earnest, legislative moves that essentially led to the feminization of America's armed forces? Did they think that there would be no cultural implications (pregnancies, rape and sexual assault, etc.?) Did they think there would be no effect on America's military readiness?
Indeed, the queen of women in combat, then-Sen. Pat Schroeder, led the phalanx on Capitol Hill, arguing that girls should be treated just like boys.
Look what we have wrought: a woman, with no experience running a penal institution, in charge of all penal institutions in Iraq; scores of reports about women soldiers participating in the mistreatment of male prisoners (including sexual degradation); photographic evidence that the "girls" were equal partners with the "boys" in these criminal acts -- during a war, no less; the possibility that one of those "girls," a suspect in these wholly un-American abuses and shameful acts -- was impregnated while fighting in a war.
Consider this as well: The Denver Post recently pried from the Defense Department tons of evidence that proves accusations of rape and sexual assaults from women in our armed forces are not being prosecuted by the military. There are men and women in our midst who do not want to criticize the military for its hush-hush handling of those facts because we are at war -- as if that is a good "explanation" for the cover up.
Folks on the left and right are demanding swift action on the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners of war. I ask you if there is a difference? Is there a difference between women behaving badly and men behaving badly? Is mistreating a prisoner of war more egregious than a male soldier raping his female comrade in arms?
Most of us appreciate what President Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Rumsfeld have said about the prisoner abuse. But few us appreciate, or even know, that we have a serious problem on the homefront.
American credibility, justice and sensibilities are on the line as these latest military scandals unfold. Determining who was involved with what on U.S. soil is as important as seeking the facts of abuse in Iraq. Their bottom lines are the same, too: All guilty parties must face the consequences of their actions or inactions. After all, that is the American way.