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Two American soldiers, missing since an insurgent ambush at the checkpoint they were manning, were found dead three days later on a street just south of Baghdad. Their bodies showed “signs of [pre-death] torture.” The soldiers had been beheaded and mutilated by their captors so far beyond recognition that DNA tests were required to identify their remains. Shortly thereafter, an Islamist Web site announced that insurgents had “carried out the verdict of the Islamic court” for the death of terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi by “slaughtering” the two soldiers.

Privates First Class Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, of the 101st Division, were volunteer members of the Army. Both knew, as do all members of America’s military, that they could end up in harm’s way as a result of their volunteering — doubly so since both initially enlisted well after the beginning of the Iraq war. According to Pvt. Tucker’s family, he had joined the military in part out of a desire to “do something positive”; less than a week before his capture, he left a message on their answering machine in which he reaffirmed his commitment to, and belief in, his mission. “I’m defending my country,” he said, and asked his mother to be proud of him.

Interestingly silent on this and other atrocities carried out by the insurgents in Iraq are the “human rights” groups who seem to spend every day accusing the United States of torture, war crimes and other atrocities. The former U.N. chief of human rights for Iraq has called conditions “as bad now as they were under Saddam,” and Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called deposing him “illegal.” But was it America that spent years filling mass graves with hundreds of thousands of murdered Iraqi civilians?

Last month, Human Rights Watch again accused the United States of “brutalizing Muslim suspects in the name of the war on terror,” but how many times have Americans strapped bombs to their own chests and purposely detonated themselves in a large crowd of civilians? Amnesty International’s Web site highlights America’s use of “torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” against terrorist captives, but how many prisoners — Muslim or otherwise — has America brutally beheaded?

In spite of the anti-war left’s continued use of the supposed failure in Iraq as an election-year political issue, the decreasing frequency of effective insurgent attacks, combined with the increasing desperation of their methods, sends the inarguable signal that a turning point has been reached in that country. Zarqawi’s demise was the most obvious sign, but the tide had been turning in the favor of freedom long before al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq was caught.

Beyond providing intelligence that will help us more effectively counter the remnants of the insurgency, the information recovered from Zarqawi’s safehouse has given us additional proof that the battle against the insurgency is being won — and that this has been the case for some time. Computer files recovered after the bombing show that Zarqawi had been growing more and more concerned about the “bleak situation” his insurgents were facing.

“Time is beginning to be of service to the U.S. forces,” he wrote, “allowing them to form and bolster the [Iraqi] National Guard, undertake big arrest operations, carry out a media campaign weakening the resistance’s influence and presenting it as harmful to the people, creat[ing] division among [the insurgency’s] ranks.” He also wrote that the only apparent way “to get out of this crisis” was “to entangle the American forces into another war,” such as one with Iran. These are not the words of the bold, invincible leader of an army of freedom fighters on the verge of defeating the world’s greatest military. Rather, they reflect the increasingly desperate thoughts of a man who is struggling with the fact that he must finally begin to come to terms with impending, and inevitable, defeat.

These murdered soldiers, and all others lost to the cause of freedom, are to be mourned. Both Kris Menchaca and Tom Tucker left behind families, friends and other loved ones. Given that, and the fact that they volunteered to serve their country knowing that one day they may have to make this ultimate sacrifice, it is supremely important — even necessary — that they leave behind a grateful nation. America should recognize these men as two examples of the myriad heroes who make up our all-volunteer military and should realize that, without supporting the mission the troops are doing — and the cause for which they are volunteering to give their lives, should it come to that — it is not possible to support the troops themselves.

The tide has turned in the battle to win the peace in post-war Iraq. Those who have stood on the sidelines for the past three years — or, worse, who have actively worked against the cause of freedom and democracy in that nation — are dangerously close to being remembered (if they are remembered at all) not for their support of human rights but for their self-righteous fight against them. All in the name of their hatred of America, and of George W. Bush.

Jeff Emanuel, a special operations military veteran,served in the Air Force from 1999-2004. His assignments included a year in Korea and combat duty in Iraq.

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