The Abu Ghraib scandal—when the 320th Military Police Battalion abused prisoners—was both horrendous and inexcusable in its own right. In addition, treating detainees inhumanely for sport certainly led to vengeance attacks and the deaths of American soldiers and made the U.S. mission more difficult. Those perpetrating the abuse should have suffered far greater penalty. The military, however, dealt admirably when the abuses were bought to their attention. After all, it was not press exposure that forced the military to take action, but rather the military’s own investigation into the issue, which someone leaked to CBS.
The recent shooting at a village near Kandahar is as tragic. It has already sparked retaliatory strikes, and it severely under undermines the U.S. mission. President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, have handled the crisis with aplomb. Obama was correct to apologize—and quickly too. None of the excuses the suspect’s lawyers put forward can ever mitigate the alleged perpetrator’s actions.
American journalists and commentators should reflect on the aftermath of both within the United States. The reaction to Abu Ghraib was too often cheap, as pundits and partisans sought to ascribe guilt up to and including President Bush and Vice President Cheney. In the aftermath of the Afghanistan shooting, some Republicans criticized Obama for apologizing—but were roundly and rightly castigated by other Republicans.
That so many sought to transform the evil occurrences at Abu Ghraib into a partisan whip with which to flog Bush was wrong. It is a relief that the same pundits do not seek to capitalize on tragedy to bash President Obama. Perhaps these critics learned their lesson after Abu Ghraib, but I’d be willing to bet that the self-restraint has more to do with partisanship. The discrepancy certainly gives pause for reflection about the bias of the media and its willingness to use national security as a political football.