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Hey, there's a war going on!

| Sunday, May 30, 2004

WASHINGTON -- In case anyone could forget, this is an election year. Democrats are holding their breath, but not their tongues, as they contemplate winning the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Dream on and remember the poet who wrote, "Life is but an empty dream, and things are not what they seem."

The overwhelming Democrat dream is to surround every action -- past, present and future -- of President George Bush with criticism. These condemnations, beautifully scripted by Seymour Hersch, supplemented by the creative writing of Bob Woodward in The Washington Post, and orchestrated by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi indeed take the shape of dreams if not nightmares.

There are, however, some facts no one wants to talk about -- such as the allegations against the military police concerning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. Accept that these are shocking and frightening and should never have happened. But by no means was it a secret.

Information obtained through a patriotic American group, "Soldiers for the Truth," shows that a retired Air Force master sergeant, William Lawson, uncle of one of the MP's facing charges, sent his concerns earlier this year about the prison to 15 government officials. According to Col. David Hackworth -- a veteran of 26 years of Army service and now a well-known journalist, commentator and author -- those that Lawson informed, included Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed and Hillary Clinton.

But nothing happened until "60 Minutes II" showed the photographs and reported on the lack of written instructions or directives provided to the MP units or to individual soldiers.

Immediately, the Army's investigations began. Unlike what happens in so many other countries, sincere regrets were expressed by President Bush, acting as commander-in-chief, as well as by the secretary of defense and on down. Measures were taken to prevent further aggressive questioning and generals were called back to Washington to testify.

It was as if we had forgotten that America is at war. Terrorists are scheming to kill everyday. How easily do we allow ourselves to be sidetracked?

Badly trained men and women went too far, but investigators show that photographs and videotapes were sent to Fort Huachuca for future training use.

And, sickening as it may be, we must realize that within the Army -- any army of any nation -- this type of systematic planning has to have been condoned and agreed to by the chain of command. It would be worse than tragic to pin the blame on a mere handful at the lowest end of the problem.

But, what did John Q. Public expect• In war, terrible incidents take place. Within our own memories there are the incidents that peppered World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the wars in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa. Each and all generate horrific images.

Here, in the United States we have to think back to Vietnam about the tragedies of the Tiger Force in 1967, My Lai a year later and No Gun Ri during the Korean War. Think back to the hundreds of brave Polish officers handed over by Britain and the United States to the Russians to be slaughtered after World War II. But, remember there always have been investigations, soldiers have been punished and, unlike so many totalitarian countries, there are and always will be the requirement to follow orders responsibly.

When watching the horrors on TV about Iraq and Afghanistan, we must remember that these are ongoing wars of insurgency. An enemy is seen placing a bomb; it is strongly believed that he has already placed bombs that will kill American troops and he refuses to give the location of these devices or the time they will explode to his captors. Is his questioning both aggressive and brutal, or do GI Joe and Jill just let their comrades die•

Sure, if there is time, questioning can be protracted and possibly effective. But, there is a war and the insurgent knows the risk that she or he is taking. Those found guilty of the war crimes of earlier years sometimes offered the excuse, or reasoned, "I was just following orders." That is better than the abject abdication of responsibility that we have witnessed recently: "No one told me that it was happening."

The great generals of earlier eras -- MacArthur, Marshall, Eisenhower, Montgomery, Patton, Rommel and Giap, allies and enemies -- had one thing in common. Despite their rank and vulnerability, they would often be found on the front line, encouraging their troops.

Of even greater importance, can you imagine any one of these warrior heroes making an act of repentance for the actions of a few?

Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer. Additional Information:

Coming Sunday

A terrorism alert: Find your local terrorist; the FBI needs you. Read about it in Sunday?s 'Dateline D.C.' column, a Tribune-Review exclusive.

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