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Darfur and Haditha

By Jonathan Gurwitz

Truth is more complicated than idealized fiction. Alan J. Kuperman, an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, might have simply left it at that. But in an op-ed he penned for the New York Times entitled "Strategic Victimhood in Sudan," Kuperman wrote much more.

The bright moral lines drawn by Darfur activists, Kuperman says, are really quite vague. While humanitarian groups describe a conflict in Sudan that is black and white, he suggests they are in fact -- quite literally -- black and black.

Blacks and Arabs have a history of enmity and violence in Darfur. An attack by a black rebel group on a Sudanese military outpost three years ago was the proximate cause of an intensified conflict. And some of the rebel groups have refused to sign on to a U.S.-brokered peace deal that the Sudanese government, for what its pledges are worth, has endorsed.

Sure, the good professor allows, the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed militias may have reacted to the rebellion with criminal irresponsibility. Tellingly, he never qualifies what that irresponsibility is -- as many as 500,000 dead and 3 million refugees from a genocidal campaign against civilians, the widespread use of rape as a punitive policy, the castration of men and the perpetration of atrocities on a scale that has rarely been seen since 1945.

But understand the complexities of the conflict, writes Kuperman, and you'll understand that "Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations."

If only the Marines of Kilo Company had a public defender as articulate as Kuperman.

An equally morally convoluted narrative is unbelievably and increasingly emerging about Iraq, something like Kuperman's twisted view of Darfur in reverse. For the adherents of this viewpoint, Iraq was a moral blur before the United States arrived. The mass graves and torture chambers are a distant haze, notwithstanding Saddam Hussein's ponderous trial.

But the U.S.-led effort to depose the Baathist dictatorship has brought the Iraqi fog into focus. Ethical lines have emerged, not only in Iraq, but also on other fronts in the war on terror. And guess which side of the line the U.S. military is on?

To Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and Abu Ghraib we may now add Haditha. Never mind that the truth of what happened in Haditha is still unknown and that investigations are underway. Judgment has already been rendered.

On May 29, two days before it ran Kuperman's op-ed, the New York Times placed the following headline above the fold: "Witness Accounts Tie Marines to Killings of 24 Civilians." In the days that followed, no less than three stories about Haditha appeared on the front page.

The Times, of course, was not unique in this regard. Nor was the Haditha revelry or the generous reception given to allegations of American misdeeds limited to the print medium. Evening newscasts were replete with breathless remonstrations of, as Rep. Murtha put it, "cold-blooded murder" by the Marines. Blogress Arianna Huffington, referring to a Newsweek story, alluded to "drugged up, hallucinating, and stressed out U.S. troops, 'killing the wrong people all the time.'"

Something very bad happened in Haditha. And it is very possible that some or all of the allegations against the Marines regarding those 24 deaths will be borne out by impartial investigation.

But ask yourself if you have ever seen a leading news story, let alone a series of news stories, about the genocide in Sudan.

Ask yourself how the Islamic world can be so enraged about 24 deaths in Haditha and the indignities of Abu Ghraib, while there is no outcry about the death of 400,000 Muslims and the atrocities in Darfur.

Ask yourself why Lynndie England is the most recognizable name from the war in Iraq, while you may never have even heard the name of Paul Ray Smith.

Ask yourself why every misdeed and every accident of the U.S. military is made a media spectacle, while the thousands of success stories and humanitarian efforts chronicled by Bill Crawford for National Review Online -- and previously by Arthur Chrenkoff on his blog -- go unnoticed.

And ask yourself why liberal commentators seem less inclined to get to the truth of what happened in Haditha and to prosecute for war crimes those who may be responsible for what happened there than they are to quickly assign blame to President Bush for stressing out the troops, putting them in an unwinnable war, not giving them the resources they need, creating the circumstances for another My Lai, and on and on.

Yes, truth is generally more complicated than idealized fiction. But here's a simple truth: if Americans are responsible for war crimes in Haditha, the U.S. military will prosecute and punish them long before any semblance of justice is meted out from the tribunals for Rwanda, the Balkans, Sudan and Iraq, which have already plodded along for years.

What must America's enemies think when members of the American political and intellectual classes find ways to mitigate the responsibility of the butchers of Darfur while condemning the men of Kilo Company for murder in Haditha?

Americans have a special obligation to know about and condemn the moral failures of their countrymen -- we are our own moral arbiters first. The practice of self-criticism above self-interest, the search for truth over fanaticism and the pursuit of justice over partiality distinguish a tolerant, democratic society.

But surely there is also an obligation to put that self criticism in context, to grant members of the American military the same presumption of innocence afforded petty thieves, to recognize the complexities of a conflict with a relentless and remorseless enemy, and to provide some perspective to the very broad scale of human savagery in Iraq and around the globe.

Jonathan Gurwitz is a columnist and editorial writer for the San Antonio Express-News.

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