Like the outrageous Abu Ghraib torture revealed in 2004, the scandal that broke last week over U.S. Marines urinating on dead Afghanis is not simply a case of a few "bad apples," or "bad management" up the chain of command.
Nor is it something new for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For example, Pentagon documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2005 cited, among other abusive practices by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, an incident where U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posed for photographs of mock executions with hooded and bound detainees.
It's interesting that in all these cases, participants took photos or videos of their actions - an indication that they thought the behavior was perfectly OK.
Let's look at it in context.
Since 9/11, Americans have been living in an atmosphere of slurs and attacks on Muslims and anyone who "looks" like they come from anywhere in the greater Middle East or South Asia. Under the Bush administration, mosques and immigrant communities were infiltrated by government agents with the public rationale that these were hotbeds of disloyalty and terrorism. A series of highly publicized arrests of Muslims and immigrants from the Middle East and surrounding region, and even of non-Muslim attorneys aiding them, inflamed prejudice - even though these cases either came to nothing, or were exposed as having been instigated by government agents.
Continuing right up to the present, right-wing politicians and media figures have trumpeted derogatory remarks about Muslims that have splashed across the mass media.
In May 2004, leaders of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Muslim Public Affairs Council held a Washington press conference in response to the Abu Ghraib scandal.
They said, "The abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison represents a growing trend in our culture that demonizes and dehumanizes Arabs and Muslims in general. This destructive attitude, which is creeping ever closer to the mainstream of American thought, authorizes and legitimates these appalling abuses."
The torture "was not an isolated incident but manifestation of hate rooted in a distortion of American culture," they said. "Is it really a coincidence that the head of military intelligence, Gen. Boykin, is on record as casting the war on terror as a religious war, as saying that the enemy is 'a guy called Satan,' and that Muslims worship 'an idol'?"
None of this excuses either the individual soldiers who commit torture and abuse, or their superior officers. But we have to look at the ugly culture created by the right wing in our country that breeds such behavior. We are seeing it again today among the Republican presidential candidates, whipping up racist sentiments directed at African Americans and other people of color. Such ugliness has ugly, dangerous consequences. This kind of hate culture has to be solidly rejected. Truly, it is a distortion of what America is all about.
Photo: Marines in Afghanistan. Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs, Lance Cpl. James W. Clark