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Department of Fundamental Dilemmas

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If we had to whittle the Bush Administration’s “war on terror” down to its core dilemma, I would suggest that it’s this—I quote from Michael Yon today in the National Review: “we cannot play fast and loose with our own values.”

Yon is writing about General Petraeus’s largely admirable letter on torture. But hasn’t the whole course of this war has been just that:

the introduction of torture and other highly coercive interrogation techniques;
discarding the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. tradition on rules of armed combat;
the introduction of mercenaries to do our fighting and the systematic destruction of the historical notion of the citizen-soldier;
the establishment of concentration camps and kangaroo courts;
an illegal widespread surveillance program targeting Americans;
the pervasive use of secrecy to cloak illegal and unethical conduct by the government; and
targeting the media and distorting their ability to report about the war.

This weekend we learn that the Department of Defense is barring access by soldiers to YouTube and similar sites. My sources in the Pentagon tell me that this decision is driven by concern about the practice of soldiers shooting video footage which documents abuse or mistreatment of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. This weekend, I discussed this phenomenon with two NATO officers who are busily writing a paper for an important national defense institution on just this process. They had been shocked both about the proliferation of such YouTube materials and the entirely lackadaisical attitude the Pentagon showed towards it. “These are not the values we used to associate with our ally,” one told me. The Pentagon rarely if ever investigates these incidents, but it is concerned about the YouTube footage coming into the hands of investigators and journalists. So this exercise is designed to cut off the flow of such material into the net, and then into the press and broadcast media.

But the Department of Defense has also reached to imprisoning prominent journalists on no charges as an intimidation tactic, and seizing journalists in order to destroy their photographs and film footage of events the Pentagon doesn’t want Americans at home to see.

So can it come as a surprise when the Iraq Government bans the coverage of bad news? CNN reports:

Over the weekend, Iraq’s interior ministry banned the media from showing the aftermath of bombings. It is an effort by Iraq’s government to control some news outlets that are trying to ignite sectarian tensions by showing “the blood of the people,” government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said.

A free press is, apparently, just another one of those “pre-9/11” values.

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