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Archive for March, 2005

Morality extends beyond the bedroom. Yet Americans are still focused on the mating habits of their fellow citizens. When we have sex, with whom we have sex and what results in the wake of that sex has preoccupied and often outraged the public. On the contrary, America’s direct participation in humiliating, immoral and illegal prisoner abuse has garnered only modest indignation. Popular media and Congressional reactionaries have said relatively little of the moral implications of such behavior.

The ideological (liberal) media and the mainstream news organizations have done their part in bringing allegations of prisoner abuse to the front pages of American newspapers. Most recently, former prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay have complained of female interrogators smearing them with menstrual blood and rubbing them sexually. While Joe Ryan might view the practice more favorably, most Muslims are repulsed. As one journalist put it, “the tact reveals the religious heart of the war: the object is to kill the culture not simply the carrier.”

But Americans are in denial. Stories of sleep deprivation and electric shock first appeared in April of 2003, and as of this writing, not a single civilian official has been held accountable. The release of torture pictures paved the way for countless Congressional hearings, investigations, and condemnations that resulted in nothing more than a bureaucratic big-bang and a public relations campaign that served as a thin veneer for reform.

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My last column addressed the army’s recruitment shortage. “For the first time since 2001, the Army began the fiscal year with just 18.4 percent of its recruitment goal met … that amounts to less than half of last year’s figure and falls well below the Army’s goal of 25 percent.”

The cost of troop recruitment has also gone up. The army is forced to offer large bonuses to secure troop reenlistment and is currently experiencing difficulty filling undesirable (truck drivers in Iraq) and highly-skilled positions. While minorities and the financially underprivileged are already overrepresented in the forces, they are becoming harder to recruit. (See Feb. 25 column). Yet their openings are not being filled by middle class or upper class children. We, like Dick Cheney, “have better things to do.” Meanwhile, our army is overstretched and underprotected.

America is at war yet it refuses to allow all those who volunteer to join her armed forces. Some restrictions rest on credible weight or strength minimums, others are rooted in institutional discrimination. Last Thursday the General Accounting Office found that under President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, hundreds of highly skilled troops were forced out of the forces after it was discovered that they were gay or lesbian. The American tax payer financed this disenfranchisement to the tune of $200 million. “The estimated cost was for recruiting and training replacements from 1994 through 2003 for the 9,488 troops discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.”

Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy allows gays to serve in the armed forces as long as they do not take part in homosexual activity or disclose their sexual orientation. Of the gays and lesbians pushed out of the service, 757 held hard-to-fill jobs and 322 spoke Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Mandarin, “which the Pentagon has called critical skills amid threats from terrorists.” U.S. intelligence agencies and the 9/11 Commission have lamented the death of properly trained and educated translators. Many believe that sufficient interpretation of pre-9/11 communications could have resulted in preemptive action or greater threat awareness.

Yet conservative ideology triumphs over American safety. A majority’s personal distaste for homosexual activity is extended into the public policy sector and its discriminatory tentacles serve to strangle the opportunity of a minority and endanger the whole. American fear of homosexuality transcends the terror of Islamic fundamentalists.

Fear should not supercede morality. Discrimination against a sexual preference is as immoral as racial segregation or gender inequity. While gay marriage has replaced social security as the “third rail” of American politics, its acceptance is forthcoming. Until then Americans deserve a reassessment of Clinton’s ill fated military policy.

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