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"Crimes of Opportunity"

By Jayne Lyn Stahl  Posted by Jayne Stahl (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments
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"A crime of opportunity," they like to call it, our friends in the military, and what an inopportune time for the disclosure that, in mid-March, in a town virtually a stone's throw from Baghdad, Mahmoudiya, the stunning murder, and rape, of a civilian woman and her family, by group of soldiers with the 502nd Infantry Regiment, was premeditated. What are these soldiers charged with? Not merely violating, and taking the life of, a young Iraqi mother, her child, husband, and brother-in-law, but burning her body afterwards in a dastardly attempt to cover their tracks.

We who have become narcotized, if not paralyzed, by news of mutilations, beheadings, all manner of torture conceivable to anyone, or anything, even remotely human, for even the most obdurate, and insensate, among us, this crime can only spark the kind of disgust that makes our blood boil. Even more terrible is the allegation today, by an anonymous military source, that these suspects appear to have planned the rape, and killing, at least a week before it was executed. (AP) This same military officer uses the phrase "crime of opportunity" to describe the brutality visited upon this civilian family, (AP) with the implication that there was no impetus, or specific event, that caused it, but merely the fact that the opportunity, or climate, for such gross inhumanity, presented itself.

What is a "crime of opportunity," and what does it mean? Is it about being in the wrong place at the wrong time? And, if so, as a soldier in Iraq, are you not likewise a victim; can it not be said that war itself is a "crime of opportunity?" If so, then we have a plague of opportunists running this country. Moreover, it may be argued, too, that capital punishment is such a crime, one that avails itself of the kind of infectious irrationality which proved toxic to previous empires, and which, no doubt, will prove fatal to ours, as well.

But, can we accept that this family just happened to be in the wrong place, or that the soldiers acted as they did only as a result of where they were situated, an argument implied by the military? Or, is it simply that the soldiers were at the wrong place at the wrong time, too. More importantly, is there really any difference between what these infantrymen did, and an equally barbaric civilian murder, say, for instance, that of Nicole Brown Simpson? Was that not also a "crime of opportunity" and, if not, how may we distinguish between the two. Is barbarism more acceptable on the battlefield? The signers of the Geneva Conventions didn't think so. Or, is it that we tolerate crimes of passion better than those of dispassion? Have we, as a culture, managed to survive by learning how to keep ourselves at so many removes from reality that it no longer breathes, and bleeds; just how many removes does that take?

A society that accepts premeditation, and murder, in its own country, or in a foreign land, suffers from what may only be seen as an opportunistic infection in its moral fabric, one caused by an organism that is not normally the source of disease in humans. For humans to develop apathy toward the pain, and suffering of other humans is, in a word, inhuman.

Honor may well be the first casualty of such war crimes as are taking place in Iraq but, sadly, honor, too, has become opportunistic, and a victim of the kind of corporate lust that drives young men to grab what doesn't belong to them. Whatever "normal" was left in the "New Normal" manufactured by the Cheneys, and Rumsfelds, to enhance the bottom lines of big oil companies, Halliburtons, and Fortune 500s, has been eradicated, and replaced, by the kind of insidious lethargy that can only convert choir boys into cold blooded killers.

Alas, we find ourselves, yet again, behind one-size-fits-all jargon that hides a fundamentally flawed, decayed and, in the best sense of the word, deviant, rationalization for the subversion of right and wrong in the name of a jihad against an illusory axis of evil. Where, pray tell, is this evil axis lurking now? Where does it rear its ugly head most effectively? in the caves of Pakistan, the theatres of battle, or in the mirror staring back at us, those of us with the stomach to look at our own reflection, and call ourselves human after the dread that greets us in our morning news, the moral carnage left by cannibals who daily consume this country, and overwhelm this continent, with their bankrupt greedy little hands dripping, yet again, with the blood of slaughtered children. So, it must be asked, who must we abhor more, the infantrymen who raped, and killed, this poor young Iraqi woman, or their commanders, including the commander-in-chief, who sold them into battle, and put us all in a place where everything, right or wrong, has been forever turned upside down.

No matter the angle, there can be no question these suspects, this group of servicemen from the 502nd Regiment, must be tried, as criminals, charged with premeditated murder, and the full weight of the criminal justice system brought to bear upon them. They have lost their right to hide behind a uniform, or a flag. This is no longer a military matter, but one that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a human being in society, and it must be addressed as such. These acts of barbarism foisted upon innocent Iraqi families transcend military courts, and must be a wake-up call to our collective social conscience that this kind of violence cannot be confined to the theatre of battle, but must, sooner or later, infect us all.

While this president thought, not too long ago, that his marginal victory, in the 2004 election, gave him some political capital, he may rest assured that it has all been spent on the collateral damage that has come as a direct result of his incompetence at playing global monopoly, and waging war. In a week when the Supreme Court issued a monumental ruling, shooting down Mr. Bush's efforts at establishing feudal, and futile, military tribunals, even the Pentagon must be forced to acknowledge crimes that go beyond its boundaries, as well as the boundaries of civilization.

There isn't much we may be sure of nowadays, but one thing is certain--when conscience calls, it always calls collect.
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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