In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson awarded the Distinguished Service Medal to his Vietnam War commander, General William Westmoreland. Johnson praised Westmoreland for "his courage, for his leadership, for his determination, and for his great ability as a soldier and a patriot."
Thirty-eight years later, President Bush awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom to the commander of his forces in Iraq, General Tommy Franks. Bush thanked Franks for "your courage, your leadership, and your lifetime of service in the cause of freedom and security."
In 1968, Johnson awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom to his outgoing secretary of defense, Robert McNamara. Johnson called McNamara "an intensely loyal, brilliant, and good man."
Thirty-six years later, Bush in his end-of-the-year press conference called his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld "a good, decent man." Beneath Rumsfeld's "rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply."
Johnson handed out the medals over a war in which 58,000 American soldiers died for a losing cause. Bush is handing out medals and humanizing his defense secretary for an invasion in which 1,300 US soldiers and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians have died under false pretenses and bombastic predictions of shock, awe, and "catastrophic success" that blew up in the administration's face like a roadside bomb. Three-and-a-half decades after Vietnam, Bush is repeating Johnson's act of awarding medals to the architects of delusion as the pawns of delusion die in Iraq.
On the very day Bush played up Rumsfeld's touchy-feely side, the American Civil Liberties Union released yet more documents suggesting that there was widespread knowledge and concern over alleged torture of war detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Several of the newest documents are dated well after the torture at Abu Ghraib became a public scandal.
FBI agents complained in memos that they either witnessed or heard of abusive techniques such as sleep deprivation, stress positions, stripping detainees naked, intimidating them with dogs, and putting hoods over their heads.
In December 2003, FBI officials complained that Rumsfeld allowed his military interrogators to pose as FBI agents, possibly to leave the FBI "holding the bag" if any torture became public.
Perhaps most chilling, a June 25 "Urgent Report" showed that the Sacramento field office warned the FBI director that it had received testimony of "numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees," including "strangulation, beatings, and placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings."
Other documents reported incidents such as detainees being dropped onto barbed wire, having Israeli flags wrapped around them, spat on and knocked unconscious, and shackled until they defecated on themselves. White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded to the newly released documents yesterday by saying those responsible for the abuse will "be held accountable."
No one at the top has been held accountable. A day after giving Westmoreland his Distinguished Service Medal, Johnson said there had been "much progress" in Vietnam, with "an eloquent and encouraging report from General Westmoreland."
On Monday, 38 years later, Bush said "progress is being made" in Iraq under a secretary of defense who he said is doing "a really fine job." Last week he gave medals of freedom not just to Tommy Franks but also to his former CIA director, George Tenet, and the former Iraqi civilian administrator, Paul Bremer. Bush said Franks "helped liberate more than 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies in the world." The delusion is getting worse as the torture memos keep coming and the car bombs go off the day after Bush said progress was being made, the most deadly single attack occurred against American soldiers in the 21 months invasion and occupation of Iraq. A bomb or mortar killed -- by military count as of yesterday afternoon -- 19 US soldiers at lunchtime in their mess tent in Mosul.
Ironically, according to military spokesmen and embedded journalists quoted by CNN, the soldiers in Mosul were worried about their safety under a tent while waiting for a concrete dining hall to be finished.
"There is a level of vulnerability when you go in there and you don't feel like there's a hard roof over your head," said a military spokesman. It was ironic because the architects of the war are praising themselves even as the roof of their delusions caves in on our soldiers.
© 2004 Boston Globe