16 September 2010

honoring a soldier

Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of the death of Specialist Alyssa Peterson. As The Nation reports, she was one of the first female soldiers to die in Iraq. The official Army report was that her death on September 15, 2003 was caused by a “non-hostile weapons discharge.” That isn’t unusual in a war zone. Officials volunteered nothing more than some possible scenarios, “including Peterson’s own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian.”

It took the dogged insistence of a radio station reporter from her hometown in Flagstaff, Arizona, to get to the truth. She committed suicide, rather than participate in torturing detainees. Documents describing the interrogation procedures had been destroyed.

For two years, even her parents were kept in the dark.

Her fellow soldiers told her “the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war.” I wonder where they got that? Could it be that they were taking their cues from the very top of our leadership? When we had Vice President Cheney talking about “working the dark side,” we shouldn’t have expected anything but dishonorable results.

Clearly, more than one factor goes into suicide, but when we put people into the position of torturing other human beings, we dehumanize them just as surely as they dehumanize their prisoners.

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