Hold Ourselves Accountable

This is discouraging:

Despite recommendations by Army investigators, commanders have decided not to prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, according to a new accounting released Friday by the Army.

Investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in the cases, according to the accounting by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The charges included murder, conspiracy and negligent homicide. While none of the 17 will face any prosecution, one received a letter of reprimand and another was discharged after the investigations.

I can't believe I have to make this point anymore, but: If we're going to go around spreading democracy, and accountability is a vital part of democracy, could we at least pretend to have some interest in accountability?

As I think about this, I'm reminded of something Bill Clinton once said about debt releif: No one talks about it, because no one will lose an election for not talking about it. This seems to be kind of the same issue. Hard as I try, I can't locate a domestic political constituency that would united behind an issue like this. This is a fundamental weakness of Bush's global-democratization strategy: The sacrifices we'd have to make for it to work, in terms of setting a moral example for the world, benefit other nations but get voted on by us. This is not to say that Americans are too selfish to vote for someone else's wellbeing. The problem is that they don't know whether something is beneficial to someone else's wellbeing, because they observe the same local world whether it gets done or not. No American will ever suffer, at least directly and in the short-term, if we fail to promote a culture of accountability in Iraq. As a result, there's just no bloc of voters that punishes politicians for welching on their obligations to other people.

What's the solution? Let Iraqis vote in presidential elections, at least until Iraq is no longer under our control? I don't quite know how to fix this massive accountability gap, but when the Army blithely declines to prosecute its own just because it doesn't have to, the fact that there is such a gap is pretty damned apparent.

- Daniel A. Munz