TOPICS > Politics

Denver Views

May 12, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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SPENCER MICHELS: Thank you all for being here. The abuses in the prison have been known now… the pictures have been on TV for a week or so. There have been other developments. I’m interested in your reactions to this, how it’s changed if it has over the last week. Eric Duran, how do you generally feel about this?

ERIC DURAN: I think sometimes we put unrealistic expectations on those who are defending our country. We’re putting them in a highly stressful situation. And it would be very hard to, you know, distinguish between right and wrong when you’re put into such a difficult and stressful situation. But it’s up to, I think, our civilian leadership — Rumsfeld and other people higher up in government– to make sure that they do their jobs responsibly, and I don’t think that’s been done. And so I hope somebody will be held accountable.

SPENCER MICHELS: Dennis Coughlin, you’ve been in situations like this; you were in the military police. What… how do you react?

DENNIS COUGHLIN: Well, I was in the National Guard and was in the air police and was sent over to Korea, but I disagree with… with Eric. Any reasonable man under any situation understands that this behavior was absolutely repugnant. You don’t need training to… to determine that. I don’t buy the fact that you are put in a “highly stressful situation” and, therefore, that is what tipped you over to do these kinds of absolutely repugnant, immoral, disgusting acts.

SPENCER MICHELS: Mo Matthews, you’ve been in the military yourself. Now you’re retired. I mean, how do you see it?

MO MATTHEWS: I could argue it either way. These young men are in a stressful situation there. We don’t apparently have enough of them to guard the number of prisoners we have. There’s been obviously a failure in the chain of command. At the same time, there’s an animal in all of us that can come out if the situation is not right, and it requires the chain of command to be very strong, very observant, and… and on its toes all the time.

SPENCER MICHELS: Bob Grabowski, you’ve been in the military as well. I mean, what happens? Do people change their personalities in the military, lose their morals?

BOB GRABOWSKI: No, they don’t. I think you have as many snafus in the military as you have in civilian life. I think human nature, we all have a… let’s just say a bad side. And left unchecked and with nobody standing over their shoulder and watching, the animal starts to get bigger and stronger every day.

SPENCER MICHELS: David Foster, you’ve been supporting the war. Has this made any difference in your support?

DAVID FOSTER: Oh, not… not one bit. I mean, I absolutely supported the war, like the many, many Americans who did at the beginning, and I’m not going to play, you know, Monday quarterback here. I support the war. I think this is a terrible thing that has happened. But this is kind of a sad statement. I mean, I wasn’t entirely shocked by this.

SPENCER MICHELS: Why not?

DAVID FOSTER: Well, because I think that there are just bad people, and bad people do bad things, and, unfortunately, in this particular circumstance it was left unchecked.

MARK AJLUNI: We’re supposed to be the good guys. I mean, that’s the whole premise of the war at this point is that… was a moral premise. As the threat premise sort of melted away, we’re supposed to be there to provide freedom and democracy and an American way of life, that we have been telling ourselves is virtuous beyond compare, and now all of a sudden, we’re forced to look in the mirror at this really cold, hard vision of ourselves. And I think it’s abhorrent to most people, and a lot of people want to make excuses for it. But I think until we accept this image of American… America as a colonizer, I mean, Arabs are thought to be simply less than human, quite frankly, as animal, which is ironic in that we’re there to free them.

SPENCER MICHELS: Dee Cisneros.

DEE CISNEROS: I want to thank the media. I think the media has been our protector. And if it hadn’t been for the media that brought these pictures out, I don’t know if we would have ever heard about any of this. And I think it’s very hypocritical of the president to apologize to the Iraqis about this incident, which is abuse, while he hasn’t apologized for killing the women and children that our sons and daughters are being sent there to kill.

SPENCER MICHELS: You actually have a grand….

DEE CISNEROS: Yes, I have a granddaughter who has been there since last spring.

SPENCER MICHELS: Linda Houston, you’re a pretty strong supporter of the president.

LINDA HOUSTON: I am. I think that, first of all, how quickly we’ve forgotten 9/11 and why we went to begin with. But I think that our reasons for why we’re in the war are sort of… you know, we can talk about them forever and ever, but I think that what’s happened now with the abuse is really important for us to look at as far as the justice that will be done and whether or not it will be done to all the leaders.

DAVID FOSTER: That’s what’s different about America. Within a week’s time, we are now putting our own folks on TV in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of this. And that’s what distinguishes us from Saddam Hussein’s regime and every other, you know, dictator around the world. So I’m… you know, at this… and trust me, this is a terrible time. This is… these are horrible things that have happened. But I am somewhat heartened by the fact that we live in America and there is a process by which we are going to uncover, you know, these kinds of problems and hopefully weed out…

SUSAN CORDOVA: I would just like to make sure that whatever comes out as a result really gets at the heart of it. And I don’t think it is only in America. Because if you look at, like, what happened with the truth and reconciliation trials, that’s what will make me…

SPENCER MICHELS: In South Africa.

SUSAN CORDOVA: In South Africa. That’s what will make me feel better about the process really being a good process: Getting at the level of who is responsible and what are you doing around the reconciliation concerns.

ERIC DURAN: You’ve already got the president of the United States that’s come out in support of Donald Rumsfeld. You know, is there going to be anybody… I guess this president’s been really arrogant. Is there anybody that’s going to actually lose their job, anybody that’s going to get in trouble?

LINDA HOUSTON: I think the thing that is so distressing for me is how they have jeopardized every man and woman in uniform in Iraq. I just think it’s so sad. I have a son in the air force, and it makes me sad to think that if he were captured, he would likely serve a more difficult torture due to this.

SPENCER MICHELS: All of these developments, has it changed the way you look at any of this politically or militarily or from a psychological point of view? What’s changed in your own thinking or the way you look at America?

DENNIS COUGHLIN: Well, I don’t look at America any different than I did before. I absolutely agree with what you say. The American people are appalled by this kind of action, absolutely appalled. That’s laudable. The acts are deplorable. But certainly the American reaction and all of us here, all of us here, no matter which… which way you’re looking at it, are depl… think these acts are deplorable.

SPENCER MICHELS: Dr. Clark?

MO CLARK: Well, I agree with you, Dennis, that… ( laughter ) the fact of the matter is as Americans, I don’t think there’s one person here that’s not outraged, et cetera. I think where we separate somewhat is what do you do about it? Do we go through some kind of, you know, pat on the wrist or do you really hold people accountable, like a Rumsfeld, like a George Bush, who didn’t even want to talk about an investigation of 9/11? When someone talks about 9/11 and we talk about Iraq, I can’t connect those two dots, because we didn’t have a strategy. We supposedly had a great strategy going in, but there was no exit strategy for Iraq.

SPENCER MICHELS: Mo Matthews?

MO MATTHEWS: I would hope this makes everybody realize there’s no such thing as a neat, tidy war. That was envisioned by the administration. There was very little talk about what would happen afterwards. It was going to be a snap, as a simple, and war is dirty, and it always will be, and we should avoid it whenever possible.

SPENCER MICHELS: Linda?

LINDA STAHNKE: I think we have to figure out what we need to do differently. We have to find out what went wrong and make sure that we put some things in place that this doesn’t keep happening. It’s happened in other wars. It happened in Bosnia. And I think we have to fix it. There is something broken for this to be able to keep happening.

SPENCER MICHELS: Does any of this impact the coming election? Does it change votes? Does it impact the country?

MEMBER OF GROUP: Hopefully. ( Laughter )

MEMBER OF GROUP: I think it’s too far out.

SPENCER MICHELS: What do you mean too far out?

LINDA STAHNKE: Americans forget. There are quite a few months between now and November. Memories are short.

MO CLARK: It really speaks to our own honesty and our own soul- searching. Maybe we will forget, but I think that’s a reflection on what it means to us. If this really has the impact that we just said, that we’re outraged, I think we shouldn’t forget in November, and I think people will go to the polls with the right attitude, that this is wrong and we don’t want to be represented this way anymore.

MEMBER OF GROUP: I think also there’s been a great failure from the top from the very start of the war.

SPENCER MICHELS: These criticisms you’re making, you’re not making them as a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, are you? You’re a registered independent.

MEMBER OF GROUP: I’m a registered independent. I voted for George Bush.

SPENCER MICHELS: And now?

MEMBER OF GROUP: I can’t wait to vote against him now.

DENNIS COUGHLIN: To blame it on Rumsfeld or Bush, the truth of the matter is they are too far removed from the corporal or the private or whomever committed these acts. It would be the same as if we looked at every governor and said, “if you had someone in the state prison system, it’s your fault,” or every mayor that said, “if we had a cop that did something that was repugnant, it’s your fault.”

SPENCER MICHELS: All right. The answers have been very interesting. I really appreciate your honesty, and I want to thank you all very much for being here.

GROUP: Thank you.