Sometimes military justice doesn't do justice. That's the case involving US troops recently caught humiliating and threatening Iraq prisoners in obscene ways. No matter what those prisoners may have done to be locked up, these actions by a few soldiers sent to liberate a nation from the atrocities of a dictator were so inhumane and so damaging to US interests in the Middle East that the Pentagon should not be left alone to punish those involved.
Congress must either investigate how to fix a military system that would allow such behavior or set up a commission to do so. Such a probe would also help ensure no coverup of higher officials who either approve or condone such acts.
Fortunately, only six soldiers face courts-martial in connection with the sadistic mistreatment of detainees. But in the eyes of Muslims, their actions cast a long shadow over the good work of all the US-led coalition forces.
A forceful response beyond simple courts-martial is needed in the hope that the US can regain the moral high ground in Iraq. While President Bush expressed "deep disgust" at images made public last week on "60 Minutes," the commander in chief can do more to lead his troops by giving a speech on proper military conduct.
What's more, Mr. Bush can honor any US soldier in the prison who openly refused to be part of the humiliation. Americans need to hear the ethical reasoning of wartime heroes who stand up for basic rights in the face of peer pressure to do otherwise.
While only one prisoner died in these incidents, a comparison can be made to the 1968 My Lai massacre of 347 civilians in Vietnam: The moral offense overwhelms a whole war effort. It's also worth remembering a soldier at My Lai who refused an order - at his commander's gun point - to shoot. Harry Stanley, 19 at the time, saw a higher moral purpose to his work as a soldier, and took a risk to stand up for it.
Today's US soldiers need to learn an instinctive repulsion to torture or other inhumane abuses of prisoners.