War Crimes

US soldiers walk through the halls of Abu Ghraib prison, Baghdad, Iraq, 5-5-04
As I have been watching these awful events of the past weeks, I got to thinking back to three years ago when I was writing my memoir and reflected on what I had learned as a reporter in Vietnam. Here's what I wrote then.

'During my first weeks there, I came to understand that war can be unparalleled adventure and, for lack of a better word, fun on one level, and in an odd way, it can even be liberating. In war, we are separated from people we know and placed in an environment where people we care about back home will never know what we do. In a war zone, it is easy to believe that the rules that we have lived by all our lives no longer apply. War can become the ultimate hunting and camping trip where the thrill is heightened because the animals can shoot back.'

Sending young men and women into a war zone leaves more than their lives at risk. It also means that every value they have been taught, every belief they hold will be tested. When we send our young people to war, we're placing them in an environment that appeals to their best and their worst sides. I came to believe that training young soldiers to understand and cope with the temptations of war was as important as teaching them to shoot straight.

What the prison guards in Iraq did was indefensible. They must be punished, but the ultimate responsibility for what happened rests with those who sent them into a war zone untrained and unprepared. There's the crime.

By Bob Schieffer