The Jack Bauer Republicans
We are a constitutional, self-governing republic that has decided to torture. Period. It would be good if we could look ourselves in the face and admit it to ourselves. At the very least, we could give ourselves a break from our own tattered sanctimony. Charles Pierce
And now it looks like some people want to elect war criminals. And I'm, not talking about those who ordered it from afar. Benjamin Sarlin reports:
Call them the Jack Bauer Republicans.
Two Iraq veterans who left the military after surviving charges of crimes against detainees are running credible campaigns for Congress. And far from minimizing the incidents, both candidates have put the accusations front and center in their campaigns, attracting rock-star adulation from conservatives nationwide in the process. But critics, including human-rights activists, veterans, and now even defeated primary opponents, warn that their records should disqualify them from office.
Last week, Ilario Pantano won the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s 7th District, setting up a challenge to incumbent Democrat Rep. Mike McIntyre in November. In 2001, immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks, Pantano, a veteran who had previously fought in the Gulf War, left his career as a successful producer and media consultant in his native Manhattan to rejoin the Marines and was eventually deployed to Iraq. In April 2004, Pantano killed two unarmed Iraqi detainees, twice unloading his gun into their bodies and firing between 50 and 60 shots in total. Afterward, he placed a sign over the corpses featuring the Marines' slogan “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” as a message to the local population.
Pantano said that he acted in self-defense and that the two suspects were charging at him, but the military accused him of premeditated murder. The case became an international news story and Pantano’s defense a popular cause for conservatives. In 2005, military prosecutors dropped the charges, in part because a key witness’s testimony could not be corroborated.
Funny how the only time the right reveres the legal system's protections is when it's protecting war criminals. Indeed, the article goes on to say that he's actually running on the incident, making it the center of his campaign. But then, he's considered something of a "good guy" by people as disparate as Michelle Malkin, James Carville and Jon Stewart.
His defeated primary opponent, also an Iraq war vet, is so offended by the whitewash that he's continuing to speak out against him:
“I’ve taken prisoners in Iraq and there’s no excuse for what he did,” Breazeale told The Daily Beast. “To shoot two unarmed prisoners 60 times and put a sign over their dead bodies is inexcusable.
In case you wonder whether this guy might just be a "good guy" yourself, it's important to keep in mind that he was "inspired" to run for office because of calls to prosecute people for torture:
“For someone who lived through what I lived through, that was very personal to me,” Pantano said. “The idea of people being prosecuted for doing their jobs in what is in fact a war—it struck me that members of Congress were being disingenuous. What our men and women were doing in enhanced interrogations was not torture and the prospect of investigations smacked of politics.”
And then there's this fine fellow:
Retired Lt. Col. Allen West, running in Florida’s 22nd District to replace Democratic Rep. Ron Klein ... West was forced to retire from the Army and fined $5,000 after he admitted to apprehending an Iraqi policeman he suspected of planning an ambush, watching as his troops beat him, and then firing a gunshot by the Iraqi’s head in order to scare him into divulging information. West said the decision saved lives by preventing an ambush. But no plot was ever discovered and the policeman in question later told The New York Times that he had no knowledge of any attacks.
Such an incident might be a source of shame for some officers. But not for West, who has developed a superstar following among Republicans by portraying himself as a real-life Jack Bauer.
"You might recall that in 2003, I made the decision where I sacrificed my military career for the lives of my men,” he was quoted in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as saying in a 2007 campaign speech—his first bid for the Florida House seat, which he lost. ”I will sacrifice every ounce of me to be your next congressman."
In endorsing him via her Facebook page in March, Sarah Palin described West as “a decorated war hero who’s served with distinction in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.” As Palin notes, a video of one of West’s speeches has garnered over 2 million views on YouTube. His national popularity has brought him floods of cash; he raised $677,586 in the last reported quarter versus just $330,140 for the incumbent Klein.
Alan West is a big favorite among the Ron Paul followers.
Stacy Sullivan, a counterterrorism adviser for Human Rights Watch, tied the candidates’ popularity to broader trends.
“It's very disturbing because it indicates that we have a culture that not only condones, but rewards detainee abuse,” she said in an email.
Pete Hegseth, executive director of Vets for Freedom, a conservative group that backs veterans who support the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and has endorsed both candidates, told the Beast that he thought West and Pantano had backgrounds that resonate well with voters.
“Both Allen West and Ilario Pantano were courageous warriors on the battlefield who did what they felt needed to be done to protect their troops and accomplish their mission,” he said. “They’re not traditional rank-and-file politicians who follow the path of last resistance, so in that sense I think it does make them appealing.
Hey, it's not like the government isn't already filled with war criminals. But I think this may be the first time in a century or so that people actually run for office touting their crimes. They're not even pretending to be decent anymore.