Ben Stein called prison abuse “frat-boy mistreatment”

Nearly three weeks after radio host Rush Limbaugh compared U.S. guards' abuse of Iraqi prisoners to a college fraternity prank and suggested that the U.S. guards involved were “blow[ing] some steam off,” writer, actor, lawyer, and economist Ben Stein -- who was a speechwriter under former Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford -- characterized the prison abuse as “frat-boy mistreatment” during a May 23 appearance on CBS News Sunday Morning. Stein is a Sunday Morning contributor.

From the May 23 edition of CBS News Sunday Morning:

STEIN: Something is terribly wrong with media coverage of the war in Iraq. The media hysteria about Iraq and the prisoners reached a crescendo last Friday when another network breathlessly disclosed that American guards at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad had stomped on the toes of suspected Iraqi terrorists to make them more likely to talk about murders of Americans and innocent Iraqis in Iraq. This toe-stomping was treated as a stunning revelation of American brutality. It was added to the torrent of hysteria about photos of nude Iraqis piling on each other and a nude Iraqi being led by a woman soldier with a leash. All of this, according to the media and some in Congress, is supposed to show that America is itself a terrorist nation and that we are really no different from the terrorists. This is dangerous nonsense.

This conflict started because a group of fundamentalist mass murderers killed 3,000 totally innocent civilians on 9/11. We did nothing to provoke it except to the terrorists' crazy brains. That's why we went into Afghanistan and used harsh methods to get answers our [sic] of captured al-Qaida there, to prevent more 9/11s. Does the media think you just plunk down your card on a silver tray and the terrorists talk? Do they think we get useful information out of hardened terrorists by polite questioning? What do the media think we did in Vietnam? What do they think the Israelis do to find out about terrorism? What do they think the British did in Northern Ireland?

Fighting terrorists is a brutal business. Now we're in Iraq. Once we're there, we have to protect innocent life from terrorists. That means interrogating prisoners whom [sic] we think are terrorists, sometimes harshly. But get it straight: We are the good guys. We saved Iraq from a dictator a billion times worse than anything we do there. The people who murder our soldiers and civilians and mutilate them just because the Americans are trying to help Iraq, those killers are the bad guys.

The media plays up endlessly frat-boy mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, and yes, some of it is genuinely bad. But where is the big picture? What about the thousands of Iraqis who were tortured to death, who had their eyes cut out, were surgically mutilated, were raped, starved, had gasoline poured down their throats and then were set on fire by the Saddam Hussein regime at the same prison? Why don't we hear about them on TV? Why don't we hear more about the families of four U.S. contractors murdered and mutilated in Fallujah by terrorists? They've been totally forgotten.

Let me ask the media and the Congress a question: Might it have been worth stomping on a terrorist's fingers and toes and depriving him of sleep to find out who murdered those four men in Fallujah and making sure they didn't do it again? Media, Congress, get it straight: The U.S. is the main repository of decency on this Earth. The al-Qaida can never defeat us if we are united. But we can defeat ourselves if we begin to think we are the enemy and lose our confidence in our cause. There is no moral equivalency between us and the terrorists. We're the good guys, and if we lose because we didn't play hard enough, it's the end of everything good in our world.

Stein writes a monthly column, "Ben Stein's Diary," for The American Spectator.