A few weeks ago, U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba presided over San Francisco’s Pistahan Parade. The Pistahan Parade and Festival is an annual celebration of Filipino culture (and also a clever name since “Pistahan” means fiesta or festival, and thus plays on my people’s love for repetition in naming: Festival Festival!).
Pistahan could not have chosen a better Grand Marshall to represent the best of Filipinos and Americans. Filipino-born Major General Taguba served in the United States Army for over 30 years and became one of the highest ranking Filipino-Americans in the U.S. military. Then his career came to a dead end thanks to his hard-hitting investigation of the Abu-Ghraib scandal. Remember that little gem of American military behavior? Because Taguba’s report on the torture and humiliation of prisoners at the hands of American soldiers was comprehensive, thorough and honest, he was ostracized by many of his peers, relegated to a paper-pushing job and basically forced to retire.
After his report was publicized, Taguba rarely gave interviews and only recently began to really speak out. In this June 2007 New Yorker article, Taguba sums up his feelings on Abu-Ghraib:
“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service, and yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”
So to recap: not only did Taguba sacrifice his personal safety by serving in the military, in the end he essentially sacrificed his career in order to preserve his integrity. I wonder if his former big boss The Commander in Chief would agree that this represents just a slightly bigger sacrifice than, oh say a couple of phantom months in service and kicking a cocaine and drinking habit…? Why isn’t Taguba running for some kind of office? Oh right, probably integrity.
Antonio Taguba makes me incredibly proud to be Filipino and American. He also makes me wonder, why aren’t those leaders (not just the digital-camera-happy soldiers) being held responsible? The New Yorker piece is a worthwhile read, and you can also learn more about Taguba and his report here, here and here.