This quarter I am taking History 4B, a class that studies the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials and countless atrocities against nonbelievers. Luckily, it’s all ancient history – unless you read the news this week. When I glanced over the headlines today, I could have sworn the pages were torn from the bloody history of the Middle Ages. The headlines included “New Photos of GI Abuse,” “U.S. Hostage Beheaded on Tape” and “Seven Israelis Killed in Gaza.”

Although the headlines themselves tell gruesome stories, each one was a precursor to a grisly article that told a tale of dehumanization and violent fanaticism. In Iraq, accusations of torture and abuse are surfacing in the Abu Ghraib prison. Meanwhile, Nick Berg, an American hostage, was ruthlessly slaughtered in a beheading allegedly carried out by al-Zarqawi, an Iraqi al-Qaeda associate. And in Gaza, Palestinian terrorists refused to release the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in a recent attack on their convoy, meaning they cannot be buried under Jewish law.

The word “atrocity” is a relative one. However, the motivation remains the same, and ties the actions of U.S. soldiers, Iraqi murderers and Palestinian terrorists together. What allows humans to perform such horrible deeds?

Firstly, the perpetrators of such acts view themselves as superior, and somehow not bound by the same moral code as their enemies. Secondly, these hateful acts result from a complete dehumanization of the enemy. The same mindset that allowed U.S. soldiers to torture Iraqis in Abu Ghraib allowed al-Zarqawi to viciously end Berg’s life and Hamas to use Israeli bodies as bargaining chips.

Obviously, anyone capable of treating another human being with such contempt is likely to act again without hesitation. It becomes, then, the responsibility of those in the community to speak out, and clearly state, “This is not acceptable.”

America now faces one of its hardest challenges yet in Iraq. This time, not from insurgents, but from the brutal honesty of pictures that show our soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners. Immediately we all search for justification, and I am no exception. These people are terrorists. This is war. The pictures could easily have been doctored. Those incidents were isolated acts by sadistic individuals.

On the news and in our conversations we construct answers that will somehow explain these horrible images. Ultimately, I accepted the cold reality that American soldiers – American brothers, sisters, daughters and sons – are in fact committing violations of human rights. It is a truth that many will not or cannot accept. We must accept it, however, if we wish to maintain any sense of moral authority. It is not about partisanship or national security; it is about the very ideals for which this country stands.

If we, as a country, really do stand for truth, justice and humanity, it is far more important to admit the wrongdoing of our soldiers, and to work swiftly to eliminate this evil from our troops. If only we could clear our names as quickly.

We as Americans face a choice. The actions of al-Zarqawi and the terrorists in Gaza are reprehensible. However, we must not let the atrocities of others become our rationalizations, or allow them to disable our own moral outrage. We can decry the inhumanity of al-Qaeda and Hamas until we are out of breath, but if we do not recognize our own transgressions and act quickly to make amends, then all our righteous indignation is in vain. I do believe in what America stands for. I just hope that when all is said and done, the rest of the world does too.

Ruben Brosbe is an undeclared freshman.