Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Prison inmates for Iraq duty?


Pat Murphy

In the antiquated parlance of bygone wars, the Pentagon needs more "cannon fodder" for the calamity in Iraq. Today's term for adding more troops is a "surge" of 20,000 or more bodies to try achieving President Bush's delusional mission of "victory."

War supporters clinging to the foolishness that Bush and neo-con fanatics who badgered him into attacking Iraq can bail themselves out of this bloodbath probably won't be revolted by the Pentagon's callous life-is-cheap reaction after the 3,000th GI was killed.

There was "no special significance to the overall number of casualties," he said aloofly. Tell that to the parents, widows and widowers and children of the 3,000-plus families of thousands maimed for life.

If Congress continues to support what Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith calls possibly "criminal" conduct of the war, and allows more GIs sent to their deaths, why throw more good men and women into the Baghdad grinder?

Why not tap the largest pool of young U.S. manpower for Iraq duty—prison inmates?

This isn't unthinkable or unworkable. In past generations, judges gave "bad boys" the alternative of military service or jail. Many a wayward boy's life was straightened out by spit-and-polish Army or Marine drill sergeants.

Imagine a real-life replication of the 1967 movie classic "The Dirty Dozen"—12 convicted murderers offered commutation of their sentences by joining a unit to assassinate German generals.

The Army has been lowering its enlistment standards. It takes older enlistees (up to 42 years old). It doesn't require as much education. And even a criminal record doesn't automatically disqualify.

With the latitude most states give judges in suspending or putting sentences on hold, and the flexibility of parole and pardon boards, the Pentagon could cull through records of young inmates to find thousands of willing enlistees seeking reduction or commutation of their prison terms and willing to serve voluntarily.

Candidates would not be psychopaths, rapists and murderers, but from among inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.

What about desertion? Inmates failing to live up to their deal to serve would be tracked down and serve additional time, just as inmates are given more time for attempted escapes.

Inmates owe something to their country. Many would jump at a chanced to be in military uniform rather than prison garb. And reducing the nation's jail and prison population by thousands would reduce costs to taxpayers.

In the end, if they survived the Bush War, the inmates-turned GIs might even return home as better citizens and not renewed lives of crime.

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