This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Even a quark of good judgment could have spared the United States the international embarrassments it has just suffered in Colombia and Afghanistan.
You’d think that a large squad of Secret Service agents securing areas in Colombia would know enough not to bring a flock of floozies to their hotel rooms for drunken revels shortly before the president comes to town.
You’d think that any U.S. soldier – after all the trouble digital snapshots have caused in Iraq and Afghanistan – would know enough not to take pictures of his buddies horsing around with an Afghan suicide bomber’s dead body.
The Secret Service scandal may have less impact than the latest gloating-over-enemy-corpse photos. The agents’ escapades with Cartagena prostitutes probably won’t get anyone killed; the photos probably will, by inciting vengeance attacks on U.S. troops.
The photos look as if they were taken by young Americans in the bizarre counter-reality of a combat zone in an alien landscape. Their behavior can’t be excused; it has tarnished the Army and forced Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to offer an abject public apology.
Still, it involved no torture or other atrocities – the suicide bomber handled that end of things – and it’s all too easy to imagine an ordinary impulsive kid joining the Army and getting himself into that kind of trouble.
The prostitution business is another question.
The johns were alleged grownups. Most of the 11 Secret Service personnel were reportedly special agents. Ten military personnel were in on the party, including two officers.
The investigation has expanded to include the possibility of security breaches – easy to imagine when strangers from a local club are brought into the inner circle of presidential guardians. Two Secret Service supervisors who were at the scene have been forced out of their jobs, another employee has quit and the rest are on administrative leave.
That’s a good start, but this calls for a thorough review of the entire agency’s culture and discipline.
According to the Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security – which runs the Secret Service – appears to have no specific rule forbidding agents in a presidential retinue from soliciting working girls and openly squabbling with them over their fees.
But Homeland Security does have a rule against “criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, or other conduct prejudicial to the government.”
Maybe we’re missing something, but that would seem to cover hiring a platoon of Colombian prostitutes while the president’s trying to build respect for the United States in Latin America .