“War may sometimes be a necessary evil, but no matter how necessary, it is always evil, never good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.” Those were the words of President Jimmy Carter in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.

War is always evil. The words of a former Navy officer and veteran, former U.S. President and world peace maker. Must we learn that anew in every generation?

I find myself filled with horror and sadness and anger and a multitude of questions. It’s all so predictable, so unnecessary and so depressing.

The pictures of the abuse and torture conducted by U.S. troops and private contractors turn my stomach and those of millions of Americans. They threaten the lives of American troops still in Iraq and they may threaten any possibility of good will by many Iraqis and many in the Arab world in the future. But we should not be surprised. War is always evil and sometimes even good people do evil things during war. Should we be surprised?

Those pictures were horrible and Congress and the American people, not to mention the Iraqi people, rightly demand justice. But, I wonder, where were our cries of outrage when pictures surfaced of the children injured in the siege of Fallujah and other Iraqi cities? Are not the broken bodies of Iraqi children just as horrible?

As I looked at the pictures and saw the woman soldier standing above the naked bodies of the Iraqi prisoners, I wondered to myself, is this what so many of us who have fought for equal rights for women worked for? What could she have been thinking?

As I looked at the pictures of the hooded prisoner standing with wires extending from his arms, I thought about the 2,805 documented cases of lynching of African Americans in this nation. And I wasn’t the only one – others, including both African Americans and Arab Americans, are remembering those horrible picture postcards of black men, women and children hanging from trees, sometimes with crowds of white families having lunch nearby. So I have to ask, are these new pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison a remnant of the racism of our past?

And, speaking of the Abu Ghraib prison, what were we even doing there? It was an infamous prison, where Saddam Hussein’s soldiers tortured Iraqis. Did we stop to think about what the image of U.S. troops holding prisoners in Abu Ghraib would say? Did we care?

And then I was struck with three little words in the statement of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, “two private contractors.” It seems that there may have been private contractors – a.k.a. mercenaries – involved in some of the abuses at this prison. Will those three little words get lost in the public outcry? It’s one thing to talk about private contractors providing supplies for our armed forces, but it’s another thing altogether to talk about private contractors doing the actual work of the armed forces. How do we hold them accountable for what may be considered war crimes?

War is evil. We need to say that. We need to apologize to those who were tortured and abused and to the people of Iraq. We need to hold not only our military accountable, but those civilian leaders of the military as well. We need to question the role of private military contractors and we need to search into our souls about what has happened to our country and our world.

Bernice Powell Jackson is executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, www.ucc.org/jwm/.