May 06, 2005

Sympathy for the Devil's Henchpeople

Even if someone was too inured to the suffering of brown people to recognize how bad Abu Ghraib was for the victims and their fellow citizens, they were probably still capable of recognizing its damage to every facet of this country's image abroad. It was hard not to think that the uniformed kids posing alongside the prisoners with their grins and their thumbs-up signs had done more damage to the US effort in Iraq than a battalion of guerrilla fighters.

Of course, they weren't just some kids. They were part of a military command structure which indoctrinates participants to follow orders, do what they're told, and live and sometimes die by the word of their commanding officers. Not, as has been mentioned many times, that this excuses following orders that are morally wrong.

Yet for the whole chain to kick off, someone had to give an order, or at least to approve. That's how the military works. Things that aren't approved, or willingly ignored, or winked at, or ordered, don't happen all that much. They certainly don't happen with mass participation, because what one person may be able to get away with, will certainly be noticed if 'everybody' ends up doing it unless the CO is flat out asleep. Which is a dereliction of duty.

The first time I saw those pictures, it would have been hard for me to imagine having any sympathy for PFC Lynndie England. But in the face of the escape from punishment of the chain of command, lack of investigation into intelligence agency or contractor involvement, the failure of the administration to admit any responsibility for issuing directives that weakened human rights abuse restrictions, and the blame being placed almost entirely on the lowest ranking people, I've been shocked into it.

As Leah at Corrente said:

...could someone please explain to me how it is that Charles Graner is serving a ten year sentence after having been convicted of all counts in a court martial in which the maximum sentence he faced was 15 years, while Lyndie England "originally faced charges that could have sent her to jail for 38 years," which her plea agreement reduced to 11? ...

Leah pointed to this Washington Post article by T.R. Reid, (as eriposte says, the media includes its share of good guys who still try and often succeed at doing the job they're supposed to) which covers England's court martial. The judge has dismissed the trial, not convinced that England knew that her actions were illegal. She can of course be retried, and if so, an attorney for Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski stated that any future hope of a plea deal is done for. Here's this:

... Graner, who in civilian life worked as corrections officer, said that the widely circulated photo of England holding a naked prisoner on a leash was not abuse, but rather a standard method guards use to control unruly prisoners.

One of the charges against England was that she "did conspire" with Graner to mistreat prisoners. If Graner and England believed that use of the leash was proper, the judge concluded, there was no crime.

"There is no finding of guilt that can be accepted any longer," Pohl said.

England was an office clerk who had no training as a prison guard when the Army assigned her to Abu Ghraib. She told the judge earlier this week that she followed Graner's direction in the prison "because he was an MP [military police], he had the corrections officer background. He was older than me." ...

Is there time to explore all the things that are wrong with the previous passage? Probably not, but here are the two major takeaways.

They put untrained personnel in charge of prisoners, a situation which can turn even the most normal people into sadists, and those people are being asked to bear all the blame while facing more crushing punishments than their superiors. This point at least seems fairly evident to most people not named Rush Limbaugh.

What's almost more disturbing is that the trained personnel, the ones with a history of working in prisons here in the U.S. believed that this kind of behavior towards inmates was unexceptional. What the blinking hell is going on in our prisons? This is probably the inevitable result of an ever more brutal public attitude towards punishment, but it's truly sickening.

Should these people have known right from wrong? Yes, they should have. Yet apparently their superiors didn't know right from wrong, either. England's superiors in Iraq; not a clue. Graner's employers in the prison system who'd ignored his history of abuse; apparently just as clueless. It's philosophically satisfying to consider every participant equally responsible, it's ignorant of human nature not to recognize the greater culpability of authority figures with direct responsibility for supervising the proceedings.

Prison guards in Phoenix recently tasered a man to death, last October a quadriplegic died in a D.C. jail after being denied medical care, and a high school in Greenwich, CT just disinvited a defense lawyer to speak at their graduation because it was considered a controversial choice.

A culture that idolizes severe punishment and retribution has produced people who don't know that torture is wrong, authority figures who wink at or encourage the confusion, a punditry that seems to recognize that abuse of the disliked is wrong only when it hurts more than the victims, and a public who refuses to insist on holding those who give the orders to account. We've got religious leaders who want to punish people for having sex, by actively promoting policies that increase the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Few are alarmed when genocide is casually suggested against people in Muslim countries by influential political pundits who get front page news magazine profiles. Virtually no one who wants a future in politics will come out and say who flat out wrong it is that low-level drug offenders get the stiffest sentences, while their superiors get off for turning evidence. Finally, unless it makes it onto video or a rare case hits trial, the police targeting and frequent abuse of minorities in many communities isn't even considered news.

And I still manage to be surprised by things like Abu Ghraib, which is just silly of me.

Posted by natasha at May 6, 2005 02:05 AM | Iraq | Technorati links |

No scenario would surprise me about their bad decision-making and efforts to save face. In a war for oil, where a theocracy and continued instability looms, how better to get a guarantee of oil from Saddam by a continuance of his dictatorship.

They may have naively thought they could come in, get the oil, have the bases, and have the ethnic divisions fight quietly forever, balkanized, more upset with eachother than with us. Didn't work that way.

Posted by: Marjorie G at May 6, 2005 06:46 AM

Bikepaths of Glory:

Donned my tight black shorts and fitted flag-bedecked tee and took the trusty old BMX for another spin round the park today; fucking swarthy kids all over the racetrack, blocking my path, most of them dirty snot-nosed íslim spawn.

Waited behind a tree for them to leave, all the while taking notes (Iím a trained journalist) which I will pass on to my important new buds at homeland security in due course.

With any luck the vanguard Ö errÖ Republican Party is going to send those oil ticks back to the rat-infested hell holes they come from. Like Muzzieland and Koranistan. Or France.

Then Iíll have the track to myself. Ride bike fast. Go wheeeee. :)

Love, Charles Johnson
CEO & Founder

Posted by: charles johnson at May 6, 2005 12:59 PM

Charles - Well, that was such a fantastically incoherent comment that I had to look to see what site you were coming from to figure out how you intended it. Freak.

If there are oil ticks on the planet, then that would describe countries like us who parasitize the natural resources of other countries, instead of doing the smart thing and developing the technological resources to kick our fossil fuel habit. You're PO'd that they have stuff we need, insulted to need anything from them? Get serious about fuel efficiency and alternative energy.

Oh yeah, and Muslims had algebra, fabulous architecture, and the biggest libraries in the world back when illiterate western Europeans were picking lice out of their hair in their filthy wattle huts. How'd that get turned around? Oh yeah. Resource parasitism.

Finally, how many of your 101st Fighting Keyboarders at LGF are signing up to fight in this war you're all so keen on? The army's missed it's recruiting goals by quite a bit, and if anyone's going to suffer for this mess, it should be exactly the sorts of creeps that were so enthusiastic about starting it.

Posted by: natasha at May 7, 2005 09:48 PM