May 07, 2005

The buck stops down there.

When the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison is concerned, it's the lower ranks who are being punished and the brass who are getting the slaps on their wrists.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the various investigations have resulted in six military prosecutions — all of whom are enlisted men or women. These investigations have led only to reprimands for the two senior officers with direct responsibility for the prison. And Dubya just demoted the one-star general who commanded Abu Ghraib.

Abu Ghraib

If any lesson can be drawn from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse legal fallout so far, it may be this: The lowest-level soldier has the highest level of responsibility. The rank and file must clearly know right from wrong - both in terms of their own actions and orders from superiors.

"What the average soldier is going to take away from Abu Ghraib is a reinforcement of what he learned at boot camp - that he's responsible for his actions," says Mary Hall, a former military judge now in private practice. "These Abu Ghraib courts-martial are a blunt reminder to even the newest private that they have a duty to just say 'no.'"

Reading the Monitorarticle reminded us of a conversation we had about a week after the first pictures from Abu Ghraib hit the US press. We were talking to a woman who was at the end of her own service in the army. She came from a military family: If we remember right, both her father and grandfather had been in the service, and her brother and one sister were currently in the army (one serving in Iraq).

Not surprisingly, she said that Abu Ghraib was a huge topic in her family and among her friends who were either currently or formerly in the military. Everyone she'd talked to was angry and ashamed of what had happened. All of them thought that the actions of the Abu Ghraib jailers were reprehensible, she said, ant that the soldiers who carried out the abuse and torture needed to be punished. But even more guilty, she said, were the superior officers who ordered the criminal activities, condoned them, or willfully ignored the fact that they were occurring. As best we can remember her words, she said that there would not have been a work culture among the Abu Ghraib jailers that allowed for abuse and torture unless a) a superior officer had ordered these activities or b) a superior officer had made it abundantly clear — without issuing a formal order — what kind of treatment the prisoners were to receive.

She told this magpie that a lot of people in the military would be watching with trepidation to see what happened as a result of the Abu Ghraib inquiries. What she and other were afraid of was that the enlisted soldiers who were directly responsible for the torture and abuse would be made examples, to show the world that the US government wasn't looking the other way. And that their superiors would get off largely scot-free.

We guess we know now whether those fears were founded.

Posted by Magpie at May 7, 2005 01:52 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |

An illegal and immoral war that is reaping exactly what we expected: a military that is increasingly broken. Not enough troops. Thousands who serve are damaged forever. And the senior leadership denies any accountability or responsibility for the aberrant actions performed under their watch. It took decades to rebuild the military after Vietnam. I'll bet it will take even longer this time.

Posted by: Mary at May 7, 2005 05:04 PM

Considering that the army missed its recruiting goals by around 40%, it hasn't taken a long time for people to realize that the grunts aren't getting any love from the Bushies, whether in terms of benefits or even the serious matter of allocating responsibility.

Posted by: natasha at May 7, 2005 05:13 PM

Dark days,
We're in 'em,
Dark days,
and more...

Posted by: Joe at May 7, 2005 10:24 PM