Sunday, May 02, 2004

Down the dark ladder

Every time I read about the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, it gets worse. The cruelty is more pronounced, the conscious intent more obvious.

There simply is no question but that these are war crimes and they should be prosecuted as such, and the prosecutions should include, in fact be focused on, the military intelligence hierarchy that not only endorsed but encouraged this heinous behavior, prosecutions which, outrageously, maddeningly, shamefully, disgracefully, seem unlikely to happen:
What, if any actions, are being taken against the interrogators [CBS asked Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt]?

"I hope the investigation is including not only the people who committed the crimes, but some of the people that might have encouraged these crimes as well," says Kimmitt. "Because they certainly share some level of responsibility as well."

But so far, none of the interrogators at Abu Ghraib are facing criminal charges. In fact, a number of them are civilians, and military law doesn't apply to them.
Well, if military law doesn't, some damn law does. A White House that claims the authority to hold citizens indefinitely, without charge or access to lawyers, can damn well find a way to punish people acting on its behalf with a stricter weapon than a bad performance review. I repeat: They are war criminals and should be treated as such.

However, unlike some I am not willing to exonerate the soldiers who actually did the deeds. Gary Myers, attorney for Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick, one of the accused, says his client shouldn't even have been charged
because of the failure of his commanders to provide proper training and standards.

"The elixir of power, the elixir of believing that you're helping the CIA, for God's sake, when you're from a small town in Virginia, that's intoxicating," says Myers. "And so, good guys sometimes do things believing that they are being of assistance and helping a just cause. ... And helping people they view as important."

Frederick says he didn't see a copy of the Geneva Convention rules for handling prisoners of war until after he was charged.
Well, dammit, so what? Who the flaming hell cares? What kind of "proper training" does it take to realize that it's wrong to do things including
[b]reaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee,
along with stacking them naked in a pile, forcing them to simulate oral sex, forcing them to masturbate while you point, laugh, and take pictures?

I don't have to read the Geneva Convention to know that's just wrong. Just no excuses, no finessing, no evasions, flat-out wrong. And it can't be excused on the grounds of inadequate supervision.

I said it before: War brutalizes, war dehumanizes, war hardens the soul and drains the spirit. It turns you into what you say you oppose. It turns ordinary people from "a small town in Virginia" into brutes of a kind they likely would have claimed was impossible just a few months earlier. But at the same time remember that this came to light because one person refused to countenance it. One person, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, refused in at least this case to surrender to the dehumanization of war and reported it instead of reveling in it. And in terms of our knowledge, that has made the difference.

All power to the moral dissenters.

Footnote: Myers told Seymour Hersh
that his client's defense will be that he was carrying out the orders of his superiors and, in particular, the directions of military intelligence.
We'll see how "I was only following orders" works as a defense when it's one of us rather than one of them that's in the dock.

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