The Shame of Abu Ghraib

By now, you’ve heard and read about the horrifically shameful acts that happened at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib Prison, once home to Saddam’s ghoulish torture chambers, and now shorthand for a truly shameful act by our forces in Iraq.

The images, once I saw them, simply stunned me. These aren’t the soldiers I served with; they weren’t wearing the same uniform I wear.

And then denial wore off, with a flash, and was replaced by anger. No, not anger–rage. Even now, several days later, I’m still enraged by what those soldiers did. It takes everything within my power to not want to throttle those sorry excuses for servicemen and women.

According to this wire story, both the Army spokeswoman and one of the accused soldiers’ lawyers are claiming that the troops in question didn’t receive “in-depth training on the Geneva Conventions”?

So? So? So what?

Look, this goes beyond whether someone received training or not–this goes to whether they have a moral compass, indicating right and wrong. And treating Iraqis they way these moral imbeciles (and that’s being cruel to imbeciles) did clearly indicates a lack of morality.

I don’t care if they’re prisoners; I don’t care if they’re Iraqis; I don’t care if every single last one of them were responsible for the deaths of every last dead American–you don’t treat people that way! It’s a principle that goes all the way back to the Good Book (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), and is echoed in every major world religion.

So much for winning Iraqi hearts and minds. I’m looking at an ad placed by an Air Force chaplain, Gary Garvey. He wants to help orphans in Kirkuk by giving the schools and orphanages they attend and reside in basic supplies. He’s the best of us; the moral idiots at Abu Ghraib (again, being cruel to idiots) are the worst of us. There are entire universes of difference between us and them.

Still, every time an Iraqi lays eyes upon us, he won’t see us; he’ll see that grinning servicewoman, pointing to a pair of Iraqis forced to perform a lewd act, and clearly giving it all a thumbs-up. And all the good that we can do, that we have done, will lie deeply entombed in the sands of Iraq, while the evil will live on and on, serving only fuel the rage of an occupied nation.

And who knows when–or where–that rage, stoked by a vile clique, will take its vengeance?

UPDATE: Speaking of rage, here’s some reaction from the “Arab street”, courtesy of Juan Cole:

Mahmoud Walid, a 28-year-old Egyptian writer: “These soldiers are being touted as the saviours of the Iraqi people and America claims to be the moral leader of the world, but they have been caught with their pants down, they have been exposed, the whole world sees them as they really are.”

Daud al-Shiryan of Saudi Arabia: “This will increase the hatred of America, not just in Iraq but abroad. Even those who sympathised with the Americans before will stop. It is not just a picture of torture, it is degrading. It touches on morals and religion . . . Abu Ghraib prison was used for torture in Saddam’s time. People will ask now what’s the difference between Saddam and Bush. Nothing!”

Driver Hatem Ali, 30: “Americans are racists and cowards, that’s what I understood from these pictures.” (If you want a pithy comment, always ask a cabbie. Never fails).

There’s more there, from all corners. Congratulations, we’re the winners of a freshly-refueled insurgency.

LATER UPDATE: I’m reading Sy Hersh’s piece in the New Yorker. Turns out the whole thing got started because someone blew the whistle–SPC Joe Darby, a military policeman who knew one of the perpetrators.

The soldiers involved may have been morally bankrupt (especially SSG Chip Frederick, who in his interview cowardly denies responsibility for his acts), but Darby’s moral courage stands in sterling contrast. Interestingly, that’s the same way the My Lai 4 story was broken–because of a serviceman’s moral courage.


22 responses to “The Shame of Abu Ghraib

  1. Can you imagine how hard this was for Joe Darby, the MP who blew the whistle?

    What was the upside for Darby? None.

    He’d be hated by the perps, hated by his superiors who had to deal with it, hated by partisan supporters of the war right on up to the Bushies.

    He must’ve known, too, painfully, that when they came out, the pictures would enrage the Arab world, setting back (if not destroying) the vast American enterprise in Iraq.

    He had to have feared for his life.

    Yet he did the right thing.

    That is moral courage.

    More here.

  2. Rich Puchalsky

    Unfortunately, this goes deeper than the six soldiers who have been arrested. In reading the New Yorker article, I see that these events were known, at the latest, by late February, when the report by the investigating general was prepared. We heard nothing about it until the pictures leaked. It seems clear that we never would have heard anything about it if they hadn’t. There are complaints, collected by reputable human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, of similar torture at other U.S. detention centers. And is has been known for a long time that suspects captured by the U.S. have been sent to other countries to be tortured. I think that it’s clear that torture is at least tacitly approved of by the chain of command, going all the way up to the President, as long as it is kept quiet.

    And given the unusually large number of “suicides” at Guantanimo, and the two deaths that were ruled homicide of prisoners in custody earlier in the war, and the admission in the New Yorker article that U.S. agents tortured (“stressed” — a euphemism) a prisoner to death and concealed his body, I think it’s clear that our agents are killing people in custody in addition to torturing them.

    I long ago realized that when it comes to Republicans, they reflexively accuse others of everything that they themselves are doing. We now have U.S.-manned “rape rooms” in Iraq. If they weren’t such an inherently impractical idea, I’d expect to find the giant shredders to throw people into that Saddam was supposed to have busily grinding away as well.

    I expect that the immediate chain of command for the prison will be slapped on the wrist — demoted or releaved, maybe reprimanded — and the lower-level torturers to be sent away for long jail terms. The higher-ups are momentarily embarassed by those pictures — text wouldn’t have done it — but a few months and a terrorist scare later, new torturers will be back in full swing. It’s not like we didn’t have U.S. agents and troops torturing people from the Philippines to Vietnam to Central America. People will accept anything in order to preserve the illusion of the shining city on the hill that is the U.S. of their imagination, and the few bad apples on the ground beneath it on which everything can be blamed.

    The U.S. is currently on life support. If Bush wins another term, the country — in terms of its ideals having any meaning whatsoever — is dead. Even if Kerry wins, it may be too late.

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  4. Ron In Portland

    Phil Carter has a good analysis including some of the legal issues:

    — this is criminal conduct. And it must be dealt with strictly, severely and certainly by the U.S. government. My reading of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 is that the Justice Department may exercise criminal jurisdiction over these persons as contractors and sub-contractors of the U.S. government overseas. And it must do exactly that. At a minimum, these contractors’ conduct amounts to a violation of the laws of war with respect to torture during the course of interrogation. Any violation of the laws of war is a federal offense, under 18 U.S.C. 2441. The military should immediately apprehend these individuals and render them to Justice Department prosecution before a U.S. District Court in the United States. Nothing less — not termination, not administrative sanction, not suspension or debarment for these contractors — will be sufficient. These contractors broke the law in a heinous and brutal way, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  5. If they were going to do anything else they would already have done it. It’s kin of obvious what the plan is; it’s only a few bad apples, we’ve taken care of it, nothing else to see here. Won’t work, of course, except with Bush supporters looking for any excuse.

  6. Rich Puchalsky

    Check out Billmon’s blog (Whiskey Bar). Through a blog run by a right-wing radio host now serving as an interrogator in Iraq, there’s evidence that Steven Stefanowicz, a guy who Tagorda’s report specifically said should be removed, is still there.

    They aren’t even bothering with wrist slaps, I guess.

  7. Well, as of this morning they’ve given the soldiers administrative reprimands and said that’s all there is to the affair. They’re going to follow their instincts and try for a coverup; not that it has the slightest chance of working on anyone but Republicans.

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  10. The Arab street always relied on the Mullahs as to what attitude to adopt towards the US, now, courtesy of these idiots, they have documented evidence of our degeneracy. It’s a wonder the whole muslim world has declared open season on the US.

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  15. I am embarrassed. As an American. As a moral person. As a woman.
    While EVERY soldier who participated is equally at fault… the young women shown pointing and laughing and grinning make me angry and embarrassed. I’ve been in several situations in my life where the “boys” around me wanted to act silly or stupid or do things that just weren’t right. When they did, I myself and all the females with us, stood up and said, “No”. I don’t mean to sound sexist even though I probably do but in MY experience women have often acted as the morality ruler when men want to say, “Boys will Boys.”
    I am sickened by the actions of ALL of these service people and am deeply ashamed. You couldn’t be more right when you said that the only thing the Iraqi people will ever remember, despite all the good we’ve done, is this incident.
    I’m so ashamed.
    thanks for letting me vent

  16. If Specialist Graner (gloves guy, England’s boyfriend) really doesn’t know the Geneva Conventions, all I can say is we are in so much trouble. Why? He was USMC for something like 8 years, before he became a prison guard in civilian life at a prison in PA where they had a huge scandal involving humiliating “games” of “Simon Says” and beatings. The prison won’t confirm or deny if Charles Graner had any involvement in the offenses there.

    He also has three restraining orders out on him for doing things like slamming his ex-wife’s head into a wall, threatening to shoot her, and breaking into her house and stalking her.

    Another veteran has informed us over at the Nielsen-Haydens that putting him back in uniform and giving him weapons is probably against the law, given that last fact.

    So the media trying to make out that they’re just poor little ordinary joes like you and me, window salesmen and car repair guys, who had no clue what they were in for, is not exactly the case. More than a couple of them were prison guards in civilian life, besides Frederick and Graner, from what I’m reading.

    What chills me most is that no one has a conscience at all: not Karpinski, not Lynndie England (Mom, I was in the wrong place in the wrong time, and they’re going to punish me unfairly), Chip “Just Following Orders” Fredrick, the can’t be bothered to process prisoners in an over-crowded facility superior whose name I can’t remember, starts with H I think, and now the administration. They all see it as *how it is going to hurt **them**, how it will f’up their plans for life and make them look like fools and so on. And all of htem think they’re being scapegoated.

    It reminds me of interviews with serial killers I’ve read.

  17. hypocrisyalert

    First let me say that these crimes must be punished. Everyone is shocked and disgusted by this psychological torture and humiliation, which will effect the victims for the rest of their lives.
    But the International Community’s reaction is riddled with hypocrisy:

    1. Bad treatment for US troops?
    It is conventional wisdom among pundits that ill-treatment by a few US troops will result in worse treatment against American POWs. Really?
    In the past, US POWS and even civilians have hardly been treated according to the Geneva Conventions. Daniel Pearl beheaded, the Fallujah four mutilated and burned, Jessica Lynch raped come to mind. Tiger cages and torture in Vietnam, forced death marches and executions during WWII. Perhaps the pundits could tell me of a conflict where American POWs were protected?
    The threat of bad treatment for POWs might have more effect if it hadn’t already happened.

    2. Torture=bad, Torture-Killing=Good?
    How did the world respond when 4 civilians were tortured, mutilated, burned, shot, executed, their bodies parts burned, stepped on, dragged and hung from bridges? In much of the press, it was hardly denounced, and actually used as more evidence of either American failure or blame was cast on the non-combatant civilian workers as being “spieds” or “mercenaries”.
    Clearly a few humiliating sexual poses would be preferable to mutilation-death-desecration. Apparently rape, torture, mutilation and execution of Americans POWs and even civilians is okay….

    3. Demand for apologies
    Here’s the game:
    -If you only apologize, Iraqis will forgive you
    -Bush and others apologize
    -Declare these apologies invalid for some reason — they were too indirect, they were personal statements, etc.
    -The apology provokes no forgiveness, only shrill denunciations about trying to sneak out of responsibility. A Saudi paper screamed “Killers should apologize!”

    4. War=Bad, Terror=Good?
    This is a part of a larger pattern of hypocrisy: War is “evil”, terror is good. War by nations against nations is wrong. Civil war and insurgency are “heroic”. Thus, nations which fight wars must be harangued for real and imagined war-crimes, while their insurgent, terrorist counterparts can extermination civilians, rape, torture and mutilate with impunity—after all, they are not governments, so how can they be held responsible.

    Thus, the rape of Jessica Lynch and female soldiers in the first Gulf War are laughed off. Thus, executions of American civilians like Daniel Pearl and an elderly wheel-chair bound Achille Lauro passenger is never called a war crime–the terrorists act with impunity. Only wars are protested; Terrorist atrocities and war crimes are laughed off, ignored, or worse, secretly sympathized and justified.

    5. Get ready for more hypocrisy
    Some Iraqis despite official apologies and even compensation ,and despite experts from the Arab media who claimed that “if only Bush would apologize? the Iraqis will forgive you, radicals in Iraq and elsewhere will no doubt seek to get “Revenge?. When American POWS are tortured and executed what can we expect? Loud, shrill denunciations by the world’s press?? I doubt it. More likely are apologetics, excuse-making, justifications, and even glee. Such is the craven nature of the “World Community?.

  18. All that are talking of the atrocities against Americans, you are talking of things that extreme militants did, not an organized, self heralding human-rights country did. If we, America, are to have any influence in the world at all, we must be PERFECT. We are the big boy on the block, able to subdue almost anyone by will. We CANNOT abuse this power one single bit. This atrocity is hypocracy in it’s purity. I cannot believe I’m associated with this, but have so little power to prevent it.

    And to any Middle Easterners who may read this, and particularily the Iraqi people, I sincerely appologize for what has happened at the hands of those I used to call brothers. I am completely ashamed to be called an American, if what you have witnessed is considered American. Most of us are not that way, and our administration does not represent us in the least. We try to do better, but our society is not one to welcome revolution, the only thing that can help us now.

    Steve M. (a very sad citizen of the world, and one who cares deeply about all of it.)

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