April 25, 2005

Prisoner Abuse: The Army Flinches

Lest we forget, Phil Carter reminds us that as of now, the Army has found one general officer worthy of an administrative reprimand for dereliction of duty in the prisoner abuse scandal. Other senior officers have been cleared of all responsibility for this affair, which centered on but was not limited to abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq in the fall of 2003. Enlisted personnel and junior officers only have faced courts-martial or administrative punishments, with the one exception noted above.

Phil discusses the consistency of the latest Army Inspector General's report with traditional Army ideas of command responsibility and earlier investigations' findings better than I could, so readers are referred to his post (I don't really hold with all he says on Yamashita, but that isn't his main point, and his main point seems inarguable). It should be noted that this report is an internal Army production; it does not appear to reflect any input from other parts of the Bush administration.

This is a tricky area. The prisoner abuse scandal did incalculable harm to the American cause in Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world; at a bare minimum it probably produced a fair number of the insurgents who are trying to kill our guys in Iraq today. Repeated, protracted investigations (there have been 11 of them so far) and prosecutions thus far limited to the most junior personnel have certainly suggested that the American government does not regard abuse of prisoners as particularly serious, and in addition have sent a message to junior officers and enlisted personnel that when things go wrong they will be the only ones blamed. To what extent should these considerations influence the military's assignment of responsibility for a scandal like this to individual officers?

In the civilian justice system the matter is straightforward: it shouldn't. If a man is guilty he should be convicted; if not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt he should have his name cleared. Since even administrative reprimands can reflect on the whole of an officer's career as well as ending it, strict application of the principles of civilian justice would strongly discourage infliction of that punishment absent direct and overwhelming evidence. The more senior the officer -- that is, the more time he has invested in his military career -- the stronger inhibitions against darkening his name are likely to be.

But as noted above individual justice is not the sole consideration in connection with the prisoner abuse scandal, as it would be in a civilian criminal case. It might seem unfair to ruin the career of a senior officer over abuse he did not commit or witness but did allow to take place in his command; it's a lot more unfair to combat soldiers if the appearance of official indifference to abuse inspires more Iraqis to try to kill them. And damage to the good name of the United States is not an inconsequential thing.

To be fair, it would take considerable institutional courage for the Army to view the matter in a way that the rest of American society clearly has not. President Bush has taken no action in response to the prisoner abuse scandal except to issue a few boilerplate statements deploring abuse; Senators Kerry and Edwards spent six full hours on national television last fall debating Bush and Vice President Cheney and never mentioned Abu Ghraib even once. Media representatives at the debates never raised the subject either. The contribution that increasing tolerance of moral degeneracy with respect to sex might have had on the specific abuses at Abu Ghraib -- a fairly obvious point -- has for the most part gone unremarked upon.

Nevertheless, the way the Army and more broadly the military's leadership has handled the assignment of responsibility for the prisoner abuse scandal has pretty clearly not served the interests of the United States. There is a price to be paid for serving national interests, and who has to pay that price is not a matter of scrupulous fairness to individuals. The Army's leadership knows this, knows the damage this scandal did and is still doing to the country and to the Army, and still chose to protect its own.

Posted by at April 25, 2005 07:12 AM | TrackBack (10)

Boy, I'll bet Zarqawi is in real trouble for the way he treats prisoners. You know, the video tapes, the screaming allah akbar, the beheadings, the complete disregard for any norms of civilized behavior, right?


Right? Hello?


Never mind.

Posted by: Megan at April 25, 2005 12:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Megan, it's not like the most powerful military force in the world (and their faithful allies) isn't after him. If our standard of behavior is "look how bad the other guy is," we're in serious trouble.

Posted by: just me at April 25, 2005 02:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why pillory only the senior officers? What about all the mid-level and low-level officers. They also had nothing to do with what happened, but they have command responsibility. And why stop at people in the theater? Let's get the CJCS and Rummy. We know Greg would love to sack Rummy. You to JEB?

We perhaps have a political problem with Arab reaction to this incident. I'm not at all convinced we do, but I don't like what happened either, so I'll stipulate that the political problem exists. But it doesn't follow that the Army has a responsibility to serve the interests of the United States by scapegoating individuals who had nothing to do with what took place. The Army has a responsibility to follow its rules in dealing with those breaking the rules.

To say that the Army chose to protect its own instead of the national interest is ridiculous. I am quite sure the Army followed its procedures scrupulously knowing that bleeding hearts would cry out in anguish if insufficient action were taken and that the defense attorneys for officers involved would litigate if inappropriate action were taken.

You've listed the cavalcade of co-conspirators in this cover up here, the MSM, the Democrats, the American People, the Bush Administration, the U. S. Army. They're all wrong.

Consider that ye may be wrong.

Sometimes life gives us messes that are nobody's fault. Not every wrong can be repaired or requited. Some you just have to live with. I think that's why a lot of folks go to church.

Posted by: Mrs. Davis at April 25, 2005 02:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sanchez apparently lied to Congress about his authorizing the use of guard dogs to terrorize prisoners. If the Pentagon thinks that's cool, then we have a lot to be afraid of.

And since Megan thinks Zarqawi's morality is compatible with that of the U.S., I guess she'll be volunteering to behead a few of our detainees on FOX News?

Posted by: Anderson at April 25, 2005 03:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have a feeling that there's something beyond the usual chiefs protecting themselves here. We've seen administration people involved with redefining torture, and pretty much doing what they want, until ordered by courts to stop. The military high-ups probably have some nasty dirt on what the administration ordered.

Posted by: Barry at April 25, 2005 05:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Joseph, I get the outrage. I think, though, that it's rather difficult to prove something as slippery as "created an environment in which torture was 'winked at'". After all, specific acts are easy to pin down, but the creation of a workplace environment is damn hard to pin on any one group of individuals, especially since communal attitudes are usually self-reinforcing to the point that eventually its hard to figure out where they came from.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at April 25, 2005 06:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As someone who thinks the whole Abu Ghraib thing was a tempest in a tea-cup in terms of the big picture, I agree that there is something wrong with this investigation.

Now, I don't buy into all of this BushCo, Rummy, & Dick "Halliburton" Cheney were behind all of this; that's just the swamp-fever talking. However, I expected a group of low-level personnel to be prosecuted, along with a clear line of military officers up to (what I predicted would be) at least a colonel. I mean plausible deniability must be plausibly believable. I just don't see enough officers being prosecuted, and I don't think enough officers could plausibly deny knowledge of what was happening in Abu Ghraib.

Posted by: The Indigent Blogger at April 25, 2005 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Joe --

First off, Al Qaeda, Zarqawi, and Saddam's Baathists were not "motivated to kill Americans" by Abu Grhaib, they already were that way long before the war. Hello?

If anyone is to blame for the terrorist activity, it's Colin Powell, who urged Bush to give him a chance to turn the UN around and promised a Security Council endorsement of the war. Instead, the US dickered around for months while Saddam planned in detail his terrorist effort to "body count" the US out of Iraq.

Secondly, Abu Ghraib was specifically the result of BAD leadership by people who cannot by PC rules be criticized. Sanchez is Latino. Please explain to me HOW he can be criticized by the Army without the usual diversity lobbyists crying racism. Generals Fast and Kopelski are both women, and the same goes for them.

The top flag officers involved are simply protected by PC attitudes towards affirmative action, it's that simple.

Last, the bad order of discipline is the direct result of the decision in the 80's to concentrate support functions in the Guard, and the general attitude that "sex is no one's business." Ala Bill Clinton. This is EXACTLY the attitude the Democratic Party wanted in the Nineties, and you can't call it back now. The end result is that relationships like Granier's with a subordinate like England shows that ANYTHING is tolerated. And it was. You can't have toleration of people's private sexual behavior and good order and discipline in the military. Democrats have consistently pushed the former, so have to accept the lack of the latter.

The solution to all this is simple: 1. Dump the diversity lobby and punish (gasp) if needed minority and female officers despite their "protected class status." 2. Enlarge the Regular Army and include support specialties in the Regulars, they require lots of training and high morale, not short term folks who are poorly trained and looking to return ASAP to civilian life. 3. Enforce fully the rules on military discipline and order, which includes people's private sex life, Democratic attitudes towards privacy and such be damned. It's extremely disruptive to have obvious favoritism in a military organization based on sex.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at April 26, 2005 03:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Amazing! I had to read all the way down to Rockford's comment before anybody wrote anything intelligent. Thank you Jim.

Posted by: Bindare at April 26, 2005 05:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To suggest that the "civilian leadership" of the military played no role in the Abu Ghraib abuses is to ignore the narrative.

The US has been abusing prisoners at Guantanamo for quite some time, with Bush, Rumsfeld, and Gonzales urging them on. Whether one believes that the terrorist threat justifies the abuses that occurred at Guantanamo is irrelevant -- the fact is that the Bush administration had publicly declared that it interpreted international law to say that people captured on the field of battle in Afghanistan not subject to the Geneva Conventions, and was looking for ways to "push the envelope" on the treatment of "detainees" in order to extract information --- and officials at Guantanamo knew it.

So, when the decision was made to send the person in charge of interrogations at Guantanamo to Iraq, it sent a signal of crystalline clarity to commanders in the field in Iraq that Iraqi detainees were subject to the same treatment as "al Qaeda terrorists". The administration had made it clear that it was willing to come up with "creative" interpretations of international law when it came to the "war on terror", and had declared that Iraq was a part of the "war on terror". Its difficult, under these circumstances, to see how the average soldier in the field would not think that there was an "anything goes" attitude emanating from the top of the command structure.

After all, the only thing that the Bush and Rumsfeld had to do was declare Iraqi detainees "illegal combatants" and everything would be okay --- once that declaration was made, it could not be challenged because the designation itself meant that the detainees had no rights under any laws of any nations under the Bush administration interpretation.


First off, Al Qaeda, Zarqawi, and Saddam's Baathists were not "motivated to kill Americans" by Abu Grhaib, they already were that way long before the war. Hello?

Joe, our host did not say that Abu Ghraib created the insurgency, he said that it doubtless strengthened it, and he's correct. The US wants the Iraqi people to accept an occupation of their nation by a foreign army because that army was there to help them, and was the anti-thesis of the previous regime. The message of wanting to help the Iraqi people was being consistently contradicted and undermined by administration policies and pronouncements, and the actions of the US military frequently sent a message of disregard for the lives of Iraqis.

Rumors and reports of prisoner abuse had been circulating in Iraq for quite some time --- Abu Ghraib -- and the failure to hold top officials accountable for it --- was the "proof" that some Iraqis needed that the US was no better than Saddam, and that resistance to the occupation was justified. To Americans, Abu Ghraib was perceived as an isolated incident, but people throughout Iraq had been experiencing abuse at the hands of American troops, and hearing about greater abuse, for months. Abu Ghraib, and the administration's response to it, was all the confirmation that many Iraqis needed that aiding the occupation was not in their best interest, and that tolerance of/support for/participation in the insurgency increased as a result.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 26, 2005 01:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You can probe my blogs http://blydun.wz.cz online fda PS sorry for my english.

Posted by: free at April 26, 2005 08:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You are onto something important when you mention sex, but I think of it in terms of what the fems call 'gender' .

Karpinski, will,when all is said and done, go down in history as the worst General officer America has ever had. When things were getting out of control she hid up in her office for more than a week and let everything around her collapse . All she ever did was whine about how she didn't have any resources. She was a General for Gods sake; she had all the authority she needed to impose real discipline on her subordinates. She failed.

What politically correct promotion board gave her an uptick? If this is where the whole women in the military has brought us, then its time to can the whole experiment.

Posted by: Taylor at April 26, 2005 10:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I disagree with the entire thrust of the post.

The success of America's military (and American society in general) comes from pushing both authority and responsibility for what happens down to the lowest possible level.

It takes much less than average intelligence to figure out that what those Abu Ghraib clowns did was wrong -- even worse, it was STUPID!

Any one of them could have said: "This is wrong. Put it in writing or I ain't gonna do it." That would have put a stop to the whole thing.

Their immediate supervisors should have known what was happening. That's their job. Janice Karpinski should have known that something was wrong in her command. That's her job.

Above that, No.

Posted by: Tom Paine at April 27, 2005 12:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I can't believe we're still talking about this!

Question: If a soldier is given an illegal order, and knowing that it is illegal obeys, who is responsible?

Answer: Both the soldier and the officer who gave the order.

The US Military is obligated to disobey orders they know are illegal. Their first responsibility is to the Constitution. Given that higher level officers would be well aware of this, I doubt that responsibility goes higher that those already prosecuted.

This matter was settled by the My Lai Massacre trial.

Posted by: mamapajamas at April 27, 2005 01:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Exactly Right, Paine.

At some point the people in charge have to say. " Well, you've been given the training, sign here. Great - off you go" and trust that simple things like:

Don't stack people naked,
and try not to have sex with your girlfriend on duty, are being handled by the junior leadership.

As to the implied causality - give us a break. Yeah, if Abu Graib hadn't happened, it's all be peaches and cream, right?

Posted by: Tommy G at April 27, 2005 03:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The US Military is obligated to disobey orders they know are illegal. Their first responsibility is to the Constitution. Given that higher level officers would be well aware of this, I doubt that responsibility goes higher that those already prosecuted.

the problem is that the Bush regime had muddied the laws to the point at which the men and women on the front lines no longer had any means of determinging what law, if any, applied.

Don't forget that Bush had declared the war in Iraq part of the "War on Terror", and in Afghanistan had virtually declared those captured as not being subject to any laws whatsoever. International law did not apply, according to Bushco. And Bushco set up its detention centers on Guantanamo because it was (ostensibly) Cuba territory, and thus not subject to any Constitutional provisions or federal laws with regard to the treatment of prisoners.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 27, 2005 03:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Posted by: Taylor
"What politically correct promotion board gave her an uptick? If this is where the whole women in the military has brought us, then its time to can the whole experiment. "

You might want to read Carter's blog. By now it's clear that the policy up to the top of the military and the administration (90-odd % male) is that "the buck stopped somewhere else, nothing to see, move along, it didn't happen/wasn't our fault/you can't prove anything".

The only question is what are the proportions of malice, incompetancy and negligence.

Posted by: Barry at April 27, 2005 02:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You buffoons can choke to death on your "outrage"...

"I was devestated"

Soldiers of the Nevada military police company that renovated and guarded the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said Friday they feel disgraced by the Maryland Army Reserve company that relieved them and now is the target of a prisoner abuse and sexual humiliation probe.

'I was devastated. It was unbelievable,' said Capt. Troy Armstrong, commander of the Nevada Army National Guard's 72nd Military Police Company.

He was describing his initial reaction to the pictures of gloating MPs from the 372nd Military Police Company next to naked, kneeling and hunched-over Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, some in sexually explicit positions.

'All our soldiers know you couldn't take pictures of detainees period. And that was crystal clear,' he said.

Armstrong, his first sergeant and three other soldiers from the 72nd spoke openly about their duty at Abu Ghraib during an informal session with reporters at the Nevada National Guard Armory in Henderson.

They said they were appalled by the acts of abuse that have infuriated officials and citizens at home and abroad.

'It pisses you off,' said Spc. Douglas Fry, 26, of Las Vegas. 'It makes the 72nd look bad. The acts of a few knuckleheads makes the United States look bad.'

One of the 19 female MPs and support personnel in the company, Spc. Sandra Flores, said, 'It makes me mad because I know our MPs worked hard to keep this from happening.'

Spc. Michael Roe, 27, of Henderson said those responsible for what he called 'horrendous' acts of abuse need to be jailed themselves. 'We need to show the world we are able to police ourselves and not quote, unquote, cover it up,' he said.

Roe said that during the time he guarded detainees the only time he saw them naked was when they took showers.

'Did I ever see an Iraqi butt? Yes. Did I ever strip someone down and put a leash around their neck? No,' he said.

One photograph that shocked them appeared in newspapers Friday. It shows a woman MP from the Maryland company, identified as Spc. Lynndie England, standing with a leash attached to the neck of a naked detainee on the floor of what Armstrong said is probably the 1-A section of the prison compound.

That cell block, which he said was occasionally guarded at the door by 'one or two' of his MPs, was taken over by military intelligence units when his company of 110 soldiers turned over control of the compound on Oct. 15 to the 372nd, a combat support company twice the size of the Nevada unit.

Armstrong and 1st Sgt. Daryl Keithley said no such abuses occurred during their six-month-long watch at Abu Ghraib.

But near the end of that stint, about the time the Maryland-based 372nd arrived, some changes occurred, particularly in areas holding so-called 'security detainees,' those kept apart from the prison's general criminal population because they were suspected double agents or had intelligence value, such as knowing information about former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

'There was one incident when we were asked to keep detainees awake, to wake them up with metal drums. We said, 'Absolutely not.' I stopped them from doing it,' said Armstrong, a 37-year-old child protective services worker from Las Vegas.

He said he believes the idea to pound trash cans to keep the detainees awake came from military intelligence officials. 'We really weren't involved in M.I. (military intelligence) operations,' he said.

'I'll be frank. There was a request for us to support M.I. operations before we left,' Armstrong said. 'We didn't have the personnel to do it.'

Keithley said there were times when, for safety reasons, soldiers from their company put hoods on detainees to escort them to interrogation sites at the request of military intelligence officials. That was done, he said, to keep them from seeing quarters where MPs lived inside the prison.

Despite revelations out of Geneva on Friday that the International Red Cross had warned U.S. officials more than a year ago about prisoner abuse in Iraq , Armstrong said, those complaints never surfaced in discussions the Red Cross had with his chain-of-command.

'Nobody ever came to us with those complaints and said, 'What are you going to do about it?' ' he said. The only complaints expressed to him were about living conditions at the prison, which his company was trying to resolve through the rebuilding effort, he said.

As conditions improved, Armstrong said, prisoners who were released were often given spare MREs, meals ready to eat, and bottles of water. 'They would hug us and try to kiss us,' Keithley said.

One prisoner returned to give the soldiers gifts, Armstrong said.

He said the 72nd MPs attended classes on the Geneva Convention and laws of war both in Nevada and at Fort Lewis, Wash., before they deployed for Iraq.

They arrived at the Abu Ghraib prison, about 20 miles west of Baghdad, in late May 2003. Their first job was to rebuild much of the mile-square compound, known as a death camp under Saddam's reign.

'When we rolled in, there were sheep herds and goat herds running around in the compound,' Keithley recalled.

There were also reminders of the prison's reputation as a torture ground and death chamber.

Said Armstrong: 'There were gallows with two hanging platforms and gas chambers underneath. We heard rumors about mass graves. We found lots of bones and different things.'

Besides reconstructing the compound and installing concertina wire for holding pens, the company provided force protection along the perimeter, escorted criminals to trial, and ran the Alsahyat jail some 40 miles away in east-central Baghdad.

The first 200 detainees were criminals accused of looting and weapons violations. Eventually the prison population grew to about 800 including security detainees and criminals charged with murder.

Keithley said the prison, in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, was often the target of mortar attacks and small arms fire. Ten soldiers in the 72nd Military Police Company received Purple Heart Medals for their wounds.

No one from the 72nd was killed but two U.S. soldiers from another unit were killed in mortar attacks and three others were killed responding to attacks on the prison. About a dozen Iraqis died in those attacks and some 100 were wounded, he said.

Regarding the six-month-long prison duty, Spc. Fry said, 'It sucked. It wasn't great. We went into a mission and it was wartime.

'We were too busy to ever think about doing anything like this,' he said, referring to prisoner abuse.

'Many times,' he said, 'mortars came to within 50 meters of my tower. I was writing my mother one time and bullets started whizzing over my head.'

While in Iraq, the 72nd was, for the most part, under command of the active duty, 18th Military Police Brigade and the 400th Military Police Battalion.

Armstrong said he reported to Lt. Col. Dale Burtyk, who handed him a copy of A.R. 190-8, Army regulations for handling enemy prisoners of war and civilian internees, and instructed him to review it.

Armstrong, in turn, said he advised his soldiers about the regulations. 'The words I used were be firm, fair and respectful at all times.'

The effort to transfer control of the prison to the 372nd Military Police Company took place in late September and early October.

By Oct. 15, Armstrong had relinquished control to the Maryland company's commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese of New Stanton, Pa. Reese now faces administrative charges in connection with prisoner abuse allegations.

The 72nd traveled in convoys to reach Kuwait for their return to the United States. The last soldiers had arrived in Kuwait by Nov. 10. Armstrong recalled how the prison operation began to change under the new commander.

'Initially they changed a security position, a couple different positions,' Armstrong said, explaining how this reduced security that the 72nd had set up along the stone-wall perimeter.

'But there was nothing that would have led me to believe it would lead to all of this,' he said.

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada) May 08, 2004
Nevada soldiers who fixed prison 'devastated'
By Keith Rogers

Posted by: Tommy G at April 28, 2005 09:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You can't expect the current investigation to go any higher than enlisted men. They were the ones who took orders from MI guys who weren't in their chain of command. The MI guys had taken responsibility for that wing of the prison, general Karpinski didn't even have autority there. (Does that mean the guards should have accepted MI chain of command? Or should they have followed Karpinski's rules in an area that wasn't hers?)

You aren't going to see things go any higher unless they start investigating the intelligence people. And they probably won't, because those guys didn't take photos of what they were doing. Nobody with any sense took photos when they were torturing people. So it's mostly he-said/she-said between US soldiers and US contractor/employees versus iraqis who had been detained and can be presumed to be lying enemies.

So there's no particular reason to think it will ever go anywhere. A large percentage of the american public agrees that it's right to torture arab suspects. It takes a peculiar kind of hypocrisy to claim that it isn't proven we're doing it, as if proof were at issue. So Megan reasonably points out that the enemy does it too, why should we be better than Zarqawi? And Mrs. Davis explains that military officers aren't *really* responsible for what soldiers do under their commands. wink wink nudge nudge. And Indignant points out that it's really a tempest in a teacup but they ought to punish a colonel or something so we can pretend we disapprove. Jim explains that it's really the fault of liberal democrats, so if we just reform the military so it's run by manly men again we won't have such scandals. Tom says that nobody above Karpinski had any obligation to check up on the unit. (Well, but they did eventually check on things and that's why the Taguba report was made in the first place.)

And it seems like for the american public it's all about sex. If they'd just restricted themselves to common everyday tortures like half-drowning people in buckets of water and pee, and kicking them when they relax from stress positions, and electric shocks with their clothes on, it wouldn't have attracted any attention to speak of.

Anyway, Abu Ghraib didn't tell the iraqis about the torture. They already knew about that. Abu Ghraib told them that we were liars and not just incompetents. We said "No more rape rooms" and then when we noticed that we were doing it too we just shrugged it off. It kind of showed them where they stand with us, that's all.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 5, 2005 04:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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