I hadn’t seen the photos until today. I hadn’t wanted to.
But I did, today, and I’ll say now: if you haven’t seen them, you can’t understand why you need to be outraged. You can’t understand how absolutely despicable this is.
I’ll ask you: as a citizen, please, look, if you haven’t.
I was a soldier. I was a sergeant, who taught five-hour training sessions on the Geneva Convention and the Laws of War. And I’m disgusted, and I hope you’ll let me tell you why.
The two soldiers in the photographs, as well as the others you may have seen in more recent pictures, will be imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. And they deserve to be, and more. Not only have they violated the military’s rules and international law, they’ve forgotten the reason why such laws exist, the moral imperative: whatever the horrors of war, the people on the other side are human beings, with families, with lives. Most soldiers understand that, and understand better than anybody else the horrors of war. Academics can cry for peace from their ivory towers, but soldiers are the ones being shot at, and they understand that the other guy is just like them, with wives, with kids, with lives. Just like them.
Or at least that was the understanding I saw in the regular, full-time Army. These are part-timers, a weekend a month, two weeks a year. I’ve trained National Guard soldiers, and evaluated reservists. To be blunt: I’m unimpressed. They’re soldiers who think soldiering’s a game, who stuff all four pockets on their BDU tunics with candy, who don’t move during a training exercise because they “don’t feel like it”. A small detail: notice that the fellow with the mustache is wearing a brown leather belt, rather than the female soldier’s regulation black web belt. He’s brought his clothes from home, since he’s not a full-time soldier. It’s a game for him; shits and giggles. Like I said, I’ve trained and evaluated people like him, and most of them are apathetic idiots who want to play G.I. Joe, as long as it isn’t real. (Please don’t get me started on the National Guard evaluation summer in 1994 at Fort Drum. You could see the spittle flecking the Colonel’s lips, the vein thumping ready to burst in his temple when he watched them “train”, as he bitched them out squad by squad and platoon by platoon for their sheer incompetence and apathy.)
And, as I said above, I’ve done training sessions on how to treat prisoners, with full-time regular Army soldiers. I’ve had senior NCOs wear civilian clothes, speaking in Korean or German, harassing junior soldiers who were their supposed captors; I’ve had other NCOs pose as the sort of military intelligence folk apparently in charge at Abu Ghreib, demanding information, demanding that the prisoners be abused or handed over. It’s not easy: two of the PFCs and one of the Specialists in my squad were in tears from the stress of the exercise. But all three of them cocked their weapons and pointed them at the MI folk and told them to back off. (Another, unfortunately, shoved her “prisoner” face-first into her balled-up poncho in order to make him shut up.) Here’s the point: Reservists and National Guard don’t do that type of training, and they shouldn’t have been anywhere near that prison.
Even worse, however, were the chain of command failures and willful malfeasance. You don’t set the fox to guard the henhouse, and for God’s sake, you don’t set the CIA and the Military Intelligence spooks in charge of the prison. If there’s any MOS (military occupational specialty) with more unearned beer-in-the-rear arrogance than the Military Police, it’s Military Intelligence. Yes, I’m a trucker — Transportation Corps, to be all official-like — and I always hated those fuckers, and made sure they came up a couple pallets short of eggs and milk on every load I could. But the culture: of course the CIA and Military Intelligence bossed the rest of them around. What did you expect? What was the tone that the Bush administration had set, from the highest level? Why wouldn’t a soldier suppose that these are “enemy combatants”, without any human rights whatsoever?
I’ll suggest that the events shown in these photographs are driven by a policy dictated from that same highest level: those who oppose American interests in any way — from car theft to car bombings — are terrorists and enemy combatants, and therefore deserve whatever they get, up to and including humiliation, torture, and murder. In other words, the Bush administration set the agenda, the CIA fell in line and dictated policy to Military Intelligence, who ran the prison and made sure that the MPs followed their line. These part-time soldiers, as despicable as they may be, hardly acted alone, but rather did what they did in an environment of comfort and encouragement, as we’ve seen from other pictures of the prison.
And now they’ll be hung out to dry, with zero consequence for Military Intelligence or the CIA, never mind the civilian contractors. Good: in their spineless glee, they deserve to hang and twist and kick. But others do, as well, and much more so. Why is there no talk of the resignation of General Myers, when the four-star Air Force idiot freely admitted that he sat on the report for weeks, and hadn’t even read it yet when the shitstorm broke?
Twelve years ago, I thought joining the Army was a good thing, and loved the people I served with. I got a couple medals, even. I used to be proud of having served. Now? Hell no. I’d never sign up. Not in a million years. The soldiers I knew — Rob, I hope you’ll back me up here — don’t do what you saw in those pictures. Soldiers — my soldiers, my friends — don’t do that.
I’m ashamed of my peers. Deeply. Even more so of my country, of a country that would offer such approval of an administration that enables these practices, and of the sycophantic apologists for that administration. Rumsfeld and Bush are a disgrace to the tradition of honorable military service, and a disgrace to the nation.