Thursday, April 29, 2004

An Army Of Liberation

I don't even know what to say about this.
It was American soldiers serving as military police at Abu Ghraib who took these pictures. The investigation started when one soldier got them from a friend, and gave them to his commanders. 60 Minutes II has a dozen of these pictures, and there are many more – pictures that show Americans, men and women in military uniforms, posing with naked Iraqi prisoners.

There are shots of the prisoners stacked in a pyramid, one with a slur written on his skin in English.

In some, the male prisoners are positioned to simulate sex with each other. And in most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing, or giving the camera a thumbs-up. [...]

The Army has photographs that show a detainee with wires attached to his genitals. Another shows a dog attacking an Iraqi prisoner. Frederick said that dogs were “used for intimidation factors.”
The guys who are being court-martialed say that they didn't know they were violating the Geneva Convention, because they never got any training in procedures for handling POWs. The Army's internal investigation found that the reservists acting as prison guards were asked by interrogators to "prepare the Iraqi detainees, physically and mentally, for questioning." What exactly that meant appears to have been left up to the reservists to decide for themselves, perhaps with input from the interrogators. But only the guards are being court martialed. Why?
[S]o 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.
Civilian. Interrogators.

Civilian interrogators. People conducting interrogations who are not subject to the Geneva Convention or the Uniform Code of Military Justice. People who don't answer to Congress or the President, conducting interrogations of terrorized Iraqi prisoners. It's those interrogators that I keep coming back to.

I think they'll try to spin this as an isolated incident in which poorly-trained part-time soldiers got out of control. Individual wrongdoing on the part of the soldiers directly involved - bad apples, but not a sign of a spoiled barrel. But the use of civilian interrogators - as opposed to, say, Army interrogators - suggests that someone wanted to inject a certain level of deniability into how those prisoners were treated.

Christ. If it hadn't been reservists - if real soldiers with a real chain of command hadn't provoked an investigation - if the whole prison had been run by private contractors, we probably still wouldn't know that Iraqis were being tortured in our names.

Update: Jeanne D'Arc asks:
The lesson of the Boudreaux photograph is that when you put young men and women into positions where they are both powerful and powerless -- powerless to change the course of events, powerless even to protect their own lives, and at the same time able to bully other people -- some of them are going to do stupid, vicious things.

These photos raise far more disturbing questions. Do we have a military that knows perfectly well that young, frightened, inexperienced, poorly trained soldiers are going to do brutal things, and has decided to make use of that convenient fact?