Monday, January 10, 2005

Not Much to Cheer

Spec. Charles Graner, ringleader of the disgraceful group of prisoner-abusing U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib, went on trial today on charges of committing indecent acts, mistreating Iraqi detainees, dereliction of duty, and assault. Considering the seriousness of the accusations against him--Graner is facing 17 1/2 years in military prison--one would expect Graner's defense to explain or somehow rationalize his motives for the physical violence and sexual humiliation he subjected Iraqi prisoners to.

Among the infamous pictures to come out of the Abu Ghraib scandal is one of Graner posing gleefully over a pile of naked Iraqi men in a humany pyramid. Graner's justification for these revolting actions came out this afternoon:
"Don't cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?" Guy Womack, Graner's attorney, said in opening arguments to the 10-member U.S. military jury at the reservist sergeant's court-martial.
Unbelievable. Despite the well-deserved international outrage to the actions that went on in Abu Ghraib prison, and the punishment meted out already to a number of the soldiers involved, it appears that somehow the main perpetrator still don't get it. Womack commented further:
"A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections. In Texas we'd lasso them and drag them out of there."
Admittedly, a case like this is difficult, even if most people can see obviously where the line has been crossed. No one is holding the Iraqi prisoners to be innocent victims; they were all in Abu Ghraib for a good reason. The American soldiers responsible for guarding them were in an environment of constant stress and undoubtedly were under pressure to gain as much information out of the detainees as possible. These Americans saw that their fellow soldiers throughout Iraq were the targets of an insurgency, which they felt could be combatted more effectively with the knowledge the prisoners contained.

While the government asserts that Graner and his group were "rogue soldiers", Womack asserts that higher-up military intelligence officers ordered the abusive practices. Even if that is not true, it is fair to say that there were probably many in MI who at least condoned them. As we have learned, torture of prisoners has not been an isolated incident in the war on terrorism. Prisoner mistreatment has been noted in Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps most troublingly at the ultra-secret detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (read: this and this).

The Abu Ghraib scandal tarnished the U.S. image around the world. Unfortunately, I suspect it won't be the last embarassing episode to come to light. Mr. Womack, I'm afraid there's not much to cheer for!

1 comment:

Chris said...

I think its hard to give much credibility to the "rogue soldier" theory.

For one, asserting that this group of soldiers acted on their own disregards the operational structure of the military: orders come from above and are to be followed unquestioningly.

Secondly, a lot of evidence exists to implicate higher ranking people other than the "rogue soldiers" in Abu Grahib. (Take for example, Earlier Report of Prison Abuse ( "One FBI agent, reporting on May 10 to superiors about an earlier conversation with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller and Maj. Gen. Michael B. Dunleavey at Guantanamo Bay, said the two men cited Rumsfeld as the source of their authority to use techniques that the FBI regarded as potentially illegal and 'not effective or producing intel that was reliable.' The author of that report, whose name is redacted, said 'both agreed the Bureau has their way of dong[sic] business and DoD has their marching orders from the Sec Def.'") Or, if that's not enough, how about the recent ACLU FOIA requests or International Committee of the Red Cross reports that reveal evidence of widespread and systematic practices of torture.

Yes, what Graner did is morally reprhensible and he should be duly punished-- even if he was "just following orders." However, to me these trials are almost nothing more than show trials. Putting Graner in prison for 17 1/2 years accomplishes nothing in terms of stopping those who are actually responsible for allowing/ordering the torture to occur.