However, I have been troubled by these prison abuse scandal trials. Not because I think that the abusers (the soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi detainees who frequently turned out to be incorrectly incarcerated) were good and nice people, but because I think that something is being hidden from us, and that these people are taking the fall for rot that extends far higher up the chain of command.
Last May I wrote two posts about the Court Martial Conspiracies, here and here. I posited then that lower level soldiers would take deals so that they could testify against their own, but so that high level commanders, and especially the bigwigs in Washington, do not get dirtied in the scandal.
Since then, we have found out quite a bit of ugliness that existed from the very top down with regards to our nation's official position on torture. Basically, our country now tortures people, and justifies it in ugly, disgusting ways. Our Attorney General to be, Alberto Gonzalez, wrote about how the Geneva Conventions were quaint and out of date, and that torture only exists in the MOST extreme of circumstances (such as permanently losing an organ) and only if the torturer actually intends to commit the legal act of torture (an almost impossible standard to meet). The person commanding the prison in Guantanamo Bay was moved to Abu Ghraib with the specific purpose of "Gitmoizing" it.
Conclusion, our present administration has decided that all of those virtues we extolled world-wide don't apply to us, they just don't want to admit it. And who is taking the fall for it? That's right, the soldiers who are being asked to carry out these acts. We know that the torture that has gone on by our intelligence services is too pervasive to be "a few bad apples," or "exceptions to the rule." Dozens of people have been killed in custody after being physically abused, this abuse has happened in places as diverse as Afghanistan (at the Baghram Air Base), Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The only common denominator is the commanders of all three, which is our nation's military and civilian leadership. But, to ensure that this doesn't reach the highest levels of command, we have nailed these lowly soldiers as scapegoats.
I remember watching Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men," where Jack Nicholson, the commander (of Guantanamo Bay, coincidentally) allows his subordinates to take the fall for a murder that he ordered. The cover up is discovered by Tom Cruise, the JAG lawyer, where Nicholson utters the famous line "You can't handle the truth!!!" When I saw it, I thought, "nice fiction." Sadly, that is looking more and more true every day.
Incidentally, I don't believe that "just following orders" should necessarily be a shield for this activity, but I can't shake this nagging feeling that we "can't handle the truth," and that these soldiers are taking the fall for following someone else's orders, someone so politically insulated (by reelection and a compliant Congress?) that anyone who gets in the way gets shoved rudely aside.
UPDATE - Graner was given a 10 year sentence (out of a possible 15 year) by the jury. I saw the movie The Last Castle, with Robert Redford, and I remember thinking to myself, "there is absolutely no difference between military prisons and other prisons). I think that he has to do most of that time, but I'm not sure how military law works in that respect. In other words, it's a severe sentence. I only hope that some of the people who actually killed people get more severe sentences. His lawyer's quote was most fascinating, along the lines of what I've been saying.
"People have talked about this case as being like a Nuremburg trial," he said, referring to the prosecution of high-ranking Nazis who tried to defend
their actions by saying they had followed orders. "There's a difference. In Nuremberg it was generals we were going after. We didn't grab sacrificial E-4s,
we were going after the order-givers. Here we're going after the order- takers."