Torture and Irresponsibility

The end result of the Abu Ghraib scandal was the singling out for punishment a few low level American soldiers at the prison, with little or no punishment for those with command responsibility, and certainly none for the higher ups in the military, the defense department, or the CIA whose actions and inactions clearly laid the groundwork for the mistreatment. In many ways, this shifting of responsibility is the most serious crime in the sordid story; it is this crime which we most urgently need to rectify. It is a particularly ugly reflection that those who claim to honor most highly the sacrifice of our soldiers in Iraq are quickest to dishonor them when it serves their personal and corporate interest.

The March 24 New Yorker had a detailed discussion of the Abu Ghraib scandal from the point of view of those subsequently indicted and now serving time, particularly Sabrina Harman, the young lady who took most of the famous pictures. What emerges is that both for the prisoners and their wardens lived in the midst of a demoralizing horror show for months. The unit assigned to look after the prisoners had no training in their responsibilities and had hardly heard of the Geneva Conventions. During their time at Abu Ghraib they were not enlightened. Indeed, they were told that they need not worry about such things, for these were not prisoners of war. They were repeatedly told by “military intelligence” officers that they were doing a great job, where “job” was defined as making the prisoners as miserable as possible to “soften them up”. Many of those in direct contact with the prisoners did not understand what was happening and worried about the situation, even as they participated. Those above them seemed simply not to care, or if they did care, they were shoved aside.

Sabrina’s pictures have been used against her as evidence of her warped personality. One cannot deny that the pictures revealed unfortunate traits that her situation brought to the fore. But the fact is that long before arriving at Abu Ghraib, Sabrina had become enamored with photography. She simply took pictures of everything. In retrospect, the world owes her a debt of gratitude, for without her pictures, the persistent mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib would have been simply swept under the rug, as it seems to have been at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan, and many smaller facilities with some of the same problems.

In the end, the event was swept as far as possible under the rug by concentrating the investigation and the punishment on the “front line” soldiers which were, of course those associated with the photographs.

One can only hope that the next administration will start the process of walking back from the insane claim that in an emergency a government can do anything to prisoners it wishes, and hold prisoners for long periods of time for no reason at all. It should also mount investigations up to the highest level of who was responsible for the egregious miscarriage of justice the wake of Abu Ghraib, both in regard to the prisoners and their wardens. This is not just a matter of improving our image in the world. It is also a questions of improving the image of those in executive or command positions throughout the American establishment. In the cavalier administrative environment of the current administration, actions are taken without regard to consequences, responsibility, or concern for truth and reality. The “buck” should no longer stop at the bottom of a command structure, but at points progressively higher in the structure as evidence of responsibility becomes clearer.

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One Comment on “Torture and Irresponsibility”


  1. […] R. D. Gastil wrote an interesting post today on Torture and IrresponsibilityHere’s a quick excerptIt is a particularly ugly reflection that those who claim to honor most highly the sacrifice of our soldiers in Iraq are quickest to dishonor them when it serves their personal and corporate interest. … […]


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