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There’s Something Happenin’ Here

May
3
2004

How is that the political party that claims to be the party of strength and discipline, the party that points to U.S. military superiority as a patriotic rallying cry – the Republican Party — isn’t condemning what happened at Abu Gharaib with the vitriol and passion it so deserves? Maybe because even they would find it too hypocritical?


There are a lot of horrible things – and it’s only going to get worse – about the torture and humiliation that U.S. reservists and military intelligence and private contractors inflicted on prisoners at Abu Gharaib. But, so far, one thing is pretty clear. The lines of command and discipline, designed to protect soldiers and their prisoners from falling victim to the sort of thinking – common in wartime — that paves the way for torture and humiliation of another person, fell down. It took years for Mai Lai – thank you, once again, Sy Hersh — it took months for Abu Gharaib.
Why?
Well, Brad DeLong gets close to one reason, I think. “Is the big flaw that General Karpinski did not say, “I’m a general; I’m in the chain of command; I’m in command of my brigade; the members of my brigade are going to act like soldiers!”? Or is the big flaw that the real chain of command is not the army chain of command? When you see things like the fact that your proconsul’s security guards are not army soldiers but “contractors, perhaps you receive an important message,” DeLong observes. Yup, it’s the big “Girls Keep Out” sign.
Gen. Janis Karpinski was in charge of her unit in name only. Was this because the more experienced contractors and military intelligence offers did an end run around her? Given the macho swaggering that’s so much a part of how this nation – and this administration – faces the world, I’m thinking that’s exactly what happened.
This isn’t the usual feminist rant, however. Karpinksi can’t plead total ignorance. She is, after all, an officer with a pretty high rank. Perhaps part of the problem is that Karpinski and her army reserve unit weren’t prepared for war? Of course, if they were, from what I can see, they’d have been the only people in the U.S. military, civilian or enlisted, who were. But it doesn’t look that way. Karpinski’s unit allegedly wasn’t trained in the niceties of the Geneva Convention, an international agreement that spells out how prisoners and detainees are to be treated. It’s a bit much, really, to expect Army Reservists to know better than their government which, by holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, deliberately circumvents the convention’s main precepts. Guantanamo Bay was the site of another screw-up that can be directly traced to lack of training and preparedness on the part of the military police. It’s where Capt. James Yee, a military chaplain, a Muslim, working with the prisoners of war at the camp was accused of spying for Al Queda, placed in solitary confinement for more than two months and pretty much held up for public disgrace. In the end, all charges against him were dismissed because the military officers who charged him – again, many of them reservists – didn’t know what they were doing.
The Republicans want us to believe they are the part of a strong, morally correct leadership, guided by a unique vision of the world. Okay. It’s a good pitch. But the hardened cynicism of how this vision is being carried out is getting to be a bit much. This administration – oh, screw that – this government – has sent people to invade another country and they haven’t prepared them for the job they were asked to do. This isn’t just cynical or cheap. It’s cruel. And it makes an even further intellectual and moral mockery of this supposed “liberation.” The U.S. invaded Iraqi without provocation and without the support of our Western Allies. We were ostensibly looking for nuclear warheads, biological and chemical weapons. We still can’t find them. Even though we seem to have tortured people as part of conducting that search.

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