Saturday, January 15, 2005

Abu Ghraib defendant Charles Graner convicted

Charles Graner, the defendant in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal court-martial, was convicted by the jury yesterday. Here's the Washington Post article.

The blogger at American Street says in this post that Corporal Graner was a scapegoat, which is in agreement with what I wrote in my previous Abu Ghraib post.

However, you should read the post at American Street because he makes an excellent case for how the trial judge incorrectly excluded exculpatory evidence from the trial.

Let's examine a few interesting points made by the Washington Post article.

No officer at Abu Ghraib, and no one higher in the chain of command, has faced criminal charges to date.

There is far too much evidence that higher ups knew what was going on to believe that not a single higher up is also deserving of a court-martial.

Between 80 and 100 of the toughest prisoners, including insurgents arrested for attacking Americans, were held in a cellblock called "Tier One-Alpha." Graner, who had been a corrections officer in Pennsylvania, was in charge of the night shift on that block

The previous quote shows that this was not just any random prison block containing innocent Iraqis, but rather the cell block where the toughest insurgents were held. This is further evidence Abu Ghraib was not about a few rogue sadistic enlisted men, but rather was a coordinated attempt my military intelligence to soften up the prisoners most likely to have information.

Graner and other guards e-mailed the photos to family and friends, a practice that drew conflicting explanations at the trial. The prosecutor, Capt. Chris Graveline, said that displaying the photos showed just how "cold" the enlisted soldiers had been. Womack, the defense lawyer, responded that Graner's sending the photos to friends proved "he was sure he was doing exactly what the chain of command wanted him to do."

I agree with the defense lawyer, but would like to add that people become desensitized to things. For example, the average person sees a dead body and gets all grossed out. But to the forensic pathologist, a dead body is no big deal, just part of doing the job. This is how it seemed to the soldiers when they took the photos.

The angry global reaction embarrassed the White House. President Bush summoned Arab reporters to assure them that Abu Ghraib "is a stain on our country's honor." The president and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have said that the abuse was strictly the fault of a small group of "rogue" soldiers at the prison.

This explains the real reason for the court-martial, which has nothing to do with justice. The purpose was to prove to the Muslim Arab world the false explanation set forth many months ago by Bush and Rumsfeld.


This post by Jeshua Erickson, points out that the soldiers wouldn't have taken photos if they thought they were doing anything wrong.


Locrius said...

Whether or not the chain of command knew and approved of SPC Graner's actions is irrelevant to his case. All soldiers have a duty to disobey unlawful orders, and to know what an unlawful orders. If he was ordered to do these things, then the entire chain of command should be fried.

Libertarian Girl said...

Lawyers at DOJ are arguing with each other over whether these questioning tactics are legal, how do you expect an enlisted person to know the difference?

Graner should not have been court-martialed for following orders under these circumstances.

TWM said...

People take photos while they are doing things wrong all the time. The fact that they were taking photos only proves they were even more stupid, not that someone was ordering them to do these things. In fact, I would argue that their taking photos indicates that they did it on their own. Why would higher-ups want them to take pictures?

Mark H. Foxwell said...

The real question is, why aren't you freedom lovers _demanding_ that your representatives hold the commanders as well as the flunkys who get caught (or sacrificed) accountable? If they did not order the torture (and there is plenty of evidence they did, or often don't _have to_ order it because our "corrections" system is packed full of human rights violations _normally_) they were still responsible for keeping control over what happens in their name. Nothing should be going on at any level of government, or within a business, that the management is not aware of and hence responsible for. You can be sure that if instead of abusing prisoners, these same soldiers were trying to have sex with people of their own gender, or make friends with native socialists, or organizing campaigns against the re-election of the President and his favorite politicians, in one way or another management _would_ step in and stop it, or divert it to channels they think are acceptable. None of this is very liberatarian, but then neither is capitalism really if you study it. If you think that no one should ever have to answer to anyone's authority, then logically you don't believe in armies or prisons at all--I guess it would be like an L Neil Smith novel, if there really were some problem in Iraq or Afghanistan that threatened everyone everyone would act _freely and individually_ (as vigilantes, is another way to look at it). Or they would judge it is none of their business, and stay out, or even that the other people are doing the wrong thing interfereing and interfere with the interference--in short a war of all against all, unless reason and balance of terror work together to keep the peace.

But if we accept that armies and prisons must and should exist, then we must also suppose that they have collective, corporate identities and that is where the need for authority and some kind of chain of command comes in. And with that, if we are going to pretend to be about any kind of justice at all, must come accountability. Either the soldiers acted _with_ the approval of their superiors, to advance their notion of strategy, and in turn _we_ approve of these measures and have confidence in the Army going right ahead on this course--or somewhere on the line someone is cheating, and assuming the powers that come with the collective institution without the accountability.

Is anyone here really so naive as to think these soldiers _were not_ carrying out their mission as their superiors intended? Of course they are. We do it to people in prisons here all the time, and we did it in Vietnam, and this, my friends, is why some people in the world hate us. Others, aware of the _great potential good_ of the American ideal, are still trying to reserve judgement. But few, except those who directly profit, can step forward and take full responsibility for these wicked things that are done in our name and still say they approve. So we play this silly (though deadly) hypocritical game of pretending not to see.

War crimes are war crimes, and crimes against humanity still crimes against humanity, even when carried out on "orders." Because systems like armies and police forces are very good at covering up and stonewalling. At Nurmemburg, all the Nazis and Wehrmacht soldiers and other Good Germans could very honestly say "they were following orders." If that were a defense they _all_ would have walked, from Herman Goering on down, because the one guy who _gave the orders_ was dead. So it is fitting to hold these loser pawns accountable.

But get real, you guys. If they had "refused" these orders they'd have gone to the brig, and the only way you'd ever hear of it was if you read some (good) left-wing magazine like _The Progressive_. Prisoners of conscience, we have a lot of them and when was the last time you ever visited one or thought about why they sit in a jail to be tortured by the likes of Lyddie England? You do realize, don't you, that lots of the people mobilized and sent to run these Army prisons overseas worked in ordinary American prisons before they were called back to duty-doing what they were trained to do by the US military in the first place?

If we approve of the job the people running the show are doing--and the election is supposed to mean we do--then they should be exonerated I guess, and we should face that what we regard as "normal" is upheld by means of routine torture. And God help us, get comfortable with it I guess. Or face the fact that it is cheap and easy to talk about freedom but when was the last time you actually took a risk for real freedom? Even on your own terms?

Personally I think these criminals should go to jail, and then their superiors right on up to the Commander in Chief should join them there. In fact it would be better to forgive the trolls on the bottom and go after the masterminds on top. If we had democracy and freedom that is how it would work.