Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners II

Ralph Peters, as is often the case, both makes some good points about a situation and then goes over the top in his reaction to it. Peters is justly outraged by the alleged abuses at Abu Gharaib prison and rightly condemns it in the strongest terms. But, then, he blames his favorite whipping boy, Don Rumsfeld.

Yes, there are always bad apples in any organization. But that excuse is unacceptable. The truth is that this was a systemic failure – one that could have, and should have, been prevented.

We never had enough troops in Iraq. Nor do we have enough in the Army and Marines, overall. When Baghdad didn’t turn out to be Orlando, after all, those brilliant civilian thinkers in the Office of the Secretary of Defense continued to try to do things on the cheap militarily.

***

Overwhelmingly, we get it right. But you can’t get it wrong even once. An out-of-control gang in uniform just made a mockery of those Americans who have died to bring a better future to Iraq. They shamed every soldier serving today. And every one of us who served in the past.

If you still need one more example of how irresponsible OSD’s approach to the occupation of Iraq has been, consider where the prisoner abuses took place: The Abu Gharaib prison was the old regime’s most notorious atrocity workshop. We shouldn’t even have used it as a latrine. But our general unpreparedness for the occupation – and mindless expedience – had us take it over almost before the blood of Saddam’s victims dried on the walls.

Now our enemies can point to American crimes in the same notorious halls. Yes, our deeds were isolated and less than lethal. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. In the battle for the soul of the 21st century, perception trumps facts.

The thugs of Abu Gharaib – the American thugs – just dealt the greatest blow to America’s prestige since the fall of Saigon. In the Middle East, this story will morph into myth and outlast our lifetimes. It will haunt our every effort. And yes, it will recruit terrorists.

At least some of the accused enlisted soldiers are likely to spend time behind bars. Their leaders should, too. And not just those in uniform.

I agree with Peters that we lack adequate MPs and that outsourcing in a combat zone is probably a bad idea. But Rumsfeld didn’t invent either of those problems, although he certainly hasn’t done anything to fix them. I’d also agree that using a prison that was notorious under Saddam was a bad PR move, although I don’t know whether alternative facilities were available.

The idea that these isolated abuses are a systemic problem that reverberate up the chain of command, though, is incredibly dubious. There’s no evidence whatsoever that has been adduced to indicate that it was more than some very young soldiers committing crimes. The ones who committed them will go to jail. It’s likely their front line supervisors will be relieved of command and have their careers ended. Absent evidence I’m not aware of, I doubt seriously any of them will face criminal sanction. [Certainly, though, no one of high rank has any responsibility for this.]* Clearly, the command climate was such that when others discovered the abuses, they reported them. While these people were probably not trained adequately for prison guard duty, any American soldier who has graduated basic training knows that we don’t abuse prisoners.

Further, there are certainly much worse abuses going on all the time in our domestic penitentiary system. Prison guards and jailers are almost universally undertrained, poorly educated, and poorly trained. I suspect the record of American soldiers guarding enemy prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanimo match up quite well with those of those guarding our domestic prisoners.

*Note: I’ve revised and extended my remarks on this in the next post.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. No Prefernce says:

    There’s no evidence whatsoever that has been adduced to indicate that it was more than some very young soldiers committing crimes.

    Uh, one piece of evidence that has been adduced to indicate that it was more than some very young soldiers committing crimes is that fact that Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, the ranking soldier charged, is 37.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I guess I should say “junior.” Unless he joined unusually late in life, a 37 year old SSG is a very, very poor soldier. He’s either too incompetent to get promoted or he’s been busted down several times for minor criminal offenses (DUIs, assault, and the like). People make SSG at the 5-7 year mark in the Army and usually get SFC somewhere between 9 and 12 years of service. Someone with 19 years in should be, at bare minimum, an SFC and really a MSG/1SG.

  3. JakeV says:

    Certainly, though, no one of high rank has any responsibility for this.

    How exactly can you make a statement like this without more information than we have?

    Have you read the Hersh article ? It says that the general in charge of Abu Ghraib has been “formally admonished and quietly suspended.”

    It also says that the major general writing the investigative report on the prison “recommended that Colonel Thomas Pappas, the commander of one of the M.I. brigades, be reprimanded and receive non-judicial punishment, and that Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, be relieved of duty and reprimanded.”

    It certain sounds like some people of fairly high rank may have at least some responsibility here. Claiming that clearly no one of high rank has any responsibility for these abuses is at best premature.

  4. No Prefernce says:

    Unless he joined unusually late in life, a 37 year old SSG is a very, very poor soldier.

    He’s a reservist. Perhaps you should read up on this a little more before commenting.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I got that (see the subsequent post). But reservists make rank almost as quickly–indeed, sometimes more quickly–than their active counterparts. While it’s true that there are more “old” E-5s and E-6s in the Reserves than the Active force as a proportion because of the latter’s up-or-out policy, there are plenty of people who make E-8 and E-9 in the same amount of time as their Regular counterparts.

  6. James Joyner says:

    I hadn’t read the Hersh piece when I wrote this post. I’ve responded to it in the next post.

  7. One thing I will say is, at least in the Air Force (circa 1990, which is the last time I was around the military on a routine basis), the Security Police (the equivalent to Army MPs) was something of a dumping ground for airmen who couldn’t quite cut it as maintenance or technical staff; I’ll grant there were a lot of SPs who dedicated to their jobs, but quite a few were the military equivalent to the worst stereotype of civilian cops. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the MPs had a similar relationship to the rest of the Army.

  8. Steverino says:

    A couple of comments.
    One, remember Frederick and some of the other Reservists in his unit come from “day jobs” in state corrections. Have they been rogue prison guards in Maryland or elsewhere before getting called up?
    Second, even if they alledgely hadn’t been trained in the Genevas, they had been trainedin military SOP, and more specifically, these folks had civilian prison guard training.
    THIRD AND KEY, read Sy Hersh’s article all the way through. He not only says military intelligence “used” these guards, but that CIA was also apparently involved. People, many people, much above the level of these guards, knew WTF was going on.
    3A and BEYOND THAT — Amnesty’s human rights abuses by Iraqi occupation report came out a full year ago. A President who truly claims to want to export ALL good Western values would have ordered a thorough investigation long ago.
    “A fish rots from the head down” – Dukakis.
    “The buck stops here” -Truman.
    – GWB

  9. WyldBill says:

    ” got that (see the subsequent post). But reservists make rank almost as quickly–indeed, sometimes more quickly–than their active counterparts. While it’s true that there are more “old” E-5s and E-6s in the Reserves than the Active force as a proportion because of the latter’s up-or-out policy, there are plenty of people who make E-8 and E-9 in the same amount of time as their Regular counterparts.

    Totally off the mark and uninformed.

    Many reservists have had long breaks in their military service. Moreover, rank advancement is limited to the number of billets in the reserve unit’s Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE). Reservists don’t just keep getting promoted within their unit given the time served. Often the only way to advance is to change units that has an open slot for your Military Occupational Speciality (MOS). depending on your MOS, that could mean a move servaral states away or one heck of a commute to drills.

  10. James Joyner says:

    WB: I’ve been in Reserve units, although it’s been a while. We had E-5s in their 30’s who, as you say, had large breaks in their service. For the most part, they weren’t particularly squared away, either. But we also had E-8s and E-9s who had less than 20 years of service.

    Officer promotions are quite a bit slower than in the Regular Army because they’re centralized. Enlisted promotions are quite flexible.

  11. xy109e3 says:

    Brigadier General Janis Karpinski is among seven officers being investigated following claims that soldiers under their command mistreated detainees.

    The army confirmed the suspension after US television broadcast images of US soldiers allegedly abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

  12. Anonymous says:

    http://www.indybay.org/uploads/bin_laden_birdman_2.jpeg

    ABU GRAIB HYPOCRISY

    First let me say that these crimes must be punished. Everyone is shocked and disgusted by this psychological torture and humiliation, which will effect the victims for the rest of their lives.
    But the International Community’s reaction is riddled with hypocrisy:

    1. Bad treatment for US troops?
    It is conventional wisdom among pundits that ill-treatment by a few US troops will result in worse treatment against American POWs. Really?
    In the past, US POWS and even civilians have hardly been treated according to the Geneva Conventions. Daniel Pearl beheaded, the Fallujah four mutilated and burned, Jessica Lynch raped come to mind. Tiger cages and torture in Vietnam, forced death marches and executions during WWII. Perhaps the pundits could tell me of a conflict where American POWs were protected?
    The threat of bad treatment for POWs might have more effect if it hadn’t already happened.

    2. Torture=bad, Torture-Killing=Good?
    How did the world respond when 4 civilians were tortured, mutilated, burned, shot, executed, their bodies parts burned, stepped on, dragged and hung from bridges? In much of the press, it was hardly denounced, and actually used as more evidence of either American failure or blame was cast on the non-combatant civilian workers as being “spieds” or “mercenaries”.
    Clearly a few humiliating sexual poses would be preferable to mutilation-death-desecration. Apparently rape, torture, mutilation and execution of Americans POWs and even civilians is okay….

    3. Demand for apologies
    Here’s the game:
    -If you only apologize, Iraqis will forgive you
    -Bush and others apologize
    -Declare these apologies invalid for some reason — they were too indirect, they were personal statements, etc.
    -The apology provokes no forgiveness, only shrill denunciations about trying to sneak out of responsibility. A Saudi paper screamed “Killers should apologize!”

    4. War=Bad, Terror=Good?
    This is a part of a larger pattern of hypocrisy: War is “evil”, terror is good. War by nations against nations is wrong. Civil war and insurgency are “heroic”. Thus, nations which fight wars must be harangued for real and imagined war-crimes, while their insurgent, terrorist counterparts can extermination civilians, rape, torture and mutilate with impunity—after all, they are not governments, so how can they be held responsible.

    Thus, the rape of Jessica Lynch and female soldiers in the first Gulf War are laughed off. Thus, executions of American civilians like Daniel Pearl and an elderly wheel-chair bound Achille Lauro passenger is never called a war crime–the terrorists act with impunity. Only wars are protested; Terrorist atrocities and war crimes are laughed off, ignored, or worse, secretly sympathized and justified.

    5. Get ready for more hypocrisy
    Some Iraqis despite official apologies and even compensation ,and despite experts from the Arab media who claimed that “if only Bush would apologize” the Iraqis will forgive you, radicals in Iraq and elsewhere will no doubt seek to get “Revenge”. When American POWS are tortured and executed what can we expect? Loud, shrill denunciations by the world’s press?? I doubt it. More likely are apologetics, excuse-making, justifications, and even glee. Such is the craven nature of the “World Community”.

  13. srg says:

    http://www.indybay.org/uploads/bin_laden_birdman_2.jpeg

    ABU GRAIB HYPOCRISY

    First let me say that these crimes must be punished. Everyone is shocked and disgusted by this psychological torture and humiliation, which will effect the victims for the rest of their lives.
    But the International Community’s reaction is riddled with hypocrisy:

    1. Bad treatment for US troops?
    It is conventional wisdom among pundits that ill-treatment by a few US troops will result in worse treatment against American POWs. Really?
    In the past, US POWS and even civilians have hardly been treated according to the Geneva Conventions. Daniel Pearl beheaded, the Fallujah four mutilated and burned, Jessica Lynch raped come to mind. Tiger cages and torture in Vietnam, forced death marches and executions during WWII. Perhaps the pundits could tell me of a conflict where American POWs were protected?
    The threat of bad treatment for POWs might have more effect if it hadn’t already happened.

    2. Torture=bad, Torture-Killing=Good?
    How did the world respond when 4 civilians were tortured, mutilated, burned, shot, executed, their bodies parts burned, stepped on, dragged and hung from bridges? In much of the press, it was hardly denounced, and actually used as more evidence of either American failure or blame was cast on the non-combatant civilian workers as being “spieds” or “mercenaries”.
    Clearly a few humiliating sexual poses would be preferable to mutilation-death-desecration. Apparently rape, torture, mutilation and execution of Americans POWs and even civilians is okay….

    3. Demand for apologies
    Here’s the game:
    -If you only apologize, Iraqis will forgive you
    -Bush and others apologize
    -Declare these apologies invalid for some reason — they were too indirect, they were personal statements, etc.
    -The apology provokes no forgiveness, only shrill denunciations about trying to sneak out of responsibility. A Saudi paper screamed “Killers should apologize!”

    4. War=Bad, Terror=Good?
    This is a part of a larger pattern of hypocrisy: War is “evil”, terror is good. War by nations against nations is wrong. Civil war and insurgency are “heroic”. Thus, nations which fight wars must be harangued for real and imagined war-crimes, while their insurgent, terrorist counterparts can extermination civilians, rape, torture and mutilate with impunity—after all, they are not governments, so how can they be held responsible.

    Thus, the rape of Jessica Lynch and female soldiers in the first Gulf War are laughed off. Thus, executions of American civilians like Daniel Pearl and an elderly wheel-chair bound Achille Lauro passenger is never called a war crime–the terrorists act with impunity. Only wars are protested; Terrorist atrocities and war crimes are laughed off, ignored, or worse, secretly sympathized and justified.

    5. Get ready for more hypocrisy
    Some Iraqis despite official apologies and even compensation ,and despite experts from the Arab media who claimed that “if only Bush would apologize” the Iraqis will forgive you, radicals in Iraq and elsewhere will no doubt seek to get “Revenge”. When American POWS are tortured and executed what can we expect? Loud, shrill denunciations by the world’s press?? I doubt it. More likely are apologetics, excuse-making, justifications, and even glee. Such is the craven nature of the “World Community”.

  14. Anonymous says:

    bastards americans

  15. Yvonne Little says:

    We should get rid of Bush & get out of Irag.

  16. rizwan asghar says:

    hi:
    its very sexy and bad.