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.