Lynndie England NOT U.S. Policy

Ezra Klein applies the headline “Doing Her Job” to this infamous photo of Lyndie England.

Lyndie England at Abu Ghraib

Lynndie England with dog at Abu Ghraib

It was not a few bad apples. It was not the chaos of war. It was official U.S. government policy. The release of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Report on Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody makes that perfectly clear.

No. No. No. No.

The Report is damning in its causality argument.  Basically, the entire nature of interrogation training in the military — which precedes not only George W. Bush’s administration but his father’s as well — is based on abusing our own soldiers to teach them to cope with torture and abusive treatment such as our POWs, especially downed pilots, endured in Vietnam.  Further, the administration made a series of decisions that allowed procedures that were arguably torture to be used in isolated cases against accused terrorists and other unprivileged belligerents.  These exceptions were hazily carved out and the lines were sufficiently blurry that it wasn’t surprising that abuses occurred.   Carveouts at Gitmo naturally migrated to Iraq and Abu Ghraib, even though this wasn’t authorized.

But Lynndie England and her cohorts in the 372d MP company were not interrogators carrying out administration policy.  They were simply bullies and criminals. They were demented, poorly trained, prison guards who were abusing the prisoners in their care for personal enjoyment.

UPDATE:  To provide some context for new readers, I’ve written dozens of posts on Abu Ghraib over the years that can be found under the category archives.  I’ve said over and again that the senior officers, up to at least National Guard BG Janis Karpinski, should have been held accountable for dereliction of duty.   I’ve been critical of the use of torture (waterboarding) and abusive treatment (sleep deprivation, stress positions, dogs to induce fear, etc.) as an interrogation technique in dozens of posts.

My point here is a narrow one:  England and her cohorts, the ones whose photos are the main thing the public knows about Abu Ghraib, were not carrying out official duties or in any way attempting to help break prisoners to extract information.  They were merely sadistic criminals.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, National Security, , , , , , , ,
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. Triumph says:

    Lynndie is an American hero. The liberals keep on forgetting that Lynndie was PROTECTING US FROM EVIL TERRORISTS.

    Sometimes you gotta put your foot down on these people. She had the courage to do that. If these snotty Iraqi’s can’t handle what is tantamount to a fraternity prank, then they are a pathetic lot beyond reformation.

    Of course this is confirmed with the idiots trying to attack us with SHOES!

    Lynndie is war hero. I’d love for her to run as the VP candidate with Palin in ’12. we would have two hot candidates who happen to be a hockey mom and a combat hero!

    Palin/England ’12!!!

  2. ptfe says:

    But Lynndie England and her cohorts in the 372d MP company were not interrogators carrying out administration policy. They were simply bullies and criminals. They were demented, poorly trained, prison guards who were abusing the prisoners in their care for personal enjoyment.

    While Klein may focus on England as part of a greater policy of abuse, your vociferous denial of his conclusion is a little odd. The MPs at Abu Ghraib were, in fact, tasked with carrying out administration policy, under supervision from vague OGAs and military intelligence personnel (see diaries of Staff Sgt Chip Frederick, “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, and this summary of government orders). The idea that these techniques would be acceptable almost certainly came directly from the actions of intelligence personnel; it’s doubtful that, given orders to simply feed the inmates and act as prison guards, they would have jumped for the naked human pyramid option.

    There’s no denying that most of these actions were not meant to advance intelligence gathering, but they were perpetrated under special orders that attempted to circumvent following the Geneva conventions. While she may not have always had that in mind, the environment certainly didn’t discourage her behavior. Trying to sweep that under the rug because Klein’s specific point may be slightly off the mark wins you no points in this discussion.

    Indeed, the report rather boldly contradicts your headline. To wit:

    In the report of his investigation into Abu Ghraib, Major General George Fay said that interrogation techniques developed for GTMO became “confused” and were implemented at Abu Ghraib. Major General Fay said that removal of clothing, while not included in CJTF-7’s SOP, was “imported” to Abu Ghraib, could be “traced through Afghanistan and GTMO,” and contributed to an environment at Abu Ghraib that appeared “to condone depravity and degradation rather than humane treatment of detainees.” Following a September 9, 2004 Committee hearing on his report, I asked Major General Fay whether the policy approved by the Secretary of Defense on December 2, 2002 contributed to the use of aggressive interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib, and he responded “Yes.”

    The Working Group’s final report, issued on April 4, 2003, recommended several aggressive techniques including removal of clothing, prolonged standing, sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, hooding, increasing anxiety through the use of a detainee’s aversions like dogs, and face and stomach slaps. While the final Working Group report did not mention SERE, many of the techniques it recommended were strikingly similar to techniques used in JPRA SERE training.

  3. tom p says:

    Wasn’t General Miller (I forget his first name) sent to Iraq to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib?

  4. ken says:

    James Joyner, are you the one who gave the picture this caption:

    Lynndie England with dog at Abu Ghraib

    That is not funny or clever. What we see is a human being on a dog leash held by Lynndie England. He should not be described in a derogatory manner by anyone, even to make a point.

  5. DC Loser says:

    But Lynndie England and her cohorts in the 372d MP company were not interrogators carrying out administration policy. They were simply bullies and criminals. They were demented, poorly trained, prison guards who were abusing the prisoners in their care for personal enjoyment.

    As a former officer, I have to ask, where were their officers and commanders when all this happened? In a properly run military unit, the officers know what goes on in their spaces. These guys were hung out to dry for their actions, but what about the command climate that allowed such behavior? There’s more than anecdotal evidence to suggest that there was official encourage of this type of treatment in order to help the interrogators “break” the detainees with humiliation and fear. And that type of encouragement came from the top.

  6. Steven Donegal says:

    Further, the administration made a series of decisions that allowed procedures that were arguably torture

    Why “arguably”? Are you seriously suggesting that there is some doubt that the techniques authorized from the highest level of our government were not torture? I expect this from the Bush deadenders, but am disappointed to see that view expressed here.

  7. PT says:

    James, I think the question is why the picture you used actually has that caption?

  8. steve says:

    This is the most disappointing post I have ever seen you write. I thought you were actually in the military at one time? Senior political figures and officers set the stage for this behavior. I would have thought you’d think officers are accountable. The worst of the behaviors at Abu Ghraib were no doubt embellishments by those troops, but much of what they did was the same as what was going on at Gitmo. No coincidence methinks.

    This all started at the top when the decision was made that there would be few limits placed on interrogation techniques. SERE and Operation Phoenix were resurrected. Waterboarding and stress positions. Extended sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. It was administration policy to let this get started and it simply does not fly when they say they had no idea it would spread and be used elsewhere.

    Steve

  9. anjin-san says:

    No. No. No. No.

    Guess you have forgotten that torture was discussed and NOT rejected at the highest levels of this government.

    Events do not happen in a vacuum.

    This disgrace this crew has brought to our country will outlive us all…

  10. belloscm says:

    Probably doesn’t matter to those who “know” what happened at Abu Ghraib, but England was not MP (she was a clerk) and was not acting in any official or professional capacity while mistreating the prisoners. Actually, she was unauthorized to be on the cell block at the time of the offenses. Official policy, my ass.

    “In a properly run military unit, the officers know what goes on in their spaces.” Yeah, because the Senior NCOs take control and tell Captain Donutz and 2nd LT Bowser how it went down. In the 372d, the SNCOs were afraid to take control of Graner, a fact of which the “officers” were fully aware.

  11. James Joyner says:

    James, I think the question is why the picture you used actually has that caption?

    It was inadvertent. I wrote the caption without looking at the picture and remembered it as her having a dog on a leash, with the dog used to scare the prisoners — something that was in fact done. Caption changed.

  12. raoul says:

    I’ve been reading you for a couple months (some liberal blog said you were among the more readable conservatives and I have tended to agree)- I’m not sure what your point is today-do you need to read The Nation? Last night I was reading about the thousands of civilians who we were killed every month in Vietnam and only now we learn who the perps are (the article in question came out about two months ago- generals ordering shooting anything that moved at night from a helicopter)- the point is that countless atrocities have been committed in this “war on terror” that we know of. See Sulli, e.g., today Cheney himself approves and defends waterboarding. It is like that egg/brain drug ad. What more proof do you need? And yet still- there is so much we do not know- why continue to defend it?

  13. Barry says:

    “But Lynndie England and her cohorts in the 372d MP company were not interrogators carrying out administration policy. They were simply bullies and criminals. They were demented, poorly trained, prison guards who were abusing the prisoners in their care for personal enjoyment.”

    Funny, isn’t it? You basically wipe your *ss with the Geneva Convention, say that we’re free to do as we please, and people take you seriously?

    Do you seriously imagine that concentration camp or gulag guards didn’t have their ‘fun’ with prisoners?

    Once you’ve declared legal black holes, you’ve declared a legal black hole, and as we’ve seen the only restraint is a the slight one due to bad pictures getting out.

  14. Timmer says:

    In the 372d, the SNCOs were afraid to take control of Graner, a fact of which the “officers” were fully aware.

    belloscm where did you get that info? My first thought when this broke was, “Where the hell were the SNCOs?” I find the idea of SNCOs being afraid of a Specialist, on the incredible side of the street.

  15. belloscm says:

    Timmer,

    One of the first reports on A.G and the 372d (perhaps trial testimony?) documented the fact that Graner routinely told his SFC and other SNCOs to “kiss his ass” whenever Graner was directed to break off his relationship with England and to not bring her into the cell block.
    Graner was out of control and willfully disrespected and disobeyed the orders of his seniors in the CoC. This was due, in part, to the fact that Graner was one of the few in the unit who had Corrections Officer experience. Too many of the weak “leaders” deferred to him.

    This disgraceful command environment no doubt was the result of the utter cluelessness of BG Karpinski. While she took pride in “knowing” her
    people, she abjectly failed to provide leadership, especially the type that was required in a hostile environment. Commanding a unit that was noticeably undermanned and poorly trained, it was up to her to implement the command practices that would mitigate against the organizational shortcomings of the 372d. She didn’t.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Once you’ve declared legal black holes, you’ve declared a legal black hole, and as we’ve seen the only restraint is a the slight one due to bad pictures getting out.

    Damn straight. You are either about justice, or not. For the last eight years, we have decidedly been in the “not” column…