MP Training

One of the things that has struck me as incredible throughout the unfolding of the Iraq prison scandal is the repeated assertions that the MPs at Abu Ghraib were so poorly trained as to make them unaware that their conduct was improper. Given that all soldiers are given at least rudimentary treatment in Basic Training on the law of land warfare this simply couldn’t be the case. Further, those involved in the abuses are MPs, which means they have at least undergone One Station Unit Training at either Fort McClellan, Alabama or Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (the MP school moved to FLW when McClellan was closed a few years ago). OSUT is a combination of Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) that some of the combat service support branches, including the MPs, have utilized for quite some time. All MP enlistees, including Reservists, have gone through this process. (Full disclosure: My dad was the First Sergeant of an MP OSUT unit in the early 1980s.)

Unfortunately, the USAMPS web page is framed, so there are no individual page hyperlinks. It’s relatively easy to take a look at the MP OSUT curriculum, however. In Phase I, “Patriot” – Orientation and Soldierization, the emphasis is on transforming trainees into soldiers, including a large block of instruction designed to “Instill the Army’s Values. In Phase IV, “Law and Order,” the emphasis turns to turning soldiers into MPs:

    * Evidence
    * Search and Apprehension
    * Military Police Reports and Forms
    * Direct Traffic
    * Interviews and Interrogations
    * Patrol Incidents

While the emphasis is on the law enforcement aspect of these functions, young MPs are socialized into professional practices. It’s simply inconceivable that one could graduate MP OSUT and not understand that the actions at Abu Ghraib were not only immoral but counterproductive. That goes triple for a staff sergeant, who would have completed OSUT, the Primary Leadership Development Course, the Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course, and quite possibly the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course in addition to several branch-specific courses related to his specialty.

Of course, the main responsibility for training soldiers occurs at the unit level. Clearly, a very sloppy command climate existed in the 800th MP Brigade and this training was insufficiently emphasized. Even so, unless they were committing criminal acts even in peacetime, they were required to administer at least cursory classes on the Code of Conduct annually and sign off that the training had been completed. That’s true of every unit in the Army–Active, Guard, or Reserve–whether MPs or not.

Whatever the ultimate explanation turns out to be, “Nobody ever told me we weren’t allowed to do this” isn’t it.

Update: Washington Times – Army Boosts Prison Guard Training

The Army is boosting the number of military police trained as prison guards amid complaints that MPs charged in the Iraqi abuse scandal were not prepared for such duty, officials said.

The Army will create a company of about 150 prison guards, plus a 50-member command structure, by Sept. 30, said officials of the Army Military Police Corps at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., who spoke late last week on the condition of anonymity.

An additional 300 soldiers guarding U.S. military prisoners at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., will be made available for duty in the Middle East, the officials said.

Also, two more companies of about 150 soldiers each will be included in fiscal 2006, the Army officials said.

With thousands of U.S.-held prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is running out of MPs trained as prison guards, said Jack Gordon, spokesman for the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Readiness Command, which oversees the unit at the center of the abuse scandal, the 372nd Military Police Company.

About 2 percent of the 5,000 solders trained as MPs each year receive detailed instruction in handling prisoners of war, civilian internees and other detainees, the Army said. During 17 weeks of training, they spend 115 academic hours on the subject, compared with 31 hours for other MPs, Army officials said.


Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, dismissed the contentions when he visited the 372nd’s headquarters near Cumberland on May 1.

“I believe that members of this unit had the requisite training to ensure that they were aware of and competent in the task needed to secure enemy prisoners of war, and to ensure that they were aware of the requirement for humane treatment of prisoners,” Gen. Helmly said.

The Army also has said that all soldiers, regardless of job assignments, learn about the Geneva Conventions prohibiting mistreatment of prisoners of war and others.

This is a good step. But the 31 hours in the standard training is quite substantial. That’s not much shorter than a semester-length college class, which is typically 45 50-minute “hours” or 37.5 actual hours.

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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.


  1. Does one really need a primer to know that the “naked pyramid” and forced simulated oral sex are not permitted?

  2. James Joyner says:

    One wouldn’t think. Indeed, another question I have had is how these scum escaped being weeded out during their initial entry training.

  3. Kate says:

    Even from the vantage point of a foreign observer with no military connections in our family background more recent thatn 1918 – the assertion that they had no training “didn’t know better” fell with a big flat thump.

    I doubt anyone’ (rational) is buying it.

  4. McGehee says:

    If you right-click a frame and choose Properties you should be able to get the URL for that frame — which when clicked would display as a whole page.

  5. Boyd says:

    Don’t try to confuse James with all that technical mumbo-jumbo, Kevin! It makes his hair hurt!

  6. pennywit says:

    That’s another thing that bugs me about Abu Ghraib — I would think that certain of these abuses would be covered by general “Hey, you don’t do this to other people” rules.


  7. JW says:

    Besides–it’s just a variation on the Nuremburg defense of “I was only doing as I was commanded”, only slightly amended into “I was never ordered not to do this.” And we know how sympathetic Americans are to the Nuremburg defense. . .