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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chain of Command 

I mentioned in my review of Baghdad ER that one of the great things about the film is seeing the men and women of the armed forces act morally and professionally brave. It struck me as nearly incomprehensible that the same organization could contain the brave and proud soldiers and marines seen in the film and also the cretins and criminals who perpetrated Abu Ghraib. Of course, in any large organizations you'll have a few bad apples, but as Sy Hersh and others have reported, it wasn't a case of "a few bad apples," it was the case of pressure being brought to bear from on high for "actionable intelligence" bringing out the worst in poorly trained prison guards. Hersh in May 2004:
The solution [to the problem of poor intelligence in Iraq], endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents. A key player was Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the detention and interrogation center at Guantanamo, who had been summoned to Baghdad in late August to review prison interrogation procedures. The internal Army report on the abuse charges, written by Major General Antonio Taguba in February, revealed that Miller urged that the commanders in Baghdad change policy and place military intelligence in charge of the prison. The report quoted Miller as recommending that "detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogation."

Miller's concept, as it emerged in recent Senate hearings, was to "Gitmoize" the prison system in Iraq-to make it more focussed on interrogation. He also briefed military commanders in Iraq on the interrogation methods used in Cuba-methods that could, with special approval, include sleep deprivation, exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing prisoners in "stress positions" for agonizing lengths of time. (The Bush Administration had unilaterally declared Al Qaeda and other captured members of international terrorist networks to be illegal combatants, and not eligible for the protection of the Geneva Conventions.)

Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, however: they expanded the scope of the sap, bringing its unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. The commandos were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation.

....

Cambone then made another crucial decision, the former intelligence official told me: not only would he bring the sap's rules into the prisons; he would bring some of the Army military-intelligence officers working inside the Iraqi prisons under the sap's* auspices. "So here are fundamentally good soldiers-military-intelligence guys-being told that no rules apply," the former official, who has extensive knowledge of the special-access programs, added. "And, as far as they're concerned, this is a covert operation, and it's to be kept within Defense Department channels."

The military-police prison guards, the former official said, included "recycled hillbillies from Cumberland, Maryland." He was referring to members of the 372nd Military Police Company. Seven members of the company are now facing charges for their role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib. "How are these guys from Cumberland going to know anything? The Army Reserve doesn't know what it's doing."
So, when MPs who don't know how to interrogate people are told "no rules apply," then, well, no rules fucking apply, right?

Anyway, this is in stark contract to the officers and men we see in Baghdad ER, who have the proper training, who know why they're doing what they are doing and who know how to do it. In fact, this dichotomy struck me so that I mentioned it after the film to my girlfriend. I basically made the above-mentioned point and then said that, well, even with good leadership at the LtC, Col. and General officer levels, if the officer on the ground is Lt. Calley, then you're still screwed. Well, it seems something like this may have happened recently in Iraq:
A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.

From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children.

...

Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't been completed.

One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.

“This one is ugly," one official told NBC News.

Three Marine officers — commanders in Haditha — have been relieved of duty, and at least 12 Marines in all are under investigation for what would be the worst single incident involving the deliberate killing of civilians by U.S. military in Iraq.
Digby says:
This war was waged for inexplicable reasons and in the course of waging it, the administration has presented a split version of reality that troops have to try to sort out. Liberating the "Iraqi people" and fighting "the terrorists" all of whom look alike to these marines. I don't excuse them for one minute for emptying guns into three year olds out of anger at their mate being killed. There is no excuse. But when you have the civilian leadership of the military publicly pondering the relative humanity of various enemies, you can see where the troops might just get a little bit addled.

What a mess. What a horrible, horrible mess. This stuff is sickening and wrong when it happens in a war of self-defense. When it happens in a war for Karl Rove's majority or a war for Halliburton or a war for whatever the hell they started this one for, then it is a moral failure of epic proportions.
We clearly don't know enough to say that the bolded language is correct in terms of cause-and-effect, but I stand behind Digby's last paragraph above 100%.

UPDATE: Billmon has more:
I don't know if it's better or worse that this atrocity seems to have been committed by a military unit completely out of control, instead of one that was following orders, as was clearly the case at Abu Ghraib. One one hand, you can argue that it's simply a reminder that Americans are as capable of being beasts as anyone else: Germans, Japanese, Russians, Serbs, Arabs, Afghans, Israelis, Somalians, Afrikaaners, Salvadorans -- the list goes on and on. There's nothing exceptional about us, even in our war crimes.

On the other hand, the fact that U.S. Marines -- the few, the proud, etc. -- were capable of such bestiality says something ominous about the psychological state of the American military after three years of being stretched to the limit. These weren't draftees or Guardsmen or pathetic losers like Calley. These were professionals, supposedly the best of the best, and yet they threw away their training, their code and their honor, and drenched themselves and their flag in the blood of innocents. They simply snapped, in other words, and it makes me wonder how many more like them are out there -- one IED or ambush away from going beserk.


*sap: special-access program. A "black-op" outside the normal chain of command and classification structure that reported directly to Rumsfield.
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