Low-Level Soldiers Took the Rap at Abu Ghraib, Perhaps as It Should Be

You gotta look hard to find the silver lining to the cloud over Abu Ghraib, but the Christian Science Monitor comes up with a good nominee:

If any lesson can be drawn from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse legal fallout so far, it may be this: The lowest-level soldier has the highest level of responsibility. The rank and file must clearly know right from wrong — both in terms of their own actions and orders from superiors.

“What the average soldier is going to take away from Abu Ghraib is a reinforcement of what he learned at boot camp — that he’s responsible for his actions,” says Mary Hall, a former military judge now in private practice. “These Abu Ghraib courts-martial are a blunt reminder to even the newest private that they have a duty to just say ‘no.’ ”

Raise your hand if you went to boot camp and came away from it with the understanding that when given an order, you have the duty to carefully evaluate its morality and legality and then just say “no” if the order does not meet your standards.

Still, it’s nice to imagine what might happen if an epidemic of questioning authority suddenly broke out in the military. Groups like Courage To Resist are trying to bring that about:

Objection and resistance by military servicepersons is a healthy and important assertion of Democracy in a country where the decisions to invade Iraq, to maintain an occupation, and engage in widespread human right violations and torture were made undemocratically in violation of international law and based on continuing lies and disinformation.

This is one part of a three-part strategy aimed at shortening the war and preventing future wars by exacerbating staffing problems in the military: encourage deserters and conscientious objectors, interfere with recruitment, and prepare to frustrate the draft if it should come back (the fourth part, removing U.S. soldiers from the field of battle by force, has been outsourced).

I am of the opinion that in a modern war like the one in Iraq, where the ratio of American dollars spent to American soldiers buried is in the million-to-one range, that another way we can strike at the war effort is to try to defund it. Certainly the military does a fine job of losing money on its own, but I still think they need our help.