No one in his right mind would prefer living in Pol Pot’s Cambodia to George W. Bush’s America, unless he was a moral monster who anticipated that Pol Pot’s Cambodia would allow him greater latitude for committing evil.
But such a distinction is not very different from the fact that some slave-owners were far more decent to their slaves than others.
Similarly, if you knew that your neighborhood was bound to be taken over by one of a pair of mobsters, no doubt you would rather Sammy “The Prudent” Giamboni won his gang war against Jimmy “Mad Dog” O’Sullivan.
But the fact that the behavior of some slave owners or mob bosses is less onerous than that of others does not obviate the immoral nature of slavery and protection rackets.
Nor can any state justify its existence or its actions by noting that the some other state is even more despicable than it is.
The fact that the soldiers involved were operating with the authority of a state behind them ought to figure prominently in any analysis of what occurred at that prison.
They had been taught, most likely from childhood and certainly since joining the military, that loyalty to the state ruling over them is a sacred obligation.
They were told, again and again, that the vital interests of the State can negate any limits that traditional moral strictures might place on their behavior.
The individuals at Abu Ghraib who were the immediate source of the abuse suffered by the prisoners certainly should have known that their actions were immoral.
The nature of the institutional setting in which they found themselves does not relieve them of responsibility for the crimes they committed.
Nevertheless, that setting helps make their evil deeds more comprehensible.