Great Moments in Passive Verbs, starring Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt:
The quest for loopholes and immunity continues. I’ve brought up in recent Picket Line entries how lawyers have seized on vaguely-worded exceptions and caveats in the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture to explain why torture’s not illegal when we do it.
It turns out that it’s much easier to give yourself immunity from war crimes prosecution than to just not commit war crimes in the first place. Who knew?
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.
Presented last fall with a detailed catalog of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, the American military responded on with a confidential letter to a Red Cross official asserting that many Iraqi prisoners were not entitled to the full protections of the Geneva Conventions.
The letter, drafted by military lawyers and signed by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, emphasized the “military necessity” of isolating some inmates at the prison for interrogation because of their “significant intelligence value,” and said prisoners held as security risks could legally be treated differently from prisoners of war or ordinary criminals.
But the military insisted that there were “clear procedures governing interrogation to ensure approaches do not amount to inhumane treatment.”…
Until now, the only known element of the letter had been a provision described by a senior Army officer as having asserted that the Red Cross should not seek in the future to conduct no-notice inspections in the cellblock where the worst abuses took place.
You’ll be happy to know, however, that the Secretary of Defense has put new, sternly-worded regulations in place to ensure that a scandal like Abu Ghraib never takes place again. (Like we didn’t see this coming.)
Correction: the news story in this last link appears to have been inaccurate.