The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Officers, but not gentlemen

Reading the news this morning, I see a pattern emerging...

Reuters on the closing of the trial of Lynndie England, one of the soldiers responsible for sexual abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib:

FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept 26 - Defense lawyers have a last chance on Monday to argue that U.S. soldier Lynndie England was not responsible for her actions when she posed for notorious photos of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
England, 22, faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted on all seven counts connected with the abuse, which included posing with Iraqis who were forced to masturbate and famously holding a leash tethered to the neck of a naked prisoner.
. . .
The military jury panel of five male officers has repeatedly asked written questions of witnesses, taking advantage of a privilege not afforded U.S. civilian juries. Foremost among them on Friday was whether England, a former chicken factory worker who worked as an army administrative clerk, knew that what she was doing was wrong.
But the question did not fit into the narrow legal framework of the defense case as they are not arguing insanity, in which an accused cannot tell right from wrong.
"The issue of full mental responsibility is raised by the members' questions," Judge Col. James Pohl said on Friday outside of the presence of the jury. "To opine whether she knew right or wrong at this time is now legally irrelevant."
How Pohl set the legal framework is essential, especially since he negated a guilty plea at England's first trial in May after Graner told the court he ordered England to hold the leash.
She was originally charged with crimes that could have landed her in prison for 38 years.
England's trial is the latest in a series dating back more than a year focusing on low-level soldiers who served at Abu Ghraib. Since then, the military has launched investigations into hundreds of other cases of possible detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan and reprimanded some higher ranking officers.

(Note: by the time I posted this late at night, England had been convicted.)

Human Rights Watch, announcing a new report on the use of torture by US troops in Iraq:

(New York, September 24, 2005) -- U.S. Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers, according to accounts from soldiers released by Human Rights Watch today.
The new report, “Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division,” provides soldiers’ accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah.
Three U.S. army personnel—two sergeants and a captain—describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan.
According to the soldiers' accounts, U.S. personnel abused detainees as part of the military interrogation process or merely to “relieve stress.” In numerous cases, they said that abuse was specifically ordered by Military Intelligence personnel before interrogations, and that superior officers within and outside of Military Intelligence knew about the widespread abuse.
Tom Malinowski, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch:

"The administration demanded that soldiers extract information from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden. Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the leadership blamed the soldiers in the field instead of taking responsibility."

The Los Angeles Times,on a scandal hitting the inspector general of the Department of Defense:

WASHINGTON — When Joseph E. Schmitz took over as the Pentagon's inspector general in 2002, the largest watchdog organization in the federal government was under fire for failing to fully investigate a senior official, falsifying internal documents and mistreating whistle-blowers. He publicly pledged to clean it up.
Three years later, similar accusations now surround Schmitz.
Schmitz slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines, according to interviews with current and former senior officials in the inspector general's office, congressional investigators and a review of internal e-mail and other documents.
Schmitz also drew scrutiny for his unusual fascination with Baron Friedrich Von Steuben, a Revolutionary War hero who is considered the military's first true inspector general. Schmitz even replaced the official inspector general's seal in offices nationwide with a new one bearing the Von Steuben family motto, according to the documents and interviews.
The case has raised troubling questions about Schmitz as well as the Defense Department's commitment to combating waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers' money, especially in politically sensitive cases.

And this one seals it.