Monday, May 03, 2004

When the scandal about abuse of Iraqi prisoners was just starting to break, my husband was reminiscing about his experience in the Marines back in the day--just before Nam heated up. He was stationed on the U.S.S. St. Paul. Aboard ship the Marines were in charge of the brig, and since Connie was the only PFC there who had taken the correspondence course in corrections, he was assigned to brig duty. When he arrived, the prisoners were cleaning out the bilges. The ship was on the equator and down below couldn't have been much under 120 degrees, so when the prisoners asked for water, Connie always let them have some. The corporal of the guard said they were allowed to drink water only on schedule, not on request.

Connie disagreed. These weren't felons. They were usually just run of the mill screw ups who'd screwed up once too often. Connie soon found himself before the captain, getting hell. He quoted the manual to the captain: "Prisoners are in the brig AS punishment, not FOR punishment." So much for brig duty.

We discussed the allegations that we'd just been hearing about Iraq. "Maybe brigs are more humane now," he said. "After all, soldiers today are better educated, better trained. But considering human nature, I doubt it. Look at how we treated our own over minor offenses." As the details come out, we find the lower nature of soldiers being given further impetus by those in command--FBI, CIA and other unnamed intelligence agencies.

The details are sickening, and those in The Guardian article Joe Bruemmer posted are especially graphic. But beyond the question of what happened is why it happened. One of the accused guards, Frederick, "makes clear that the abuse was not only for pleasure but was regarded as part of interrogations led by U.S. intelligence and private contractors in the prison." ("Private contractors"? No, they're mercenaries, and I agree with Joe that they should be outlawed globally.) But regardless of which particular villains are behind it, Amnesty International found a "pattern of torture." Of course, the U.S. top brass deny allegations of systemic abuse. Dan Senor says there will be a "full and aggressive" investigation. "Careers will be ended and criminal charges are going to be leveled." Umm-hmm.

Meanwhile the 30 year old man in an AP story this morning says he and others were humiliated, stripped naked and made "to feel as though we were women . . . and this is the worst insult, to feel like a woman." Okay, he and other Muslim men lost most of my sympathy right there. But let's not stray too far from the point: he had been imprisoned twice and beaten under Saddam. He was grateful when the U.S. arrived. Now we have another enemy.


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