Monday, May 10, 2004
I'm gonna break down and add my comments about the Abu Ghraib incidents.
From an NYT article, republished in my local paper:
"In theory, the battalion's specialty was guarding enemy prisoners of war, a task that was expected to be a major logistical problem. In fact, few of the 1,000 reservists of the 320th had been trained to do that, and fewer still knew how to run a prison. They were deployed so quickly from the mid-Atlantic region that there was no time to get new lessons."
And from Talking Points Memo:
"hideous methods, at least reserved for restricted cases, parcelled out to unsupervised amateurs, abetted by what might be generously termed high-level indifference."
Reservists train once a month plus two weeks a year, not enough time to really maintain proficiency. Having served in the reserves myself I can attest to it. The soldiers of the 320th MP Battalion were poorly prepared. They were working 16 hour shifts in 120 degree heat, with few comforts or amenities. The stress of their conditions took a toll, and then they began receiving instructions from intel people who were under a stress of their own - the demand for actionable information now.
This does not excuse them; I mean, what's with the photos, really? However I've got to point out that all the soldiers named thus far were enlisted, ranging in rank from PFC to SSG. Those soldiers undoubtedly have a platoon leader, a company commander, a battalion commander. Officers. Where were they? I'm not talking about the abuse; I mean before that. When the battalion was assigned to an unfamiliar job, when they found themselves shorthanded (the NYT article points out that an MP brigade is normally expected to handle around 4000 prisoners; this battalion was in charge of 6000), when the intel people took over, were their officers trying to get them some help? Were they going to their superiors to tell them what was going on and what was needed?
I have two conclusions. First, somewhere in the chain of command, somebody failed these soldiers. And somebody needs to answer for that. Second, the soldiers that committed this abuse will at the least receive less-than-honorable discharges. When they do, I expect to see their officers receiving punishment right beside them. [UPDATE: that's really the same conclusion twice, isn't it?]
I am not, however, saying that the blame stops there. I've been a supporter of the war all along; at the same time I've felt that it should have started about six months later (I don't think I mentioned this on my blog). The events at Abu Ghraib add a new reason - time to plan and prepare.
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