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With the court-martial of Lt. Col. Jordan now complete, the official apologists will be out busily explaining that Abu Ghraib is all over now—see, we even court-martialed an officer, and it went nowhere, the jury let him off. But as the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and a number of other publications have properly pointed out, the lesson to be drawn from the Jordan court-martial is different from what the Pentagon would have us understand—it’s one of the most audacious cover-ups in military justice history.
In American literature, one writer, Herman Melville, was captivated with the subject of military justice. He wrote about it frequently. Billy Budd of course turns on a court-martial. But an earlier novel, White-Jacket is an extended tirade against the military justice system. In both novels, Melville makes a point which I consider—for all the advancements in military justice today compared to the Articles of War regime that Melville knew from his days at sea—still absolutely true. Military justice operates to reinforce command authority. It is, as it were, a command authority adjunct. Therefore we should never consider military justice to be about the ultimate, namely, justice. It may be about justice on the periphery, but concerns for justice fade when they clash with the authority of the administering command.
So we come to the ultimate tension of the military justice system: the closer the wrong-doing is to the command authority from which the military justice emanates, the more fundamentally unstable the system becomes, the more it flounders, and ultimately fails. That’s the principle that Melville demonstrates very powerfully in the two novels I mentioned. And the court-martial of Lt. Col. Jordan demonstrates it once more.
The prosecutors held back in presenting and developing a full case because of blinders imposed on them—they were required to avoid the trail that led up the chain of command. But that trail was completely obvious.
If you have only five minutes in which to educate yourself about the Abu Ghraib scandal, here’s how: watch this web interview with Gen. Janis Karpinski. She was one of two female general officers in Iraq shortly after the invasion, and she had responsibility for MP operations. And prisons? Well the U.S. plans called for limited POW operations. What in fact occurred was something radically different. In this interview you’ll learn:
The prison system was supposed to have been operated by J. Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority with assistance from the U.S. Justice Department. The Justice Department’s involvement in this whole project is a study in astonishing and far-ranging corruption—starting with DOJ contracts given to a team of prison officials from the U.S. who had all been fired for prisoner abuse, frequently including assaults and homicides. All of these figures had tight Republican Party connections which they parlayed into lucrative contracts to “build a prison system” in Iraq. What they created was not a prison system, but something different. How does Marlowe put it? “Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d/In one self place; but where we are is hell,/And where hell is, there must we ever be.” Indeed.
Without informing Karpinski or her people, and on instructions that came from Dr. Stephen Cambone (the mastermind of the torture policies that emerged at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere), “security detainees” were sent to Abu Ghraib.
Karpinski was told by Colonel Marc Warren that these “security detainees” had “no rights.” (In an act of truly inspirational command bravery, Warren later told investigators that he was “ill” or “away” when the key decisions were taken and was thus uninvolved. Rumsfeld subsequently tried to promote Warren to general in recognition of his services, a move which was blocked by two Republican senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee).
Major General Geoffrey Miller visited Abu Ghraib on orders directly from Rumsfeld and Cambone (facts about which Miller subsequently lied in testimony before Congress). The “security detainee” program was operated directly by Cambone.
Karpinski makes clear many times that the direction for all the nasty stuff done to the detainees was not coming from Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, his deputy, or anyone else on the ground in Iraq. It was coming straight from the Pentagon, and Donald Rumsfeld personally, and his sidekick Steve Cambone were the hardasses running the program and pushing it.
You might think, of course, that Karpinski is trying to clear herself. I’ll just say that I’ve been studying this set of facts for more than three years now, have interviewed dozens of participants. Not only is Karpinski telling the truth, no varnish has been applied. Everything that Karpinski says in these interviews stacks up perfectly with what I have discovered.
Go watch the Karpinski interviews here.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Average number of Americans who are injured by chain saws each year:
A farmer in Kenya bit a python who tried to eat him.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”