Saturday, April 12, 2008

It's not over for the Winter Soldiers

By Libby

Thanks to John Wilmerding for passing along this link to a review of the Winter Soldier hearings done by Cynthia and Michael Orange. Even the review of just a small portion of the many hours of testimony is deeply disturbing. Read it all but here's one quote.
Soldiers and vets told how superior officers instructed them on the official ways to torment and beat detainees. Andrew Duffy, a medic who served on the trauma team at the Abu Ghraib military prison, put it this way, "You can't spell abuse without 'Abu.'" They were told to use the term "detainee" because, unlike "prisoner of war," there are no laws protecting detainees. While he rocked back and forth in his seat nervously, Mathew Childess, a Marine infantryman who served two tours in Iraq, referred to beating detainees and "breaking fingers." When a particular detainee begged for food and water, he took the man's hat, wiped himself with it, and stuffed it into the man's mouth.
I recall how they scapegoated the hapless few that were caught in photos at Abu Ghraib as renegade "bad apples" when in fact, as we now know, the top officials of our government orchestrated the torture. They admittedly commited henious acts but it would be wrong to call these troops bad men. They were good soldiers following bad orders.

Meanwhile, Fair reports on the NYT's excuse for failing to cover the hearings.
New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt has offered a response to media activists who wrote to the paper about its non-coverage of last month's Winter Soldier hearings. Hoyt's explanation is that reporters at the Times had "not been aware of the group or its meeting," but likely wouldn't have covered it if they had been aware of the event.

The idea that the Times was unaware of Winter Soldier is remarkable; the paper's D.C. reporters were repeatedly sent press releases about the events, the same ones that other media outlets received that did manage to cover the event, ranging from Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! to the New York Times' corporate sibling the Boston Globe.
Click the link to read the Hoyt's whole sorry letter. If there was any justice left in this country, the entire administration and the bulk of the mass media that covers for them would all be indicted. What they have done to our country and our military is a true war crime.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share


Blogger eRobin said...

I haven't listened yet but I just got word of a radio show produced by two IVAW members. It's called Fire in the Hole. Finding it is complicated since it took the last half hour of Radio Free Eireann and the first half hour of Al Lewis Lives! So you have to listen to Fire in the Hole over two shows. Start here.

9:33:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Thanks for the link erobin.

10:10:00 PM  
Blogger Rich Gardner said...

The Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting take on why the Winter Soldier hearings weren't news. Not sure whether the author wanted to see evidence of war crimes or whether he thought war crimes were the whole point of the hearing.

10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

They clearly need a new "Editor of the Editorial Page" over there Rich. I never read it. I had no idea it was such a right wing rag.

10:44:00 PM  
Blogger doomsy said...

Oh it is - trust me on that.

(Link probably won't work - sorry).

And I don't know if the Editorial Page editor this week is Harold Jackson, Ferris (again) or Chris Satullo (again).

11:30:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

The link worked fine in the email alert. Good post and nice blog.

Sorry to see your local paper sucks. I thought Philly was supposed to be full of liberal DFHs.

11:55:00 PM  
Blogger Proud Atheist said...

They admittedly commited henious acts but it would be wrong to call these troops bad men.

That sounds like an endorsement of the Nuremberg defense. I would call them bad men, following bad orders. Admittedly, they don't deserve to bear the brunt of the criticism, nor should they be the ones held primarily accountable, if there is sufficient evidence to implicate higher ups in the crime (as there appears to be).

12:03:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

They admittedly committed heinous acts but it would be wrong to call these troops bad men.

Would it? Examples such as the Miligram experiment may undermine our confidence that most people would never commit atrocities, but this only means that they are not necessarily worse than most people--a far cry from not being bad.

As a man begged for food and water, he took his hat, wiped himself with it, and stuffed it in the prisoner's mouth. He may be a complex person who now regrets and attempts to atone for his actions as a bad man, but those are nevertheless the actions of a bad man.

1:44:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

It's easy to condemn these men (and women) if you've never been put in the same situation. It's useful to remember that they're trained, or maybe brainwashed would be a better word, to think of the detainees as a subhuman enemy. Given that they have no training in understanding Iraqi culture and are unable to easily discern which ones are 'the enemy' it's not surprising that they might engage in objectionable behavior both with detainees and with the population at large. Who can say for certain they would behave similarly had they never been sent to a war zone? I suppose a certain percentage might, but I'd venture to guess it wouldn't be a large one.

And the entire military hierarchy is built on a chain of command where the following of orders is an imperative. The point being that grunts don't decide for themselves, they do what they're told. It's easy to think you would refuse to follow orders that went against your conscience, but the consequences for failing to do so are severe and the pressure is equally great to conform.

I abhor the behavior but I'm not willing to condemn for it under the circumstances.

7:56:00 AM  
Blogger markg8 said...

Libby I think you have the following bit wrong:

It's useful to remember that they're trained, or maybe brainwashed would be a better word, to think of the detainees as a subhuman enemy.

Initially our soldiers and marines weren't trained much at all in dealing with insurgent POWs or detainees and had no preparation for a hostile occupation in Iraq or anywhere else. They were trained how to defeat a standing uniformed army in a conventional war.

Most of the abuse cases cited in the Winter Soldier meeting I saw on CSPAN were by guys deployed early on in 2003-2005. I think the orders from higher have changed now and any abuse that happens today is borne of pure frustration at the grunt level.

Hopefully the chain of command has wised up instead of just covered up. That'd help but I think it's offset
by the fact that war makes people crazy. On all sides and not just in theatre. Some crazier than others. Repeated long deployments unlike any accepted doctrine we've had in our history is bound to make a lot of our soldiers mentally ill. The inevitable failure of the occupation is only going to make it worse.

9:45:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Good point Mark, prolonged deployments in a combat zone do drive people crazy but isn't it customary, even in a conventional war to train the soldiers to depersonalize the opposite side?

Hence the characterization of other historic foes as gooks and Krauts for instance?

10:20:00 AM  
Blogger markg8 said...

Serves no purpose to depersonalize Iraqis if we're supposed to be "helping" them and that is official doctrine.

There's all kind of US soldiers. I'm sure they run the gamut from sneering racists to those who befriend Iraqis. Inevitably you're going to hate people who are trying to kill you.
That's what makes a hostile occupation so hard. They're there to help people who overwhelmingly want them to leave, some of whom want to kill them.

Keep in mind it's not just soldiers who are being warped. On that score the Iraqis who had it bad for decades under Saddam are probably much worse off. When our guys go back to base they can get a hot shower and all the other amenities. A lot of Iraqis live and die in fear under horrible physical conditions which make it a struggle just to survive every day. That's gotta be bad for the mental health. And what's bad for mental health is bad for physical health and it can actually make you dumber. It takes a lot out of you to remain sane under those kind of conditions.

But it's not just them. Here in the states this war has changed us for the worse too. I haven't been this angry about politics since Nixon was in office. From the other side John Boehner was so frustrated he cried on the House floor. If you read any of the stuff written by wingnuts they're not just willfully misinformed they're suffering from a derangement that will probably only get worse when we withdraw.

As for depersonalizing and demonizing the enemy some of that propaganda was necessary to get us into WW1 and WW11. 40% of Americans were of German descent in 1917. George Washington's wise counsel to stay out of foreign (European) wars had held for more than a century. Numerous German barbarities helped sway public opinion but it wasn't
until they stupidly got caught trying to goad the Mexicans to attack the US that we joined the fight.

In the late 30's, early 40s a lot of Americans didn't want a repeat of the ghastly trench warfare of WW1. Young Jerry Ford was a college pacifist back then. Spending vast amounts of blood and treasure to settle their hash again looked to many to be a monumental waste. That ended with Pearl Harbor.

In both cases these were conscription armies. It takes a lot to turn farm boys, college students and and factory workers into proficient killing machines.
Part of that was removing any doubts about the enemy.

I doubt there's many US soldiers in Iraq who are deluded about who the "enemy" is. It'd be better for their mental health if they were actually fighting Al Qaeda wannabes but I think most of them know that's not the case.

11:51:00 AM  
Blogger David R said...

I once read an article about soldiers and training which suggested that back during the American Civil War, soldiers would shoot with the intent to kill only 10% of the time. The rest of the time, they would either fire in the air or not shoot at all. The same article claimed that the training of modern American soldiers is such that they shoot to kill 90% of the time. Assuming there is any truth to this article, it would seem that our training regime has been very successful at turning normal people who value life into merciless killers.

One more question, and this is aimed specifically at markg8: how do you know that soldiers today are given different orders with respect to torture? There is now, at last, evidence that the torture policy was orchestrated from the top. I would like to believe that the people responsible are sensitive enough to discovery of their crimes that they would have changed these orders, but that would be wishful thinking, I believe.

11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Being a misanthrope, I need hard evidence that anyone in particular is not a bad guy before I believe it, but I think it's indisputable that the Armed forces have been issuing "moral waivers" which allow them to recruit people who have no business carrying weapons: people with criminal records for instance. Intelligence and education standards have been lowered as well and none of this helps the situation at all.

12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Well said Mark. I don't think I've been this angry since Nixon either.

David, good point. Since we now know that these high levels meetings occurred early on in the process, I see no reason to believe the soldiers weren't ordered to conduct these "alternate interrogations" from the get go.

12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Also a really good point Fogg. I suppose one would have to honestly concede that some of the misconduct could be attributed to a predispostion to bad behavior, but on the whole, I think the majority are victims of circumstance.

I can't help but remember a young kid I met in an airport who had just come back from Afghanistan a few years ago. He was a nice kid, very respectful but blithely told me about being so bored they were shooting the local livestock to pass the time. It never occurred to him he was depriving the locals of a means of survival and he didn't strike me as the sort of guy who would normally go around shooting his neighbor's goats. It was all part of the mindset he was indoctrinated in. He also told me how they would go out on maneuvers and broadcast insults on a loudspeaker in an effort to draw out the Taliban. I would imagine at some point moral boundaries get blurred under such circumstances.

1:09:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home