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May 2, 2005
Much ado 'bout AbuBy Greyhawk
Lynndie England, the "face of Abu Ghraib", pleaded guilty today to charges related to the abuse at the facility. CNN, in reporting the event, included some details I've previously never seen compiled anywhere other than this blog.
All of the incidents except the dog leash and the "rapeist" incidents took place on England's 21st birthday, November 7, 2003, when England -- a clerk, not a guard -- had come to the cell block to visit Graner.Those simple facts change the story of government sanctioned torture of insurgents that has long been associated with the photos from Abu Ghraib. It almost begs the question why they are so under-reported. Ironically, few people know that CNN 'broke' the story of Abu Ghraib last January, months before the infamous photos made Lynndie England the most recognizable American face of the War on Terror.
If none of this is the Abu Ghraib case you know from other media accounts, please read on. You are not alone. Here's why you don't know what you think you know about Abu Ghraib.
To a civilian, it sure seemed like the military, specifically Rumsfeld, was trying to minimize or hide this event. There were Congressional hearings where they would ask Rumsfeld about pictures which were on the internet and he would say, "I have not seen those...". He did a lot of "I do not knows" in this process and therefore the information came out piecemeal.Kevin's point is a good one, but one for which there's an answer. It's one of those things I thought was obvious, but obviously it's not as obvious as I thought. Kevin's right when he states how a corporation should approach such an issue, but there's a big difference in how the military must deal with an episode like Abu Ghraib (or any other legal matter).
(Warning - oversimplification for the benefit of brevity follows.)
In the civilian world a corporation involved in any "bad publicity" issue involving some illegal activity obviously must act to protect it's image, or it's value will fall. Imagine a hypothetical situation in which employees of Company X are discovered to have been skimming profits, and they face criminal charges. It behooves Company X to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities and the resulting prosecution and handle the publicity in a forthright manner, perhaps even publicly releasing evidence that proves the wrongdoing was the work of those individuals - its requirement to obey the law and responsibility to its shareholders clearly trumps any 'loyalty' it owes it's employees.
There's a difference if "Company X" is a military organization, and the "employees" are members of the armed services. At some level "the company" is also the investigating authority, and the prosecution, and - in a way - the judge and jury. These functions are compartmentalized at lower levels - "the company" is also expected to act in the interest of the defense, and the lawyers for the defendant are not answerable to the lower level commanders who are involved in the prosecution. But obviously "the company" - at any level - can not release any information that might be prejudicial to the defense. Donald Rumsfeld (or the President, or anyone else in the Chain of Command) can't call a press conference and say "Look at these pictures. It's terrible, and we're going to get the people responsible." The result would be an instant mistrial, and the defendant(s) would go free. The pictures themselves are evidence in the trial. Further, under the concept of undue influence no commander can make any public statement whatsoever, with or without photographs, that might be construed as prejudicial to the case.
On the other hand... the defense is under less restrictive guidance. Unless so ordered by the authorities the defense is able to take its case to the public, the press, or just about anywhere it desires. There's an example in today's headlines of this concept in action.
Google the name Ilario Pantano and up pops the gateway to page upon page of news and opinion about the Marine 2nd lieutenant accused of murdering two Iraqis last year.A lot of folks think they know a lot about the Pantano case, but what's 'known' so far is exactly what the defense wants known. Donald Rumsfeld can't respond, President Bush can't respond, etc. etc. What you'll get from anyone "on high" is what you got in the Abu Ghraib case - comments to the effect of "those responsible will be found out and prosecuted, justice will be served", etc.
While Pantano's case illustrates a well funded, motivated, and coordinated defense in action, it's not the model followed by those representing the accused in the Abu Ghraib case. Let's backtrack a bit and review the events as they occurred.
In January 2004, an Army statement on an investigation was reported by CNN:
The U.S. military's criminal investigation into potential abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq now includes reports from soldiers that military police took photographs showing soldiers hitting detainees, CNN has learned.By March the investigation was complete. Once again, CNN was there:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six U.S. soldiers have been charged with offenses related to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at an Iraqi prison, the U.S. Army said Saturday.Hardly a cover-up, but you see here a mix of official ('the US Army said') and "off the record" ('multiple sources' said') comments. (Speculation of those sources is pointless - the lowest ranking people in the unit and all their relatives probably knew something was up.) But these official anouncements represent everything "the Army" can do as far as being up front and public about a legal matter - the rights of the defendants, and not the good reputation of the US military, are paramount.
A few months later, however, the pictures were on every channel and every front page, from your home town paper to Al Jazeera. What happened? In the Abu Ghraib case we know. According to the NY Times, shortly after Ivan Frederick's Article 32 hearing his family released the photos to CBS through Col David Hackworth. (Probably one of the reasons that Lynndie England's face is so well known and Ivan Frederick's isn't.) Coincidentally, Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, an old friend of Frederick's civilian attorney, published the photos too. We could speculate as to the motive of the defense (Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly thought blackmail was a possibility) in releasing those images - but whatever the purpose their publication did little to aid the cause. (Obviously although not good for the defense the photos were a great ratings booster for CBS and The New Yorker - but that's a side issue.) But at the time of their release the actual trials were still pending - and the military, as prosecution in the case, was unable to comment beyond those "justice will be served" types of statements that we heard.
In a perfect world, of course, the media would act as unbiased observer, report facts, note its sources, and reveal their bias.
In an imperfect world the blogosphere thrives.
(For those interested in more info, see this post and the links it contains.)
Posted by Greyhawk / May 2, 2005 10:40 PM | Permalink
John DeSantis writes in the New York Times (text courtesy of International Herald Tribune): CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina A military prosecutor has pressed the claim that the shootings of two Iraqis by a Marine officer last year were, in effect,... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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