Thursday, April 29, 2004

According to CBS News, a US Army soldier accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners is blaming his chain of command for the abuse. The alleged abuse includes:
-striking prisoners
-ordering detainees to strike each other
-having dogs attack prisoners
-stacking naked prisoners in a pyramid
-photographing US personnel posing with naked prisoners
-making one Iraqi detainee stand on a box with his head covered and wires attached to his hands and telling him that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted
-attaching wires to a detainees genitals

According to Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick, one of the six accused soldiers, the abuse was caused by a lack of proper support by his chain of command. “We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain rules and regulations,” says Frederick. “And it just wasn't happening."

There is no doubt in my mind that the chain of command failed miserably here. Leaders always bear some degree of responsibility when their subordinates engage in illegal activity. In this case, the activity was apparently so blatant (the perpetrators were taking pictures, for crying out loud!), that it's obvious that the people in charge either tacitly approved of the behavior, or they were asleep at the wheel. The leadership screwed up and they should pay the price.

Staff Sergeant Frederick's excuse, however, is nothing more than an attempt to pass the buck and weasel out of paying the price for his actions. Lacking proper guidance on the handling of prisoners is no excuse for abuse. While there is often a fine line between justifiable force and excessive force, the line between humane treatment of detainees and attaching wires to them and threatening them with electrocution is a mile wide. Behavior like this smears all of us who wear the uniform. Claiming "I didn't know any better because no one told me" is just a pathetic excuse. Any soldier in the US Army should know what the maximum effective range for an excuse is: 0.

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