USA-T - Military Scapegoats Walk A Well-Worn Path, The grunts of Abu Ghraib fit lock-step into a history of injustice in our armed forces
June 7, 2005 Pg. 13
Military Scapegoats Walk A Well-Worn Path
The grunts of Abu Ghraib fit lock-step into a history of injustice in our armed forces
By Jonathan Turley
In Fort Hood, Texas, the latest grunt will soon face charges of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. As with six other GIs, Pfc. Lynndie England will carry more than her individual responsibility for torture into her trial. She will carry the hopes of one of the world's smallest and most exclusive clubs: the 870 star-studded admirals and generals who command the military services.
Smaller, and more prestigious clubs would include both houses of the U.S. legislative assemblies: the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
It may be the U.S. military's longest unbroken tradition. When scandals occur, scapegoats are gathered from the lower ranks and offered for the sins of their superiors. Indeed, the term “scapegoat” originates from Mosaic law where a rabbi would select a goat to be brought to the tabernacle altar on the Day of Atonement each year. The rabbi would then confess the sins of all over the head of the goat, which is then sent into the forest — taking away all sins with it. Of course, the rabbis had one great advantage: The goat could not speak.
The problem of the speaking goat occurred a few weeks ago when England pleaded guilty to an array of charges. It was an obvious fiction. Few seriously believed that England had either the wherewithal or independence to engage in a criminal conspiracy to abuse prisoners. Yet, for a shorter sentence, she agreed to carry away the sins of the generals with her to prison.
At her sentencing hearing, however, England's former co-guard and boyfriend, Charles Graner, went disastrously off-script by stating the obvious: She was following his orders and those of military intelligence at the prison.
Bad goat; no deal.
Generals may be retired early or demoted in rare cases, but jail time is largely the province of the lower ranks. Indeed, it took a captured English major to seal the fate of Gen. Benedict Arnold in the first known crime of a U.S. general. (Fittingly, Major John Andre was hanged, and Arnold went on to serve as an English general.)
True to tradition, promotion rather than punishment has been the fate of most torture-tainted officers in the Abu Ghraib scandal:
*Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller has been implicated in the abuses at both Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. He actually ordered Abu Ghraib personnel to “soften up” the prisoners. He was made an assistant chief of staff.
*Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast had knowledge of the abuses in 2003 as the head of military intelligence in Iraq and was accused of pressuring the interrogators. She was given a new position as the commander at the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where U.S. and foreign troops are taught interrogation techniques.
*Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was the ranking officer in Iraq and approved many of the interrogation techniques now deemed abusive. He was returned to his command in Germany of the prestigious Army V Corps.
*The officer who oversaw interrogation at Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas Pappas, was given a light administrative punishment.
Col. Pappas has since been relieved of command. His long and presumably heretofore distinguished career (he wouldn't have gotten command of an MI brigade otherise) is all over but for the dead-end assignments and lack of promotion potential to follow.
Military history is rife with investigations that seemed star-struck when the potential culprits include generals and flag officers.
One of the most extensive military investigations occurred after the My Lai massacre in 1968, when as many as 500 Vietnamese civilians were murdered. One officer, Army Lt. William Calley, was court-martialed and convicted.
Soon after My Lai, the division commander, Maj. Gen. Samuel Koster, was given the prestigious command of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. All criminal charges against Koster alleging a coverup of the massacre were dropped. Koster ultimately retired after receiving only a letter of censure and a reduction of one star.
When the military is faced with such scandals, it has often used dubious internal investigations to hide incompetence. From the probe of Pearl Harbor to the capture of the USS Pueblo by North Korea in 1968, blame for acts of negligence by military planners have been shifted to individuals.
The investigation of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in World War II is a case in point. The cruiser was torpedoed after delivering parts of the atomic bombs used on Japan. Of the nearly 1,200 crewmembers, 900 initially survived in the water. But for several days, many were devoured by sharks as the Navy took no notice of the missing ship. When one officer sent two ships to search not long after the attack, the ships were called back by Commodore Norman Gillette, who was peeved they had been dispatched without his authority. (He was playing bridge at the time.) The men were left as shark bait; about 300 survived.
The Navy charged Capt. Charles McVay III, who acted heroically throughout the episode and retained the loyalty of the survivors. McVay was convicted, and Gillette later became a rear admiral.
After fighting unsuccessfully to clear his name, McVay used a Navy-issue 38-caliber to kill himself in 1968. In 2001, Congress exonerated him of any responsibility.
The Abu Ghraib investigation has followed in this unseemly, seamless tradition. Indeed, England is a lesson to all future scapegoats to remain on script. After all, nothing spoils a good old-fashioned military coverup more than a talking goat.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of the USA TODAY's board of contributors.