Monday, October 03, 2005


Private Lynndie England got three years in prison for abusing Abu Ghraib detainees; higher ups remain unprosecuted

“This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.” Capt. Ian Fishback, 82nd Airborne Division.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, inexplicably let New York Times reporter Judith Miller spend 85 days in jail before releasing her from her promise of confidentiality last week, allowing her to secure her release by testifying before the grand jury investigating CIA agent Valerie Plame’s outing by high White House officials. What kind of honor does a man have who would break the law, leak the name of a covert CIA agent to a reporter, then let her spend almost three months in jail rather than release her from her promise? Unfortunately, in the rarified atmosphere of the upper echelons of the Bush Administration, that kind of pathetic behavior is par for the course.

With the conviction and prison sentence handed down to Private Lynndie England for her part in abusing Abu Ghraib detainees, many Americans might be tempted to think that the prisoner abuse scandals were isolated incidents involving low level soldiers- and that they are now behind us. Not so. Greg Mitchell from Editor and Publisher reports that on September 29th, a New York Federal judge ruled on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that more Abu Ghraib photos must be released “over government claims that they could damage America's image. Last year a Republican senator conceded that the photos and videos contained scenes of "rape and murder" and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that they included acts that were "blatantly sadistic."”

Pornographic website posts grisly photos from American soldiers in Iraq

But just when we think we have reached the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the desecration of America’s soul, it gets worse: recent reports have revealed a pornographic website, nowthatsf***, posted numerous grisly photos of burned and dismembered Iraqis sent by American soldiers stationed in Iraq. The BBC News, World Edition, reported on 9/29/05:

“The website on which the controversial images appear was originally set up for users to trade pornographic pictures of their wives and girlfriends. ..., the owner of the site said he had offered soldiers free access if they could prove they were members of the military.

Chris Wilson said some sent in pictures of Baghdad traffic signs or of aspects of their life abroad, others sent in pictures of corpses and dismembered bodies.... "This is directly from them [the soldiers]. They can take the digital cameras and take a picture and send it to me, and that's the most raw you can get it.”

George Zornick reported in The Nation that: “The website has become a stomach-churning showcase for the pornography of war--close-up shots of Iraqi insurgents and civilians with heads blown off, or with intestines spilling from open wounds. Sometimes photographs of mangled body parts are displayed: Part of the game is for users to guess what appendage or organ is on display.”

Frustrated Army Captain writes Senators about detainee abuse

Thankfully, not every American exposed to the war has lost all pretense of adhering to the laws of war or respect for basic human dignity. Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne sent the following letter to Senator John McCain on September 16, 2005:

Dear Senator McCain:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.

That is in the past and there is nothing we can do about it now. But, we can learn from our mistakes and ensure that this does not happen again. Take a major step in that direction; eliminate the confusion. My approach for clarification provides clear evidence that confusion over standards was a major contributor to the prisoner abuse. We owe our soldiers better than this. Give them a clear standard that is in accordance with the bedrock principles of our nation.

Some do not see the need for this work. Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Once again, I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.

With the Utmost Respect,
-- Capt. Ian Fishback
1st Battalion,
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
82nd Airborne Division,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina


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