We had no support, no training whatsoever, and I kept asking my chain of command for certain things, rules and regulations, and it just wasn’t happening. — Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick

So says one of the seven military officers recommended for disciplinary action, in a telephone interview with 60 Minutes II. Frederick is facing courtmartial, being charged with “maltreatment, assault and indecent acts, striking inmates, and forcing inmates to strike one another.” Authorities are saying that twenty inmates at Abu Ghraib suffered at the hands of Frederick and others.

The images have been all over the news–a prisoner, hooded, standing on a box with wires attached to his palms; a pile of naked, hooded bodies. A female soldier, standing in front of another naked, hooded prisoner, pointing and laughing. Frederick himself, grinning and sitting on a prisoner. All of it, being seen only because these criminals decided to share their fun with the wrong person, a soldier who told his superiors, “There are some things going on here that I can’t live with.”

Frederick’s defense seems more than a little disingenuous. It’s one thing to ask for “rules and regulations,” but it’s another thing for a soldier to plead ignorance of the Geneva Conventions.

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

  • (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
  • (b) taking of hostages;
  • (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
  • (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Apologists are already noting that these acts were undertaken by a tiny minority, that these are the “actions of the few,” in the words of Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. To which there are two appropriate responses: 1. You mean “few that we’ve caught,” and 2. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about seven or 7,000. In terms of damage done to whatever’s left of American credibility in the region, in terms of propaganda value for our opposition, in terms of eventual blowback, it doesn’t matter at all.

We went into Iraq to stop things like this from happening and here they are happening under our tutelage. We will be paid back for this. These people at some point will be let out. Their families, their friends are going to know. If we don’t tell this story, these kinds of things will continue, and we’ll end up getting paid back 100 or 1,000 times over. — Marine Lieutenant Colonel Bill Cown (Ret.)

The situation is summed up nicely by–surprise!–Matt Drudge, who noted, in his report on the torture, “The Baghdad prison scandal is disturbingly reminiscent of how the Americans’ cruel treatment of prisoners was revealed at Camp X-Ray in Cuba following the Afghanistan conflict … With the reasons for invading Iraq under increasing scrutiny, this will cause further damage to America’s attempts to persuade the rest of the world it was in the right.”

In other words, we’ve proven our critics right, yet again. Human rights groups howled about ‘indefinite detainees’ at Guantanamo, with good reason. Bin Laden predicted the United States would invade an oil-rich Middle Eastern country, and it did. Anti-war cynics predicted Geneva Conventions violations, and it turns out they were right too. What makes me angriest is that all of this tars every single one of us with the same brush. We don’t get to make this about administrations, or political ideologies, or party lines–the hatred sparked by each wrong turn, each broken law, each atrocity, will affect each of us. Each of our children. Each of their children. Colossal mistakes are being made in the name of freedom and democracy, and the aftershocks will be felt for generations–because to undo this damage would require historic levels of effort, goodwill, and aid, from a nation that has always been, at best, weak-willed about cleaning up its messes.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. — Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861