Thursday, December 10, 2009
I wanted to address the comments brought up in class after we viewed the documentary on Abu Ghraib. A couple students mentioned that “war changes everything” was not a valid response to the accusations against the soldiers in the documentary. I do not believe that their actions are excusable nor will I argue that their charges should be dropped in this post. I would, however, like to point out how different war is from ordinary life. Having a number of people in my family serving in the armed forces, I have come to understand how difficult the lives of soldiers are. My cousin, in particular, served at a FOB (Forward Operating Base) in the heart of Baghdad. The base was about the size of two football fields side by side. If anyone left the FOB, they ran the risk of getting shot at or blown up. He was stationed in a hostile country for twelve months. When he was on patrol duty in the streets, he worked shifts that lasted anywhere between twelve and fifteen hours. Most of the time he was only left with sticks of beef jerky to satisfy his hunger. After my cousin spent his first tour on the base, he had to serve a second tour in a location out of the city. His situation didn’t improve much. He was given the responsibility of guarding convoys in and out of Baghdad. One of the toughest challenges he faced was avoiding the IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device) used to limit the military’s mobility. Unfortunately, he rode in a vehicle at the front of the pack. A disadvantage of being in this position was running over these explosives, which was a frequent occurrence. In six months he escorted over ninety convoys and came back with visions of other soldiers getting their legs blown off by these devices or having their bodies completely shredded. These images, along with the possibility that you could get blown up at any minute, eventually takes its toll on the mind. It creates pressure and a tremendous amount of stress. The soldiers in the video were in similar conditions. One of the soldiers mentioned a mortar coming through the roof and landing at his feet. Technically, this soldier should now be either in a wheel chair or in the ground. I imagine that he didn’t take the situation very lightly. Not only did the soldiers have people shooting at them from outside, they also had to deal with attacks from within the base. Although they seemed to have the situation under control, there was an instance when one of the prisoners came into possession of a firearm and shot one of the patrolling soldiers. The soldiers stationed at Abu Ghraib were forced to work and live in an extremely unsafe environment. Like my cousin, they were surrounded with life threatening situations and horrific images of their fellow soldiers getting maimed and killed. It is likely that these living conditions would have a severe effect on their minds. In addition, a number of the people who were criticized for their behavior were serving as MP (Military Police). Generally, soldiers classified as MP were trained to direct traffic and handle domestic disputes. These soldiers were young, inexperienced, and not trained to carry out the job they were assigned at the prison. The military originally argued that they were “rogue” soldiers and that they were acting on their own, but further investigation showed that the soldiers charged were given orders from their superiors. There was intentional policy concerning how the prisoners should be treated and the orders came from commanding officers. In the army, if you do not follow the orders of your superiors, you run the risk of getting you and your fellow soldiers killed. Soldiers who do not follow commands are often thrown out of the military or even thrown in prison. There was a failure of command at Abu Ghraib. The superior officers gave the soldiers commands, but they were not appropriate for the prison’s management. Yes, by their actions the soldiers participated in cruel and unusual activities, but we can only place so much of the blame on them. The real investigation should have been conducted against their superior officers and the government agencies involved in the incident. The pressure and stress associated with their job also played a significant role in the treatment of the prisoners. Once again, this does not give the soldiers any excuse for what they did, but it is important to understand the significance of the situation and the relationship dynamics between them and their superiors.