As an American citizen, I’m ashamed of the atrocities committed by Americans in Iraq. As a former professional soldier, I’m appalled not only by what has happened in the prisons there, but also by our military leadership. From the very top of the Pentagon down to the 320th Military Police Battalion, the brass have spent months covering up obscene behavior while placing the sole blame on Joe and Jill Grunt.
The damage to our country and our just war on terrorism is already devastating. And these war crimes not only diminish the sacrifices of our gallant soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, they place the troops at even greater risk. But I’m certain these abhorrent acts wouldn’t have occurred had the right kind of leadership been exercised by the chain of command.
In 1951 in Korea, I was told by my commanding officer to kill four POWs and refused his direct order. I well remembered the Nazi generals’ sorry rationale for their despicable conduct: “We were just following orders.” I would get booted out of the Army before I went that route.
In 1965 in Vietnam, I saw a very connected intelligence captain torturing a POW with a field-telephone wire attached to his testicles and decided my personal belief system outweighed his father’s four stars. When I told him I’d shoot him if he didn’t cease and desist, the atrocity came to a screeching halt.
On both occasions, I knew I had the moral right. I’d been taught from the first day I put on a U.S. Army uniform that American soldiers don’t follow unlawful orders and that it was my duty to stop or report an illegal act. I also believed strongly that when dealing with POWs, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
The vast majority of our regular soldiers today are likewise well-trained, well-disciplined and have similar values. And they’ve conducted themselves during the occupation of Iraq in a manner that aptly reflects what America is all about.
But, unfortunately, this is not always the case with many Army Reserve and National Guard units that have been deployed overseas since 9-11. In fact, I’ve worn out several drums beating the readiness issue during face-to-face meetings with the top brass. As far back as 1989, I warned Secretary of the Army Mike Stone about the generally sad shape of our Reserve and Guard components. But while he listened up, little was done to correct the systemic problems.
And now, because Mr. Rumsfeld and too many of his generals are into a fast-fix mode, the Pentagon has been dispatching Reserve and Guard units to combat zones even when they aren’t good to go. For example, I know of two enhanced infantry brigades that were rated as not combat-ready by Training Center commanders, but were still sent to Iraq because boots were needed on the ground.
Retired Master Sgt. William Lawson, who brought the atrocity story to SFTT.org, says the 800th Military Police Brigade is a prime example: “My nephew Chip, who’s been charged with war crimes, wasn’t trained to be a prison guard. He was a part-time soldier marginally trained for even conventional military police work. But Chip was such a good soldier that he was selected to escort Gen. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Staff, when Chip was guarding the vice president right after 9-11. Myers gave him both great reviews and his personal coin.”
“The bedrock truth about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison is that they were so easily preventable,” adds SFTT (Soldiers For The Truth) Vice President Roger Charles, who researched this story for CBS News. “But that prevention required a recognition that the top people in the 800th were ill-prepared, incompetent and uncaring. The evidence clearly shows that the Department of the Army mafia was more concerned about protecting the image of the brigade commanding general, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, than holding her and her officers accountable for the terrible situation, which they allowed to fester for months.”
Speaking of Karpinski, she’s received only a mild slap on the wrist as the brass were circling the wagons. Not a good sign that our country’s commanders intend to own up to their respective roles in this catastrophic breach of human rights, which will have consequences we all will have to pay for many years to come.