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07/15/06
On Moral Authority and the Military
Filed under: Politics and Economics
Posted by: site admin @ 6:46 pm

Irrespective of any legal decisions made regarding the level responsibility for the Abu Ghraib scandals, everyone in every chain of command involved with that prison should be discharged dishonorably. While this might seem drastic to some, the reasoning here is simple:

First, even in civilian prisons, multiple studies show that the extreme imbalance of power corrupts rapidly and deeply1.

In addition, rape and torture have been part of war since war began. It can’t possibly come as a surprise to the military brass that left to their own devices, some soldiers will cross the line. Further, anyone in any leadership position should understand the phenomenon of group evil - humans tend to follow whatever path is set - even if it’s a bad one. It takes intense courage to object to any stated course of action or attitude. This is particularly true in an environment where there is an extreme imbalance of power - like a prison. Given these known tendencies in human nature, everyone in the military hierarchy should be well aware of the dangers of running a prison.

From a PsyOps point of view, the top brass of the military should have been aware of public relations side of war. We’ve known since Vietnam that war against non state actors will be a guerilla war and cannot be won without winning the “hearts and minds” campaign. They should also know the PR skill of al Qaeda. al Qaeda had already made effective use of both TV and the Internet long before the war in Iraq started. And even if they hadn’t, a simple exercise in examining human nature could easily reveal that the opponent doesn’t have to “fight fair” and won’t - the smart opponent is the one who defines the battle to their advantage.

Being aware of the dangers of human behavior, and the danger of losing the “hearts and minds” part of a military campaign, the brass should have been extremely alert to the downside of military misbehavior. And they should have been prepared with means to prevent it, discover it, and deal with it immediately - both judicially and publicly.

They were not. And because they were not, they threw away the moral high ground. This kind of absolute failure to simply be prepared would result in the responsible officers being drummed out of the military if the high ground had been physical instead of psychological.

No matter what Muslim world might have believed about us before Abu Ghraib, the failure of military command at every level in this incident gave an opening to the enemy to change those beliefs for the worse in ways we still don’t understand. It was inexcusable. And that assuming that there was no policy advocating torture.

While it does appear that the situation has improved some (the rape case against the 502nd Infantry Regiment took less than 2 months to surface), this doesn’t change the fact of what happened.

Further, all we’ve seen from those at the top is a retreat to legalities. Rather than look at the moral cost of these errors, a fierce internal loyalty has caused those at the top to circle the wagons. When doctors find cancer, they cut it out - ALL OF IT. The body as a whole is more important than any one part of it.

Apparently the President doesn’t understand that.

NOTES:
1. A full description of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment (with references to Abu Ghraib) can be found here.

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