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What the Bush administration did - authorizing the systematic and evil torture of "enemy combatants" for no discernible reason - is horrifying. It's disgusting. And with the release of the memos that I documented a while ago,, it's one of those days where you're embarrassed to be an American, which is something I've felt ever since jingoism became the order of the day after 9/11.

I feel that the people that authorized this - to the suits at the CIA, up through the chain, to Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, up to Cheney and Bush themselves, should be tried, convicted and executed for war crimes (in the cases of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, in a perfect world, this would be one of many charges). I feel they should hang like the criminals they are for completely ignoring the principles this country signed up for with the Geneva and Hague Conventions, and bullying the essences of democracy and international law in order to cover up their initial crimes of war.

Most normal, rational people can agree that today is both a great day for America, and a humbling one; only the most irrational, selfish and disgusting people can justify this kind of treatment, even if it's in the "best interests of the country".

With that said, I cannot justify jailing lower level people for this, that is, the people actually performing the acts in question.

Here's the thing: at it's heart, the CIA is a militaristic organization. That involves orders coming from high above, the people below them executing those orders, and it flows down the chain of command. These orders are often matters of life and death, so therefore, there's often no room or time for question; if you sit there and go "is this really a goo--" there are times when you won't get that far. No, the CIA is not, say, a front-line military organization like the Army or Navy, but the nature of the work - and often the danger - are similar.

Therefore, I can't really fault the guys in the trenches, so to speak, for doing what they were told to do. It's very easy for a civilian to say "THEY SHOULD HAVE DISOBEYED THEIR ORDERS", but no, that's not always an option. This is one of the reasons I can't justify this fervour that people have for prosecuting Nazi soldiers sixty-four years after the end of World War II; if those men didn't follow their orders, not only would they have died, there would have been ten people behind them, trying to survive. The CIA and Army are the same way; those people wouldn't have died, but they would have been sent to jail, possibly lost their families, and become outcasts, and if you think that last part isn't a big deal, when I was in the service, I received, and meted out when I became a supervisor, corporal punishment (that is, beating the shit out of a subordinate that didn't perform). Would I have disobeyed those orders? I'd like to say I would, but that's easy to say now that I've been a civilian for five years. In that situation, I think I would have... but only after awhile. And it's entirely possible that I would have gotten caught up in the moment, as embarrassing as that is to say.

Furthermore, these organizations, to operate, rely on obedience to work. That's a grave responsibility, to be in charge of an organization that controls - and can suffer - life or death. The moment one person dissents, more can dissent behind him. If you have that many people questioning one facet of their orders, the rest of them can't be far behind, and before you know it, you've lost all discipline within the unit/organization. That organization can't function, and the damage to that organization can be far-reaching and take years or decades to fix. "Starting over", as Mr. Jacques suggested (I'm assuming he wasn't totally serious), isn't an option, especially with an organization that is, at it's heart, intended to protect the United States. Those core values have been compromised, and need to be brought back, but to invite the level of dissent that is being talked about could potentially send many more people to their deaths, especially when you've got caretakers such as Dick Cheney giving orders. I'm sure Valerie Plame can attest to that.

To say to punish the grunts is reactionary and just aches for justice when there really isn't any to be had. These memos have proven one thing to me: the actions of the people at Abu Ghraib were ordered from the top, and those kids that did it - especially the "face" of the whole thing, Lynndie England, who was literally too stupid to know what was going on around her - became scapegoats for the press and populist rage when it blew up. Think back to that time; who are most of you reading this more upset with, thinking back: people like England, or the people that covered it up, tried to play the "game", and ultimately left those soldiers to fend for themselves?

I've had a couple people to this point mention Nuremberg as the standard for this line of thinking, that everyone involved should be punished. This is a flawed argument in my estimation. For one, I don't believe the Nuremberg trials should be the gold standard of anything; they, to me, are a textbook example of victor's justice, and were little more than show trials who's results were decided the moment Germany surrendered. That, however, is irrelevant to the main point of this: the people that hung at Nuremberg were all, for the most part, decision makers; they were the people that could have at least started a wave of dissent that could have had a negative effect on Hitler. Would they have died for their actions? Yes, but that's the problem with being a leader; sometimes, to properly lead, you have to be a martyr. I don't expect that of some dumb grunt who's either trying to feed his family, or - worse - has been conscripted, and doesn't want to be shot as a deserter.

With all of this stated, I never did say that the people in this position were sterling human beings; I have personal experience that trumps that viewpoint, and then some. In some cases, all the government did was give the monkeys guns. Most people I've known in the position of power over helpless captives in a military environment have been totally unqualified for that kind of power, and often abused it, to their own delight, in a spectacle that would make Philip Zimbardo cringe. I never said that these people weren't animals; too often, they are. I just don't believe in putting the animals down, theoretically speaking.

To conclude, I have to agree with President Obama that this isn't a time for retribution; to seek that, at this point, would be foolhardy, waste valuable resources, and take our minds off of the real goal of this, to make sure it NEVER happens again. We cannot change the past, and to attempt to is akin to just marching with pitchforks and torches, a combination that has never led to good results. And while men like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales and Jay Bybee should meet the gallows for their crimes, I can't justify the same treatment - or even anything remotely similar - for people who's training and orders specifically state that they not know better.

If it makes anyone feel better, chances are good the more humane ones among them will live with these scars for the rest of their lives. I believe in karma, and that's a jail without bars, in my estimation.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 17th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)

As I observed in a previous comment, though I think that Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld and company ought to be brought up on charges, I doubt that Obama's Justice Department has the resources to do so at this point in time, and it doesn't help that the U.S. still doesn't observe the existence of the International Criminal Court at the Hague. (This may change, but not yet.) IMO, ideally, people would be tried at every level, high or low, in order to completely root out and destroy all traces of malfeasance. The world isn't ideal, though, so it'd likely be most efficient to go after the folks in charge.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )