The 22-year-old single mother from West Virginia
joins a group of nine reservists punished for mistreating Iraqis, some
of whom were stripped naked and forced to pose in mock sexual positions.
England appeared in photos, pointing at a prisoner’s penis and holding a
naked Iraqi by a leash.
While England’s punishment fits with George W.
Bush’s pledge to prosecute military personnel for wrongdoing in Iraq, a
larger question is whether low-ranking soldiers are becoming scapegoats
for the bloody fiasco that Bush created when he ordered the invasion in
defiance of international law. Pumped-up by Bush’s false claims linking
Iraq to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, U.S. soldiers charged into that
Arab country with revenge on their minds.
In a healthy democracy, the debate might be less
about imprisoning England and other “grunts” than whether Bush, Vice
President Dick Cheney and other war architects should be “frog-marched”
to the Hague for prosecution as war criminals.
The international community also has largely shied
away from the issue of Bush’s criminality, apparently because of the
unprecedented military might of the United States.
If the leaders of a less powerful nation had
invaded a country under false pretenses – touching off a war that left
tens of thousands of civilians dead – there surely would be demands for
war crimes prosecutions before the International Criminal Court at the
Hague. But not for Bush and his War Cabinet.
Ironically, Lynndie England’s sentencing at Fort
Hood, Texas, on Sept. 27 came as new evidence surfaced that the abuse of
Iraqi prisoners was not just the work of some deviant prison guards on
the night shift at Abu Ghraib. Army Capt. Ian Fishback and two sergeants
alleged that prisoners were subjected to similar treatment by the 82nd
Airborne at a camp near Fallujah and that senior officers knew. [See
Human Rights Watch report.]
Fishback blamed the pattern of abuse on the Bush
administration’s vague orders about when and how Geneva Convention
protections applied to detainees, a problem that has extended from the
prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a network of shadowy U.S.
prisons around the world.
“We did not set the conditions for our soldiers to
succeed,” said Fishback, 26, who has served tours in Afghanistan and
Iraq. “We failed to set clear standards, communicate those standards and
enforce those standards.” [NYT, Sept. 28, 2005]
And in another case of apparent deterioration of
discipline among U.S. troops in Iraq, a separate Army investigation
examined whether some U.S. troops traded gruesome photos of dead bodies
– with captions like “Cooked Iraqi” – for access to a pornographic Web
site specializing in sexual images of wives and girlfriends. [NYT, Sept.
For his part,
Bush has condemned the misconduct of Lynndie England and her cohorts.
publication of the Abu Ghraib photos in 2004, Bush said he “shared a
deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were
treated.” Bush added that “their treatment does not reflect the nature
of the American people.”
But the cavalier treatment toward Iraqi lives can
be traced back to the very start of the war. Determined to invade Iraq,
Bush brushed aside international objections, prevented the completion of
a United Nations search for alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
and unleashed his “shock and awe” bombing campaign on March 19, 2003.
Bush and his high command authorized the bombing of
one Baghdad restaurant – where civilians were having dinner – because of
shaky intelligence that Saddam Hussein might be eating there, too. The
logic apparently was that the goal of killing Hussein justified the
slaughter of the innocent restaurant clientele.
As it turned out, Hussein was not there, but
the attack killed 14 civilians, including seven
children. One mother collapsed when rescue workers pulled the severed
head of her daughter out of the rubble.
In another U.S. bombing raid, Saad Abbas, 34, was
wounded, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror.
The bombing had killed his three daughters – Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and
Safia, 5 – who had been the center of his life.
“It wasn’t just ordinary love,” his wife said. “He
was crazy about them. It wasn’t like other fathers.” [NYT, April 14,
The horror of the war was captured, too, in the
fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a U.S.
missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali’s father, Ali’s pregnant mother and
his siblings were all killed.
As he was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming
a symbol of U.S. compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, Ali said he
would rather die than live without his hands.
The slaughter extended to the battlefield where the
outmatched Iraqi army sometimes fought heroically though hopelessly
against the technologically superior U.S. forces. Christian Science
Monitor reporter Ann Scott Tyson interviewed U.S. troops with the 3rd
Infantry Division who were deeply troubled by their task of mowing down
Iraqi soldiers who kept fighting even in suicidal situations.
“For lack of a better word, I felt almost guilty
about the massacre,” one soldier said privately. “We wasted a lot of
people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent. It takes away some
of the pride. We won, but at what cost?”
Commenting upon the annihilation of Iraqi forces in
these one-sided battles, Lt. Col. Woody Radcliffe said, “We didn’t want
to do this. Even a brain-dead moron can understand we are so vastly
superior militarily that there is no hope. You would think they would
see that and give up.”
In one battle around Najaf, U.S. commanders ordered
air strikes to kill the Iraqis en masse rather than have U.S. soldiers
continue to kill them one by one.
“There were waves and waves of people coming at
(the U.S. troops) with AK-47s, out of this factory, and (the U.S.
troops) were killing everyone,” Radcliffe said. “The commander called
and said, ‘This is not right. This is insane. Let’s hit the factory with
close air support and take them out all at once.’” [Christian Science
Monitor, April 11, 2003]
Three weeks into the invasion,
Hussein’s government collapsed, but Bush’s occupation plan left U.S.
forces stretched thin as they tried to establish order.
Sometimes, jittery U.S. soldiers
opened fire on demonstrations, inflicting civilian casualties and
embittering the population. In Fallujah, some 17 Iraqis were gunned down
in demonstrations after U.S. soldiers claimed
they had been fired upon. Fallujah soon became a center of anti-American
As the Iraqi insurgency began to spread – and
Americans began dying in larger numbers – military intelligence officers
encouraged prison guards to soften up captured Iraqis by putting them in
stress positions for long periods of time, denying sleep and subjecting
them to extremes of hot and cold.
Some of the poorly trained prison personnel – like
those on Lynndie England’s night shift at Abu Ghraib – added some of
their own bizarre ideas for humiliating captured Iraqis. But even some
of those strange techniques, such as adorning Iraqi men with women’s
underwear, could be traced to practices used elsewhere.
The mistreatment of detainees further fueled the
insurgency and spread anti-Americanism across the Middle East and around
Back in Washington, the Bush administration claimed
that the prisoner abuses were the work of a few “bad apples” who would
be singled out for punishment. Looked at differently, however, Bush
opened U.S. soldiers to a kind of double jeopardy when he ordered the
Not only did the soldiers risk their lives in
combat, but they faced added legal risks in trying to execute a war in
defiance of the UN Charter, which prohibits one country from attacking
another without the approval of the UN Security Council.
The evidence is now clear, too, that Bush rushed
the nation to war without UN sanction, in part, because his
rationalizations about WMD and Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda were falling
apart, even as he was determined to make the war happen.
As British spy chief Richard Dearlove observed in
the so-called Downing Street Memo in July 2002, “Bush wanted to remove
Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of
terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed
around the policy.”
The memo added, “The case was thin. Saddam was not
threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of
Libya, North Korea or Iran.”
Still, the Bush administration was confident that
it could whip the U.S. news media and the American people into a war
To stir up fears about nuclear bombs falling into
the hands of terrorists, the administration leaked to the New York Times
a story about Iraq buying aluminum tubes for making nuclear weapons. But
U.S. nuclear experts soon concluded that the tubes actually were for
Later in 2002, administration officials insisted
that they knew where Iraq’s WMD stockpiles were. But UN inspectors, who
were readmitted by Hussein as part of Iraq’s agreement to comply with
international weapons restrictions, were finding nothing at the
In January 2003, Bush’s predicament got so
desperate that his State of the Union speechwriters dug down to the
bottom of the barrel to pull out an already discredited claim about Iraq
seeking enriched uranium in Africa.
Then, in a Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the UN Security
Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell played up assertions from a
dubious source codenamed “Curveball” about Iraq’s supposed mobile WMD
labs. Powell also read a doctored intercept between two Iraqi officials
that made an innocent conversation sound sinister. [For details, see
Widening Credibility Gap.”]
Instead of giving the UN inspectors more time to
complete their search for Iraqi WMD, Bush cut short the mission, forcing
them to leave Iraq so the invasion could proceed.
Several months later, as Bush faced new questions
about his war justifications, the president started a new lie, claiming
that Hussein had never let the UN inspectors in.
On July 14, 2003, Bush
said about Hussein, “we gave him
a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And,
therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from
In the following months, Bush repeated this claim
in slightly varied forms. On Jan. 27, 2004, Bush said, “We went to the
United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution – 1441 –
unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy
your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such
programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not
let us in.”
Though the U.S. national press corps had witnessed
the UN inspections of Iraq and certainly knew that Bush’s historical
revisionism was false, American reporters failed, repeatedly, to
challenge Bush’s account.
Even ABC’s veteran newsman Ted Koppel fell for the
administration’s spin, using it to explain why he – Koppel – thought the
invasion was justified.
“It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein,
whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the
Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he
had to do was say, ‘All right, UN, come on in, check it out,” Koppel
said in an interview with Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”
As Koppel obviously was aware, Hussein indeed had
told the UN to “come on in, check it out,” but even prominent
journalists were ready to put on blinders for Bush. [For details, see
Bush, With the Candlestick …”]
In 2004, Fallujah was back in
the news after Iraqi insurgents killed four American security
contractors and a mob mutilated the bodies. Bush ordered Marines to
“pacify” the city of 300,000 people.
The U.S. assault on Fallujah
transformed one soccer field into a mass grave for hundreds of Iraqis –
many of them civilians – killed when U.S. forces bombarded the
rebellious city with 500-pound bombs and raked its streets with cannon
and machine-gun fire. According to some accounts, more than 800 citizens
of Fallujah died in the assault and 60,000 fled as refugees.
In attacking Fallujah and in
other counterinsurgency operations, the Bush administration again has
resorted to measures that some critics argue amount to war crimes. These
tactics include administering collective punishment against the civilian
population in Fallujah, rounding up thousands of young Iraqi men on the
flimsiest of suspicions and holding prisoners incommunicado without
charges and subjecting some detainees to physical mistreatment.
Even Bush’s boast that he closed
Hussein’s torture chambers and “rape rooms” has lost its moral clarity.
A 53-page classified Army
report, written by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, revealed that some of
those abuses resumed as U.S. intelligence officers urged Abu Ghraib’s
military police to break down Iraqis before interrogation.
The report said the abuses,
occurring from October to December 2003, included use of a chemical
light or broomstick to sexually assault one Iraqi. Witnesses also told
Army investigators that prisoners were beaten and threatened with rape,
electrocution and dog attacks. At least one Iraqi died during
“Numerous incidents of sadistic,
blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees,”
said Taguba’s report. [See
The New Yorker's
May 10, 2004, issue.]
One victim who faced torture at Abu Ghraib under both Saddam Hussein’s
regime and the U.S. occupation said the physical abuse from Hussein's
guards was preferable to the sexual humiliation employed by the
Dhia al-Shweiri told the Associated Press that the
Americans were trying “to break our pride.” [USA Today, May 3, 2004]
Yet, as the U.S. military death toll heads toward
2,000 and Iraqis die in far greater numbers, the U.S. news media
continues to avert its gaze from what should be a central question:
Should senior Bush administration officials most responsible for this
bloody debacle join Lynndie England in the dock of accountability?