Thursday, May 05, 2005

Could Someone Please Explain? 

To piggyback on Riggsveda's perfect, ideogramic (if that isn't a word it should be; think graphic haiku) post on the rupture of Lyndie England's plea agreement -- could someone please explain to me how it is that Charles Graner is serving a ten year sentence after having been convicted of all counts in a court martial in which the maximum sentence he faced was 15 years, while Lyndie England "originally faced charges that could have sent her to jail for 38 years," which her plea agreement reduced to 11?

There is something admirable about the insistence in our military code of justice that a guilty plea must truly be a recognition of guilt and an eschewal of all defenses of one's illegal actions, although I can understand why England's lawyers tried to present mitigating evidence to get her a lesser sentence than Graner, or am I just crazy in thinking that he has a higher level of responsibility for what happened than Pvt. England?

The straight-up reporting by T.R. Reid in the Washington Post of why England's plea was set aside still leaves me scratching my head that even as lame an institution as our SCLM has shown so little interest in connecting the dots that link Abu Graib to Guantanomo to rendition to the highest levels of this administration.

When the president's name was Clinton, that used to happen within the first twenty-four hour news cycle, whether the dots were real or were actually connectable. Remember when the first charges surfaced that China had managed to penetrate our most closely held secrets regarding our missile technology by means of espionage, and in less than 24 hours, Tim Russert was comparing "the scandal" to the Rosenbergs and the loss of the secret of the atom bomb to the Russians, and linking it exclusively to the policies of the Clinton administration. It mainly turned out to be nonsense, of course, because the leaks had been shaped to present a false picture. But that should have been immediately evident, when one considers the fact that the hardest piece of evidence, a Chinese test of a missile that appeared to utilize American technology, had happened under the first Bush administration, a moment in history for which even the idiot press were invited to meet with every Sunday should have had a difficult time making Clinton responsible.

On the other hand, compare that with just a few of the dots, actually huge smears of mud, presented in this report of what happened at the England trial yesterday.

The surprise mistrial in the high-profile prosecution does not mean the reservist will go free. The Army can charge England, 22, again and even add counts.

But the judge's rejection of her guilty plea -- together with evidence at her sentencing hearing that senior Army commanders tolerated chaotic, dangerous and illegal conditions at the notorious prison outside Baghdad -- could undermine the Pentagon's assertion that the Abu Ghraib scandal was solely the fault of a small clique of enlisted soldiers.


Since her hearing began this week, the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, had expressed skepticism about her admission of guilt. His decision to stop the hearing followed testimony Wednesday morning from a former Abu Ghraib prison guard, Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr. A military jury in January rejected Graner's argument that he had been following orders and convicted him of abuse at the prison; he is now serving a 10-year sentence for his role in the scandal.

Graner, who in civilian life worked as corrections officer, said that the widely circulated photo of England holding a naked prisoner on a leash was not abuse, but rather a standard method guards use to control unruly prisoners.

One of the charges against England was that she "did conspire" with Graner to mistreat prisoners. If Graner and England believed that use of the leash was proper, the judge concluded, there was no crime.

There is no finding of guilt that can be accepted any longer," Pohl said.

England was an office clerk who had no training as a prison guard when the Army assigned her to Abu Ghraib. She told the judge earlier this week that she followed Graner's direction in the prison "because he was an MP [military police], he had the corrections officer background. He was older than me."


The judge initially expressed concern Monday when England told him she was following the direction of higher-ranking soldiers when she posed for the pictures. Pohl told her that this statement could jeopardize her guilty plea. England then conferred with her lawyers and changed her explanation, saying she knew at the time that what she did was wrong.

Pohl's doubts emerged again Tuesday, when a school system counselor from England's home town, Mineral County, W.Va., testified that she was always a "compliant personality" who preferred to "listen to authority figures."

The judge interrupted this testimony to comment that "you're creating some inference that she had trouble knowing right from wrong."

Other witnesses testifying on England's behalf Tuesday described Abu Ghraib as a putrid, dangerous, overcrowded facility where inmates and their U.S. guards were constantly sick, U.S. soldiers received minimal training and Army commanders failed to apply the Geneva Conventions.

A military doctor who worked at the prison, Col. David Auch, said: "I do not condone what [England] did, but we cannot ignore the lack of leadership her unit received. The chain of command as a whole failed her."

It is now up to the chain of command here at Fort Hood to determine England's legal fate. With no charges pending against her, she will be assigned to office duties, Fort Hood officials said. Her case essentially reverts to the beginning for a third time; England's charges had been thrown out once before when her case was moved from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Fort Hood.

Fort Hood's commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, as the "convening authority" of the Abu Ghraib courts-martial, will decide whether England should be charged again. "He could order another general court-martial. He could call for less stringent punishment. He could even drop the charges," said Capt. Cullen Sheppard, a lawyer in Fort Hood's judge advocate general's corps.

I think he'll have to charge her again, won't he? That's all part of the "a few bad apples" show, isn't it?

Of course, these soldiers are still responsible for what they did; we no longer accept "I was only following orders" as a defense against personal responsibility. I have fewer arguments with the way the military has handled this "scandal" than I have with the way the SCLM has persistently pretended that the Bush administration bears no responsibility for an outrage that has damaged this country at least as much as did what happened on 9/11, for which, interestingly enough, the Bush administration has also never been held to have any responsibility.

This administration has let the military be hung out to dry, when, in fact, it was not the military that came up with the idea that the Geneva Conventions are obsolete. Does anyone else wonder what the second rung of the command really thinks about Donald Rumsfeld?

Just a reminder that it was perfectly possible to "get it" way back in the Spring of 2004, here's what Sid Blumenthal was saying then.

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