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May 27, 2004
NYT: Abu Ghraib MPs Chronic Discipline Problems

I have repeatedly asserted that the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses resulted from a lack of discipline in the unit and the command, not from some sort of insidious conspiracy to humiliate Iraqis. Now the New York Times reports this morning that three of the seven soldiers involved in the abuse scandal had long histories of poor discipline, including Spec. Charles Graner, considered to be the ringleader:

In the six months leading up to the investigation of prison abuses at Abu Ghraib, three of the seven soldiers now charged with abuse repeatedly committed infractions and disobeyed orders but received only the mildest of punishments.

Their violations of military rules included entering buildings they had been ordered to avoid, continuing improper sexual relations with one another and being aggressive with detainees, according to records obtained by The New York Times. ... Among [Taguba's] concerns were flippant comments in logbooks, lack of standards for uniforms and soldiers who wrote poems and other sayings on their headgear. General Taguba also raised concerns about officers and senior noncommissioned officers who had been disciplined for drinking, taking nude pictures of soldiers without their knowledge and fraternizing with junior soldiers.

Graner refused a direct order seven times in one incident, and inviting his sergeant when he finally complied to "kiss his ass". Sgt. Javal Davis built a reputation for abusive behavior but his command failed to confront him, and as the Times reports, the warden, Captain Donald Reese, finally removed him from the prison but never initiated disciplinary action. Pvt. Lynndie England, who has made a name for herself as the Jessica Cutler of the Army Reserves, received three reprimands in four months and finally a demotion two months after that for refusing to stop having sexual relations with Graner:

She was instructed to sleep in her own bed and to address officers properly and was told that she could not be in Specialist Graner's building except "through the day and to watch movies." She was ordered into corrective training for 10 days. Private England refused to sign a counseling form.

In November she was reported missing for two days. She was found in Specialist Graner's cot. Again she was counseled for refusing direct orders and was told to sleep in her own bed. Captain Reese then ordered her, on Jan. 1, to forfeit $357 of her pay.

The next morning, Specialist Graner was seen leaving her room in Building 100. Sgt. First Class Larry Bennett told him to leave the area. Specialist Graner, he said, refused several times.

"He advised, `I should escort him, since I wasn't doing anything,' " Sergeant Bennett wrote. "I then advised him this was an order to leave the building. He finally left the building, and on the way out he told me, `You can kiss my [behind].' "

Nor was the lack of discipline and oversight confined to the overnight shift at Abu Ghraib. When General Geoffrey Miller toured Iraq in order to provide some consultancy on interrogations and intelligence work based on his command in Guantanamo, officers noticed that even at the Abu Ghraib commander's office, discipline was notably lacking:

Walking through Camp Cropper, a detention center, with Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, the brigade's commander, General Miller encountered two military police soldiers sitting at their desks with their feet up, not so much as budging as the two-star general walked by. "It was shocking," said the officer.

People laugh at military discipline, or worse, consider it some sort of fascistic spectacle which undermines democracy. Abu Ghraib, hopefully, will put that fantasy to rest. The military (regardless of nationality) controls great force and when applied in battle condition can hold the power of life and death, not only against the enemy but with anyone in its vicinity and with each other. In order to effectively control that power so that it is used properly and as intended by political and military command, military units must remained highly disciplined and trained to respond without hesitation.

When a "Casual Fridays" mentality is allowed to seep into fighting units, you inevitably see breakdowns such as this, with usually disastrous results. (See France, 1939-40, for one example of what happens when discipline breaks down.) Military command must, as Job 1, maintain proper discipline in order to keep people from perverting their authority into disgusting spectacles like we have seen at Abu Ghraib. Without a doubt, this embarrassment started with a lackadaisacal approach to order which seems to have started at the command level of Abu Ghraib, where offences were lightly punished, if at all, and the crispness of military decorum was discarded in favor of putting one's feet up and taking it easy.

The solution is to replace officers in Iraq with those who will instill proper discipline into their units to prevent soldiers from going out of control, for their own good as well as ours. We should also explore the possibility of replacing reservists with career units in Iraq for sensitive assignments like high-value prison duty to ensure that orders are properly executed.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 27, 2004 7:39 AM

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