Editor, Daily Planet:
Wow! O’Malley clearly writes with an ignorance of what’s happening on the ground in Iraq (“Mercenaries Amok in Iraq,” Daily Planet, May 4-6). It’s much easier to brand all security contractors as “evil” mercenaries than to bother looking at the reality.
First, O’Malley has no understanding of the world of international security firms, most of which offer purely protection to executives, experts, and dignitaries in dangerous parts of the world. They are hardly “evil embodied.” As in all industries, there are good and bad companies and individuals.
Second, she clearly has little regard for people’s lives. My husband, for one, was a kind, gentle, loving father, husband, son and friend. He was a highly accomplished and talented man whom many people loved. He was part of “Operation Safe Haven” when he was in the British Royal Marines, and helped create a safe place for Iraqi Kurds returning home after the first Gulf War. When he returned to Iraq this year as a private security specialist, providing protection to an engineer who was repairing a power plant in Mosul, he was ambushed, shot and killed by a group of masked hitmen. Oddly, the same Kurds, to whom he had provided protection many years earlier, danced in the street around his body and the body of his colleague. My husband did manage to save the engineer and two of his other colleagues before he died.
Things are not black and white. O’Malley’s comments are irresponsible. These are real people, with families and homes, and many of them just trying to protect lives. Her words serve only to deepen divisions and hatred.
Editors, Daily Planet:
First year psychology students learn of two famous experiments. One was conducted to determine the level of obedience to authority figures ( “technicians” and “scientists” in white lab coats) who had “normal” male subjects deliver (fake) electric shocks to other subjects who answered questions incorrectly. Each subsequent incorrect answer required a stronger shock. Most subjects, with and without encouragement, continued shocking the other subjects even after the voltage levels indicated danger. Such is the nature of hierarchical conditioning; the strictest supervision by “responsible” authorities can’t prevent inhumane behavior if the goals of those authorities are dubious.
The other was the prison/prisoner experiment, where half a group of “normal” young men were made guards while the other half were made prisoners. Within days, the guards—with no supervision and making up their own regulations—were systematically brutalizing and humiliating their prisoners, giving them tasks impossible to complete properly and then punishing them for their failures. Such is the nature of all arbitrary authority; the capricious exercise of power creates psychopaths. That experiment had to be stopped even before half of the allotted time had expired.
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor barely skims the surface of the smarmy underbelly of American penology when he compares the Abu Ghraib photos with the chilling videotaped punishments meted out to some defenseless wards of the California Youth Authority (“Representing the America That We Know,” Daily Planet, May 7-10). Systematic abuse, humiliation, and degradation of inmates in every level of incarceration in this country have been abundantly documented in the years since the Attica uprising.
All the pro-occupation loudmouths are dismissing the documented abuse, humiliation, and degradation of Iraqi POWs as both unrepresentative and justified. It’s only a few bad apples; it’s a response to being under fire; it’s a response to Iraqis torturing Americans. None of them seem to know about those two experiments. The people outraged by the abuse of the Iraqi POWs see the problem as possibly due to a breakdown of the proper chain of command. Who and where were the officers who never briefed the troops in charge of Abu Ghraib on the Geneva Conventions? None of them seem to know about those two experiments either.
When cops, or soldiers, or prison guards exceed the acceptable and expected level of bullying and veer off into brutality that can no longer be hidden or easily dismissed, reactionaries always use the excuse of the existence of “rogue” elements inside the particular institution; the institutions themselves never come into question. But the capricious exercise of power over others is built into hierarchical institutions, and it is to be expected that some people in those institutions will revel in its use. On the other hand, strong hierarchical supervision cannot possibly prevent the abuse of prisoners—just look at Pelican Bay, or Corcoran, or CYA. The institutionalization of power and punishment breeds both banal and wanton cruelty and violence; only by abolishing those institutions can we achieve dignity and freedom.
CHAIN OF COMMAND
Editors, Daily Planet:
It is an illusion and an injustice to overlook how easy it is for young military personnel to perform immoral and abusive treatment upon the peoples they become occupiers of. Basically they are naïve, aggressive, and egoist soldiers brainwashed to primarily “kill the enemy.”
I learned from being in World War II and an astute observer of the Korean, Vietnam, and Middle East wars that young military personnel are dangerous when not on a tether, and even more so when their commanders fuel their heads with images of invincibility and patriotic self righteousness, “God is on our side,” and the fearful homage, “Shoot everything that moves.” The military commanders all the way to the commander in chief should know, but they do not, all about the nature of the forces they are unleashing and the consequences for not adequately curtailing their wild side; as if they ever really care, as long as the “wild side” is directed against “the enemy.”
To immediately try to save face by court marshaling individual soldiers, as the superior ranks are prone to do, is an obscene injustice; the total military institution is corrupt, immoral, and inept. The fundamentalist attitudes of the Department of Defense and the commander in chief are the bedrock of the mayhem the U.S. has dumped in the Middle East. I would like to say “not in my name,” but we are all tarred with the same stinky brush that Bush and Rumsfeld, and the rest of the military-industrial-complex wield. General Eisenhower was right.