Monday, September 26, 2005

Lynndie England found guilty

Breaking news:

Lynndie England, one of the figures at the center of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, has been found guilty:

Presented with starkly different portrayals of the young soldier notorious for her grinning photos with naked Iraqi detainees, a jury of Army officers convicted Pfc. Lynndie R. England today of mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

The verdict was reached after barely two hours of deliberation in a military court in Fort Hood, Tex., and it resolved the final case against the nine enlisted soldiers involved in the prisoner abuse, which created an international scandal when it came to light last year. Military leaders and officials in the Bush administration have acknowledged that the prisoner mistreatment has undermined America's credibility in the Middle East, exposing grave breakdowns in the unit guarding Abu Ghraib.

Private England, 22, was found guilty of six of the seven counts against her, including four counts of mistreatment, one for conspiracy and one for indecency, and she faces up to 10 years in a military prison. The sentence is to be decided by the jurors on Tuesday. She was acquitted on another conspiracy charge.

Here's what I wrote back in May, after England's first trial was thrown out by a military judge who rejected her guilty plea (read the post for the full analysis):

I have no doubt that what England did was wrong. Those horrendous pictures that for a time were all over the media (before the short-sighted media and their memory-deficient consumers grew tired of the whole sordid affair) are irrefutable evidence of the abuse at Abu Ghraib. And England, like Graner, should be punished. But isn't it obvious what's going on? They're scapegoats. Graner was surely following orders and may or may deserve the severe punishment he's received, but there's no way England should be punished with a long prison term. She did what she was ordered to go in a climate of abuse that was sanctioned by the highest reaches of the military and civilian establishment, including the highest reaches of the Bush Administration. But while Graner and England are brought up on charges, their superiors are doing nicely. Alberto Gonzales, former White House counsel, is now Attorney General. Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense. And no general has yet been punished... Oh, wait. There's one. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, head of the Army Reserve unit that was involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal, has been demoted to Colonel (three other generals have been cleared of wrongdoing). And that's it.

It's a sad story. I have no excuse for what happened at Abu Ghraib and for what surely must be going on at other American facilities around the world (and for what's happening in foreign facilities where the U.S. is shipping some of its prisoners for torture). The abuse of prisoners by the American military is a stain on the United States and a serious roadblock in winning the "soft" war for the hearts and minds of those who would inflict terror on us or who otherwise repudiate our way of life.

Once upon a time, the noble thing to do was to take responsibility at the highest levels, not least in the Oval Office. Now, the ignoble thing to do is to assume no responsibility whatsoever and to blame convenient cogs somewhere down the hierarchy (while being promoted and otherwise rewarded). The buck doesn't stop with Lynndie England, but she, and others like her, will take the fall. That's "justice" for you.

I stand by it. Lynndie England may or may not get what she deserves, but she's the scapegoat, plain and simple.

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