Bits and Pieces

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Bad Hammer! Bad, Bad Hammer!

Joe Gandelman posting at Dean's World notes that Army Reserve Spc. Charles Graner Jr has been sentenced to 10 years in a military prison for his role in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. Now, I didn't take much of an interest in the unfolding scandal. I don't know why, but I reserve the right to occasionally not care about even the biggest stories. In fact, I preferred at the time to frog-blog (a post that has netted me a surprising number of Google hits, strangely enough).

Considering my broad ignorance of the details of the case, I'm going to continue to ignore it. However, I would like to discuss a point made in Joe's post, made after Graner pleaded that he was just 'obeying his superiors':-

Unfortunately, if this is true, the fact is that after World War II, in the allies' treatment of Nazi war criminals some 60 years ago, it firmly was established that "I was only following orders" did not hold up in cases of alleged torture or war crimes. The people in the field, if they receive orders that are criminal and follow them, will be held they face the eternal dilemma (disobey orders and face consequences; disobey orders and face consquences).

I wasn't aware of this until tonight. Hell, maybe it'll make more sense in the morning (there are several pints of lager rolling about my stomach - in the absense of a functional automobile my friends drove to my local bar so I could have a drink. You gotta love 'em). Still, I suspect that my bafflement, if such a word appears in the dictionary, is not caused by drink. Let me get this straight. A basic tenet of any military force is that you follow the chain of command. You follow orders no matter what. The military is built on this kind of strictly ordered system. It has to be, or you would have anarchy. Now, forgetting about this current example; ignoring, for the moment, the possibility that Graner wass in fact talking out of his ass to cover same, why should a person be responsible for their actions if they were ordered to carry them out?

I studied law for a couple of years in college, and am familiar with the rules (at least, as they stood at the time) regarding duress. Duress cannot be used as a defence for murder. Say, for example, your wife and kids are kidnapped. You receive a phone call ordering you to kill the President, on pain of the sacrifice of your family. If you go through with it, you are as guilty of murder as you would have been if you killed him for any other reason - a rule that exists for a good reason. You can't have criminals claiming their mothers would be killed if they didn't kill their boss. Discussing this over a drink, a friend drew a parallel between the two. Just because you are ordered to do something doesn't mean that you forfeit responsibility, be it civilian murder or military torture. I disagree.

As I mentioned, a good soldier is trained, almost to the point of brainwashing, to follow orders. I don't mean brainwashing in a bad way, but that the training is so intense as to make following orders as natural as breathing to a soldier. Soldiers aren't civilians, and shouldn't be held to the same standards. They are trained to follow orders, and those orders will be carried out whether the soldier believes them to be good or bad. As such they forfeit responsibility. They become, in effect, a tool. You can't blame a hammer for hitting your thumb (OK, you do - but you shouldn't); you can't blame a gun for shooting a child; you can't blame the bomb for levelling Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They're all tools. They're controlled. You blame the person who wields the tool, not the tool itself.

Again, I'd like to point out that I don't know, or indeed care, whether Graner was following orders. I'm just arguing the law.

And now I'm going to take a piss.
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