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April 25, 2005

The Devil Made Him Do It


Sanchez evades accountability for 'unfortunate incidents' at Abu Ghraib

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

General Sanchez has indeed, to our great non-surprise, been found guilty of authorizing abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, yet marvelously innocent of having anything to do with those unfortunate incidents. Mr. Sanchez has been freed by Mr. Bush's Pentagon of any responsibility for the brutal and bizarre tortures and killings made possible by the good general's decisions. Why? Because, poor thing, the devil made him do it:

"Gen. Sanchez, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq until the summer of 2004, authorized tougher interrogation techniques during a brief period in September 2003 during which the abuses are alleged to have been carried out. But the inspector general's report says it has found no evidence that he was guilty of dereliction of duty. Among the mitigating circumstances it lists:

  • Initially, U.S. military command was short of senior officers

  • Gen. Sanchez had to focus on an upsurge of insurgent violence

  • He was under pressure to find ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein."
    - "Top Brass Cleared Over Iraq Abuse," April 23, 2005

  • As the Church Lady would say, "Well isn't that convenient?" Yes, it does smack of yet another moral-relativism whitewash, doesn't it? But lest we be unfair in holding military officers accountable to the same laws, regulations, and moral standards to which low-ranking GIs are held, let's examine these "mitigating circumstances" with a sympathetic eye:

    1. "Initially, U.S. military command was short of senior officers." We are given to understand that staff shortages forced Gen. Sanchez to authorize "tougher" (torture) interrogation techniques. Poor little thing, he couldn't be expected to make ethical decisions when he didn't have enough senior officers available!

    2. "Gen. Sanchez had to focus on an upsurge of insurgent violence." Sure, torture violates long-standing human-rights law and what used to be the American conscience, but gee golly gosh, he had to "focus" on upsurges of insurgence and so forth – surely we can't expect a high-ranking military officer to stick to the law under those conditions?

    3. "He was under pressure to find ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein." Now we get to the heart of the matter: Gen. Sanchez was "under pressure," and that's why he had to authorize torture. We all know what peer pressure can do to good kids and generals. Gen. Sanchez would never have authorized torturous abuses of helpless prisoners if not for that darned peer pressure!

    Lessons Learned

    "Pictures of Iraqi inmates abused by U.S. soldiers caused an outcry last year. Five U.S. soldiers have been convicted."
    - "Top Brass Cleared Over Iraq Abuse"

    Let us now examine the lessons learned from this exoneration of Gen. Sanchez and his three top aides, made possible by the Bush administration's military moral relativism. Current and incoming soldiers, please take note: You may need this later on, when you find yourself getting blamed for carrying out orders, suggestions and hints made by your commanding officers:

  • Mitigating circumstance #1 shows us that we can't expect military personnel to abide by military regulations, international law, and human rights standards whenever they feel that staffing levels are inadequate.

  • Mitigating circumstance #2 teaches us that military personnel can make up the rules as they go, so long as they feel they must focus on upsurges of violence and the like.

  • Mitigating circumstance #3 demonstrates that military personnel cannot be held accountable for immoral, unethical, and/or illegal decisions/conduct in situations where they feel under pressure to achieve a particular goal.

  • While none of this is taught at boot camp, it's the way things really work in today's military. Military men and women should be aware of the fact that, as long as they're not low-ranking, promoting torture and violating international law can be quite helpful to their careers.

    "'What this decision unfortunately continues is a pattern of exoneration and indeed promotion for many of the individuals at the heart of the torture scandal,' said Amnesty International spokesman Alistair Hodgett."
    - "Top Brass Cleared Over Iraq Abuse"

    But to escape all accountability and maybe even get a torture promotion, military personnel must first make a good case for believable "pressures" that made them do it. As mentioned earlier, peer pressure is always a winner. So are pressures to accomplish things. Ditto with pressures caused by staffing problems.

    However, not all pressures will work for GIs who take the blame for wrongdoing suggested or ordered from above. For instance, the pressure of having to follow strange, illicit, or illegal orders won't get much sympathy when the top brass have made sure they'll be protected by expendable scapegoats.

    Neither will it work to note that one's higher-ups merely suggested that abuse is okay or admirable, even if that's exactly what they did. Top commanders know very well that statements promoting violence against prisoners can be expressed privately, encouraging low-ranking soldiers to be particularly brutal and inhumane, with no repercussions whatsoever:

    "[L]t. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez allegedly said of the detainees, 'Why are we detaining these people, we should be killing them.' The unidentified soldier who reported the comment added that it 'contributed to a command climate' where 'deeds not consistent with military standards would be tolerated if not condoned.'"
    -  "Newly Released Army Documents Point to Agreement Between Defense Department and CIA on 'Ghost' Detainees," March 10, 2005

    America's young people, within the military and without, are learning from Mr. Bush and his stage-managed administration how to look righteous and escape all accountability. Whenever his violence-prone enforcers are caught doing something dreadful and/or illegal, George simply praises the evildoers all the more passionately, pointing out to us numbskulls what a great men they are. When the Bush administration agrees with religious values, they shout it from the rooftops. But when actual religion gets in the way of what they want, they shrug off the conflict by noting that the they must make "hard choices" – choices such as killing tens of thousands of people, or torturing prisoners of war, that sweet-but-unrealistic religious folks can't be expected to understand.

    Bush supporters are told to stop thinking and just have faith – faith not in God, but in men like Sanchez, Gonzales, and Rumsfeld. Mr. Bush portrays these men, so dangerous to all of us for the global anti-Americanism their words and actions arouse, as innocent babes pressured into breaking the law and victimized by a godless nation of antiwar nuts. What's really tragic is that so many American kids, in the military and out, are buying it. Our young people – including the children of conservative Christians – are learning their values from these men and our exoneration and glorification of their misdeeds.

    "'Symbolic conduct' is the term coined by David Perkins, Ph.D. of Harvard University to describe how our behaviors communicate our attitudes, assumptions, and values…. [C]hildren read between the lines of your behavior – your symbolic conduct – to discover your true values and priorities."
    - Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your Family


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    Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting(2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn’t Have to Choose Just One." Visit her website.

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