Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Abu Ghraib Soap Opera

Abu Ghraib has been promoted extensively by the Left as the greatest evidence of the evil of 1) the Bush Administration; 2) the U.S. Military; and 3) American values.

Unfortunately for them, the reality is somewhat more banal. I thought I would reproduce a large part of the article, but go and read the whole piece to get the full exposure to the sometimes sick drama of failed human relationships. For the most part it sounds like the kind of story I hear frequently in my office--the everyday betrayals, manipulations, and general insanity that pathological relationships can induce.

In a military courtroom in Texas last week was a spectacle worthy of "As the World Turns": Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the defendant, holding her 7-month-old baby; the imprisoned father, Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., giving testimony that ruined what lawyers said was her best shot at leniency; and waiting outside, another defendant from the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Megan M. Ambuhl, who had recently wed Private Graner - a marriage Private England learned about only days before.

To some, the grave misdeeds at Abu Ghraib, where the three soldiers worked for six months in 2003, have become a twisted symbol of the American military occupation of Iraq. But the scandal is also one rooted in the behavior of military reservists working at the prison, an environment that testimony has portrayed as more frat house than military prison, a place where inmates were routinely left naked and soldiers took pictures of one another simulating sex with fruit.

The reservists' treatment of Iraqi prisoners and their entanglements with one another - pieced together from documents, court testimony, e-mail and interviews - have produced a dark soap opera, one whose episodes have continued to play out in the months since the scandal erupted, and culminated in the Texas courtroom last week.

As with any soap opera, past episodes help explain the most recent.

Private England, who is now waiting for charges to be filed against her again, and Private Graner began dating while they were training with their Army Reserve unit, the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md.

A hell-raising young woman from West Virginia, Private England, now 22, was married at 19, on a whim, she told friends, and violated her parents' wishes when she joined the Reserve in high school to make money for college.

Private Graner, 36, a Pennsylvania prison guard and a former marine, had rejoined the military in a burst of patriotism after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He was fresh from an ugly divorce in 2000. His ex-wife, Staci Morris, had taken out three protective orders against him, and after he was arrested for harassing her in 2001, Private Graner admitted that he had dragged her around by her hair.

He introduced the two women, and Ms. Morris said she felt "selfish relief" that with someone new, her ex-husband would stop being obsessed with her. And she liked Private England, finding her quiet and adoring.

"If he was as charming with her as he is with most women at the beginning, I can understand it," Ms. Morris said. "Charming, compliments, you name it. The things you would love to hear as a young woman."

Just after the 372nd received orders to go to Iraq in February 2003, Private Graner, Private England and another soldier had a last party weekend in Virginia Beach. They drank heavily, and when their friend passed out, Private Graner and Private England took turns taking photographs of each other exposing themselves over his head.
In Iraq, Private England was disciplined several times for sleeping with Private Graner, against military rules. She flouted warnings to stay on the wing where she worked as a clerk, and spent most of her nights in the cellblock where he worked the night shift.

One night in October, he told her to pose for photographs holding a leash tied around the neck of a naked and crawling detainee. He e-mailed one home: "Look what I made Lynndie do." The now infamous pictures of detainees masturbating, he said, were a birthday gift for her.

Specialist Ambuhl, who has been discharged from the Army, was Private Graner's partner on the nightshift. If he and Private England were loud and bawdy - they made a video of themselves having sex - Ms. Ambuhl was soft-spoken and serious. Private England had joined the army to see the world; Ms. Ambuhl had already been on college study trips to Kenya and the Galapagos Islands. She had worked as a technician in a medical laboratory in Virginia, where she grew up, and like Private Graner, signed up to defend the nation after Sept. 11.

She had been involved with another soldier in the unit. But by late December, she had ended that relationship and started one with Private Graner. In e-mail messages, the two dreamily recalled their nights stolen away in the crowded prison cells where the military police lived.

"I was missing u too," she wrote just after Christmas 2003. "When I heard your voice coming up the stairs, it made me happy and kinda nervous too (good nervous)." She reassured him that she would not get back together with her ex-boyfriend.

But Private Graner had not completely cut off relations with Private England. On Jan. 2, 2004, he was caught sleeping in Private England's quarters and demoted.

A few days later, Ms. Ambuhl e-mailed him again. "I really do care about you," she wrote. "It's just that part of me says I just got hurt from a relationship so don't put myself in the position to get hurt again."

She fantasized about when they might be truly alone. "Is it going to feel strange for just the two of us to be in a room together, with no chance of anyone walking in??" she wrote a few days later. "Just kidding, I can't wait." They talked about taking a leave together in February.

But on Jan. 13, a soldier slipped investigators a disk with the graphic photographs of detainees. The investigation began the next day.

Private Graner, quickly identified as the ringleader in the abuse, e-mailed his father in early March to discuss the accusations against him, then popped "more good news:" Private England was two months pregnant - he spelled her name Lynndee - and the pregnancy would most likely get them sent home from Iraq.

They found out she was pregnant two days after breaking up. (Emphasis mine)

What these unthinking, pathetic people did to others who were helpless and who were under their supervision, certainly can never be condoned in any civilized society. The sadistic and cruel behavior of Private Graner, who appears to be at the center of the storm, pre-dated Abu Ghraib and is likely a strong component of his personality. The two women permitted themselves to be sucked into his sadism (maybe he gave them an excuse to express their own sadistic impulses, who knows?), and are just as responsible for what subsequently happened. This is like a "Bonnies and Clyde" scenario--without the deaths; but with all the sick sexual pleasure of acting out towards and humiliating others for personal gratification and power.

This is a indeed a soap opera; but it most certainly is not a evil plot devised by the Bushies to defame Islam and humiliate war prisoners. The main player in this sicko drama is Graner, who by all accounts has a history of violence and inappropriate behavior, and whose personality seems to attract passive women eager to act out his sadistic fantasies for him and with him. Please note the similarity of what was done at Abu Ghraib to what the couple did to a sleeping friend (highlighted in the article).

That Graner could survive for any length of time in the military only demonstrates the laxity with which some reserve units were commanded. The grotesque breakdown in military discipline that permitted the blatant flauting of military rules and regulations; and provided a fertile environment were such acting out behavior could thrive without serious consequences--can be laid squarely on the immediate officers in the chain of command to Graner and England. (General Karpinski was found guilty of dereliction of duty and demoted to Colonel) It also suggests that the military reserves needs to clean up their act and begin to demand professional and appropriate behavior from both their officers and enlisted personnel.

That anyone could believe for a moment that this kind of behavior and the resultant events at Abu Ghraib would be condoned by a professional military service is completely absurd.

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