Sunday, October 24, 2004

Abu Ghraib - waiting for the other shoe to drop

Late last week, Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick, one of the guards charged with abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison by a US military court-martial. So far, three of the soldiers who were charged with abusing prisoners have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced.

When this is really going to get interesting is in a few months, when the soldiers who have not pleaded guilty go to trial. The first on the block will be Spc. Charles Graner, whose trial is scheduled to commence on January 7, and the second will be Sgt. Javal Davis, whose trial will be starting on February 1. The reason this is going to get interesting is simple: all the soldiers convicted thus far pleaded guilty and did not mount a defense in court. Their lawyers did not cross-examine witnesses or introduce competing theories that might have exonorated their clients. This is all due to come this winter in the first contested trial.

Let's think about what went on in Abu Ghraib for a second: didn't some of the techniques used on these prisoners seem just a little too effective to be something spontaneously dreamed up by a group of junior enlisted men? Consider these facts:

  • Most Middle-Eastern Muslim men have a real sigma against homosexuality, and some also have a real stigma about nudity (being seen naked, or seeing someone else naked - even other men). Some also have a stigma of having their photo taken (I wonder if this is why these pictures were taken). Would one expect your average junior soldier from a small American town to understand these things? I think not.
  • The American military culture has a real stigma for homosexuality too. Do you really think a typical American soldier would enjoy stripping a bunch of male prisoners naked and watching them masturbate and writhe around handcuffed to each other? I think not.

Ockham's Razor states that if two theories exist that describe the same thing, the simpler theory is probably correct. Let's think about this in the context of Abu Ghraib: we have two theories. The one put forward by the government is that these eight junior soldiers suddenly developed homosexual tendencies and decided to have some illicit "fun" with some prisoners without their superiors' knowledge or approval, and just happened to stumble across some sophisticated interrogation techniques in the process. The alternate theory is that these techniques were developed by someone higher up the military food chain, then recommended and taught to these soldiers, who subsequently followed what they were taught. Both of these theories are possible, but which one is more likely? I think Ockham's Razor can suggest an answer, and it's not theory #1.

You can also bet money that the defense attorneys for the remaining five soldiers are thinking a lot about this second theory, and what evidence might exist in support of it, and will try to lay out a very convincing case in the winter in defense of their clients.

I'm not sure how much publicity the military judges will allow in the courtroom, but in the unlikely scenario that they allow cameras, move over O.J. Simpson, this one will be good.