So how do normally well-adjusted, morally-conscious people sink to this level? How could this have happened? Was it just that act of a few sadistic rogue soldiers? Or is this problem indicative of a larger problem within the American occupation force?
It's sad that all of the positive things that have been accomplished by well over 100,000 US soldiers has been largely erased by the images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. My hope is that this was the work of only a few who simply lost their moral compass.
What forces, internal or external, could have brought this diminutive, 21-year-old woman and her six accused comrades to this appalling pass? There is no shortage of explanations. From the moment the atrocities at Abu Ghraib came to light, military commanders, members of the Administration and, indeed, the Commander in Chief were quick to label those implicated as "bad apples." As President Bush put it, they are an exceptional "few" whose actions "do not reflect the nature of the men and women who serve our country." The families and friends of the accused, of course, say the very opposite is true: these are normal, patriotic Americans who put their lives on the line to serve their country but went astray because they followed orders. Psychologists and historians who study torture give what is probably the most disturbing explanation of all: they are us. For under certain circumstances, almost anyone has the capacity to commit the atrocities seen in the photos that have shocked the world.
Perhaps before we rush to judgement in condemning those accused of these abuses we would do well to remember that they are people not unlike ourselves. How would we handles ourselves under similar circumstances? Would we have the wherewithal to recognize right and wrong as it existed at Abu Ghraib? I'd like to think that I would, but it's easy to say that sitting here in my quiet kitchen on a placid Monday morning.
There is nothing that can excuse this behavior, but I think it must also be kept in perspective. Any of us could be guilty of these monstrosities; it's not the stretch that you might think. While we cannot change what has happened, we will only be able to say that we have risen above it when the command and control structure in our military prisons are strengthened and trained to prevent similar abuses from re-occurring.
Of course, if that doesn't work, we could always begin looking for scapegoats.