Friday, April 27, 2007

About That Courtmartial

Yesterday I wondered what was going on with the announcment of this court-martial. As I've come to expect, the incomporable Scott Horton provides us with answers:

Today there is a report of a courtmartial which is being initiated in Iraq. It serves to underscore the message of official complicity in the abuse of prisoners in the most compelling way. By bringing charges, command authority sends a message about the sort of treatment it wants for detainees. Note that no senior office was ever court-martialed for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Volturna and other facilities in Iraq – notwithstanding that criminal mistreatment of prisoners was amply documented and it stretched over a period of years. In the judgment of U.S. prosecutors at the end of World War II, this fact pattern was sufficient to justify sending a group of Japanese generals to their death.

...I took some time to check in with some of the contacts I developed from dealing with the Iraqi detention system when I was in Baghdad last year. Here’s what I heard. Steele was described as a “person of unquestioned integrity,” he was credited with maintaining “strict discipline and order” at Camp Cropper and showed “zero tolerance of prisoner abuse.” Another said he was “a person with a conscience.” One described how he intervened directly to protect a prisoner who had been mistreated by interrogators. He insisted that those serving under him treat the detainees “like human beings.” He “was a constant target of those who like to use rough stuff.”

Though I failed to mention as much, I was struck by the similarity of charges to those brought against former Army Chaplain James Yee (and Horton notes the same.) Yee was charged not only with espionage, but also smeared with bizarre and seemingly unrelated allegations that he committed adultery and stored pornography on his government-issued computer. All charges were eventually dropped, including these seemingly-malicious and unrelated ones, but long after they had served their purpose of casting Yee as a disreputable character unworthy of sympathy. And now here we see allegations of an "inappropriate relationship" and possession of pornography lodged against Steele as well. I'd like to know what brilliant mind in the Army thought that duplicating the Yee imbroglio with another officer who works too closely with Mulism detainees (though Steele himself is not a Muslim apparently) was the right course of action to take? Times have changed. Democrats with the subpoena power are in Congress, and fewer people are scared off by the whiff of terrorism this time than when Yee was charged. I'm looking forward to the possibility of Army officials beginning the process of back-pedalling away from this investigation, though the fact that they'll ruin an officer's career in the process detracts from the joy of watching them squirm.

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