How about that Pentagon chain of command?

Published December 15, 2004 11:00PM (EST)

According to to the New York Times, new documents released by the ACLU from its investigation into prisoner abuse by the U.S. military reveal that a number of Marines have been court martialed and convicted for acts of torture in Iraq between early 2003 and the middle of 2004. Their behavior included using an electric transformer to shock a detainee repeatedly to make him "dance." One Marine was sentenced to a year in prison and a second to eight months; another was sentenced to 90 days' confinement for squirting a flammable liquid on a detainee's hands and then lighting it with a match, according to the Times report.

The soldiers' behavior is despicable and deserves punishment to the full extent of the law. But what about the top brass at the Pentagon who knew of the tactics being used and presumably did nothing to stop them -- even after the torture at Abu Ghraib prison was revealed to the world? Also from the Times:

"The documents previously released by the civil liberties union show that two Defense Department intelligence officials reported observing brutal treatment of Iraqi insurgents captured in Baghdad last June, several weeks after disclosures of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison created a worldwide uproar. The memorandum, written by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to a senior Pentagon official, said that when the two members of his agency objected to the treatment, they were threatened and told to keep quiet by other military interrogators."

So the chain of command in the Bush administration is a one-way proposition through and through: Responsibility for disaster never makes its way up, while the White House's culture of punishing dissent appears to have no trouble trickling on down. As far as we know, to date nobody higher than the level of military grunt has been held responsible for the awful acts of abuse.

Meanwhile, electrocuted and burned Iraqi prisoners -- in the country the U.S. has supposedly liberated from the brutality of Saddam -- get to pay the price. Sickening.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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