The broken chain of command

A former U.S. soldier who served in Iraq marks the disgraceful one-year anniversary of Abu Ghraib.

Published April 29, 2005 11:35PM (EDT)

It's been a year since evidence of torture by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib shocked the world and made the name of the prison a permanent stain on America's reputation. Perry Jefferies, a former Army sergeant who served in Iraq and now works with Operation Truth, a nonpartisan advocacy group for veterans, weighs in on how far we haven't come since then. Including the fact that, to date, only a few foot soldiers have been held accountable.

"It has been a year now since the first photos of the abuses at Abu Ghraib were published. For some, this might be seen as a low point in the war in Iraq, but to me, it was an arbitrary point in a travesty that predated the publication of the photos and seems to have continued since. In the passing year, weve found the abuse was systematic, widespread and -- if not authorized -- then at least encouraged by official policies and statements from high-level military and civilian officials. We also find that the leaders who helped set up and continue the torture were rewarded, promoted or absolved, while some of the troops involved are headed for long jail sentences.

"As a soldier, now retired, who was on the ground and was often charged with handling detainees around the same time that these photos were taken, I still find myself amazed, disgusted and frustrated with the manner with which this was dealt. I love the Army, and as a member of several veterans' groups, I frequently find myself in conversations with civilians about our men and women in uniform and the conduct of the war in Iraq. ...

"What leads to the greatest frustration for me is the total abdication of responsibility and lack of accountability from the senior leaders and chain of command. I am accustomed to the public misunderstanding the circumstances and actions of soldiers, and their tendency to turn away when faced with difficult situations. Not so with the leaders of the military. This leaves a dirty smear on the honorable service of so many thousands of soldiers, Marines and others. It puts our men and women of the armed forces squarely in the sights of those who plan to exact revenge or exercise similar care, should they become the captors. The photos from Abu Ghraib insure that the depredations there will not be forgotten, but our government's actions since seem designed to insure it will be neither prevented nor avoided in the future."

By Mark Follman

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

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