Sam Uretsky

Private Choices

My military career was only slightly less distinguished than that of our current Commander-in-Chief. I was drafted, spent two years in South Carolina, and have since parlayed that into a graduate degree courtesy of the G.I. Bill and a reduction in the property taxes on my house.

Even there, I did things that were wrong. I followed orders, even when I thought they were unethical, because after consideration, I didn't think the orders were wrong enough to risk the consequences. That's the nature of military service. While you're obligated not to follow an illegal order, there's no opportunity to consult with the chaplain or the Judge Advocate General. When an order seems questionable, every soldier has to decide whether it's legal or ethical without benefit of counsel. Not only that, but the decision has to be made whether the degree of illegality and immorality justifies the near certainty of punishment. At least in my time, they didn't include lectures in ethics and law in basic training.

The administration's response, or perhaps the Republican response to the atrocities at Al Ghraib has followed two, or possibly three contradictory lines of argument. The Anchorage Daily News quoted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) as saying "This is a few bad apples in an enormous force of really competent and dedicated, committed Americans who are fighting for us overseas."

At the same time, Rush Limbaugh took the argument that the offenses weren't that serious:

CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank to stack up naked --

RUSH: Exactly! Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer 'em because they had a good time ...

If the offenses were no worse than a Skull and Bones initiation, then the few enlisted personnel, the Few Bad Apples, shouldn't be condemned. From the evidence that has since been reported, the reservists of the 372nd Military Police Company were given instructions, and because of cultural differences between themselves and the Iraqi prisoners, could not understand that the orders really were wrong enough to justify disobedience.

It's impossible to know how the 372nd would have behaved had they been told to shoot a prisoner, but they could hardly have understood how the actions they did perform would appear to the people of Iraq and the rest of the world.

The Washington Post published a copy of an Aug. 1, 2003, memorandum from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to President Bush. The memo, entitled "Re: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A," along with another one, dated March 6, 2003, from a Defense Department working group convened by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and published by the Wall Street Journal, appear to be the smoking guns, the evidence that the White House approved the torture of prisoners. The Justice Department attorneys either knew, or at least were responsible for knowing, the cross cultural implications of the interrogation methods. The memos define the president's understanding of what the law is.


1) The actions of the jailers at Al Ghraib were within the law as interpreted by the administration.

2) The actions of the jailers at Al Ghraib weren't torture anyway.

3) The jailers at Al Ghraib were a few bad apples and didn't really represent the Coalition forces.

Sorry, but the gun is still smoking and this president inhaled. By allowing the courts martial of a few low-ranking enlisted personnel to continue, the Commander-in-Chief is hiding behind a pregnant Pfc.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y.

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