There is the mildly interesting point that we aren’t just looking at National Guard troops as torturers anymore. Most of us probably assumed regular army troops were doing the same thing. And we’ve assumed the abuses that had come to light reflected systemic abuses.
Capt. Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate, . . . witnessed detainees being stripped, deprived of sleep, exposed to the elements and “forced into uncomfortable positions for prolonged periods of time for the express purpose of coercing them into revealing information other than name, rank and service number.”
He protested on numerous occasions, trying to follow the chain of command. It didn’t work. So now he’s gone public, writing to the Senate Armed Services Committee and Human Rights Watch; now the Pentagon has initiated a criminal investigation.
“He’s a very decent, fine young man,” said Col. Dan Zupan, who teaches the rules of war at West Point and was one of Fishback’s mentors. “He doesn’t have an ax to grind. He’s just in search of the truth.”
And we aren’t just looking at inadequate training or civilian prison guards turned loose in a military environment:
If substantiated, the allegations would represent one of the most serious episodes in the mistreatment of detainees by American military personnel since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This is the first time that soldiers in the regular Army have been implicated in widespread abuse. Previous abuse cases have involved misconduct by relatively untrained National Guard and Reserve troops.
The 82nd Airborne is one of the most storied units in the U.S. military. The division has a record of distinguished service stretching for nearly a century, and its members are considered highly trained professionals. Formed during World War I, the division was reactivated during World War II, when its handpicked paratroopers landed behind German lines to prepare for the D-day invasion of Europe.
Based at Ft. Bragg, N.C., it is the largest paratroop force in the world. Its members served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and various brigades have served several tours in Iraq.
In such a unit, evidence of a significant breakdown in discipline would call into question the Army’s contention that previously disclosed abuses did not reflect systemic problems. The misconduct reported by Fishback and the two noncommissioned officers was said to have begun in September 2003 and continued through the following April. The abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred within that period, mainly the fall of 2003, and were publicly revealed in April 2004.
A Capitol Hill aide familiar with the new allegations said they were considered “very credible.”
In their disclosures, Fishback and the sergeants said that detainees feared for their lives and referred to members of the 82nd as the “Murderous Maniacs” because of the level of brutality inflicted on prisoners.