Friday, March 30, 2007


Truthout carries a Consortium News piece by a vet named Sam Provance, entitled “The American Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” ( Mr. Provance was a non-com systems administrator in Intelligence Analysis.

He has much to say – from first-hand experience – about the Abu Ghraib investigations, in which the Army investigated itself. It’s all a riveting read and – especially when you get into the parts about singularly uninterested general-officer investigators – it makes you wonder about a lot of things.

I find it even more interesting that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) floats to the surface once again in matters military. There was a screening of a documentary on the investigation held this past February; the screening was to be followed by a discussion led by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and the aforementioned Graham; Kennedy was there from the beginning; Graham – neatly – arrived late ( thereby avoiding having to shake hands or be photographed shaking hands with several of the more significant subjects of the film, including Provance and Brigadier General Karpinski, the Reserve MP general who was blamed for the whole thing).

Graham is most famously known for his public protestations against the Military Commissions Act, standing tall one afternoon with McCain next to the current Service chief JAGs last autumn, vowing that the monstrosity would not pass, and then suddenly folding and voting for it overnight, declaring that they were satisfied that it was fixed and it would work. He appeared to be offended and hurt when his motivations and integrity were in not a few quarters impugned. He has also done a bravura turn at the Hearings in the matter of the fired US Attorneys, trying to spin things such that the fired look merely like hacks who had had their turn in the sun and were now refusing to get off the ferris wheel and give other hacks a chance for a ride.

Provance reports he was stunned when Graham – who had professed himself shocked, shocked, when Provance (in sorta whistleblower mode) had first spoken with him on the phone about Abu Graib – now blithely announced to the insembled entourage that the whole thing was the fault of a few bad apples, after which Gentleman Graham – you can’t make this stuff up! – proceeded to hotly disparage Brigadier General Karpinski … whom he presumed was absent. She shoulda been court-martialed, brayed the Gentleman. She shoulda driven through the Iraqi night to conduct random middle-of-the-night checks; he further brayed that when he had been an active-duty JAG he had always conducted such ‘checks’, checking – he confides – “the dormitory”.

What a JAG officer needs to be wandering around in dormitories (‘barracks’, one ventures to presume – but you never can tell with someone who is simultaneously a lawyer, a politician, and a JAG) full of sleeping enlisted females – or males – is beyond me. The modern American imagination is hard-pressed to conceive of an urgent enlisted need for Counsel in one’s underwear at 3AM. But JAGs are what they are, and Graham has gone further than most. He also may have never had to drive through the Iraqi night, on unlit roads that might be IED’d or registered for ground-fire, in anything less armored than a main battle-tank (which is still pretty vulnerable).

He perhaps hadn’t read up or retained enough of what he read to recall that most of the serious damage at Abu Graib was done by ‘special’ types of personnel specifically with-held from Karpinski’s control. At any rate, his comments are a classic example of the old if vicious military shell-game: having been caught in the act, the bosses ensure that it is the lowest-ranking who are blamed for ‘everything’ and then – having blamed them – other bosses echo back that reprehensible lie and amplify it. Thus Graham: just a few bad little-people did it (and if the camouflage uniforms, termed BDUs, were still forest-green, he might well have blamed ‘the leprechauns’). Then again, Graham may not have known that ‘SecDef’ von Rumsfeld himself was in close touch about the daily torture over there; then again, Graham may know all about it … more than We do, even.

Graham hee-hawed into the faces of serious and concerned citizens he saw out in the hall: twarn’t but a thang, the torture, and – he assured everyone – the American people really don’t care what happened as far as torture is concerned. Tee-hee. The upshot appeared to be that the crowd in front of him was somehow not-American or – indelicately – un-American. Or maybe gay. (At which point we’re back to his wee-hours dormitory-checking again.)

It must have been – as the Brits might say – an extraordinary performance. But it didn’t end there. Karpinski was introduced and an open mike made available to her, upon which she began to fill him in, including the fact that she had asked for a court-martial and the Army actually refused it (too much truth might get out, now that court-martials are conducted under public scrutiny instead of the usual JAG-infested back-alley ‘courtroom’ on a military base).

Graham’s response? To the fact that he had (inaccurately) belittled a general officer whom he thought wasn’t present and then found out was indeed present? To the fact that she then openly called him and his Army handlers cowards? To the fact that she proceeded to rebut every sleazy assertion he had made? The Gentleman smirked and said: “Well, I guess I just lost your vote!” Tee hee.

I’d like to make again a point made in other Posts on the site. It’s one that is becoming increasingly obvious as time goes on and as more and more Bushist appointees are dragged blinking, smirking, and babbling into the light: they are grossly immature for the responsibilities they being paid to carry and the authority with which they have been invested.

Graham, as a JAG, is clearly so. And here I am not suggesting that the Bushist hiring infection has infiltrated the JAGs. I think it worked very much the other way round: the JAGs have always been looking for kinda immature apparatchiks all along, and the Bushist imperium took notice of that and figured that if the JAGs could get away with it all this time – indeed, make careers and post-careers out of it - then it would be a cakewalk for the Executive Branch in all its post-9/11 puissance.

Now I am not talking about Graham as a Senator. Folks can go and elect any sort of person they want and – let’s face it – not everyone elected to high public office is a paragon of maturity or integrity. I am talking about Graham as a JAG, a ranking officer, and – if you haven’t had many nightmares lately – an appeals-level judge in the military legal system.

But when you think about it, what other kind of person would as rigged a game as the military legal system be able to tolerate? It’s an impossible professional situation: you either have to betray your client or your place on the military ‘team’. There is NO halfway solution to the conundrum of ‘military justice’; both the military and ‘Justice’ make mutually exclusive and ultimate demands. If, say, one branch of a religion demands that the priestesses be pregnant and the other branch demands that the priestesses be virgin, there is no way to simultaneously meet both of those demands. And anyone who tells the assembled faithful differently is lying.

So the JAGs can’t really afford to be looking for Character and Integrity if those virtues need to be platformed by Maturity. A professional grounded in all the afore-mentioned capital-letter words is very quickly going to run into ‘the wall’: you either play on the team and you betray your client’s interests or you stand up for your client and get tossed out. It’s not for nothing that the print advertisement for the JAG corps in the law journals is a grainy black and white of … handcuffs. That’s the level of maturity they’re appealing to. You go much higher and you’re only going to be making trouble for yourself.

This is what’s happened all these years with this sleazy and vicious kabuki called ‘military justice’, even since ‘codified’ by Congress in 1951. The ‘military justice’ system is an impossibility on its face and every effort to conduct its ‘codified’ and ‘legal’ operations is itself a betrayal of the principles it is loudly proclaiming itself to embody. Military-Justice Land resembles nothing so much as Dodge City in the very bad old days, and the aspiring professionals who enter the JAGs will wind up as Mark Twain relates of his young self: “It was no place for a Presbyterian … and I did not remain one very long.”

And we see that the JAGs have added a new dimension to Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’. The morally unimaginative, willfully over-focused Nazi bureaucrats such as Eichmann never pulled triggers or the levers that dropped gas pellets; they simply worked in offices with pencils and rules and calculators and maps and colored markers. They had ‘a job’ to do and they did it as efficiently as they could; they willed themselves not to look up from their desks to see how their little ‘job’ fit into a larger picture. They would allow themselves no such ‘distraction’. They had a ‘job’ to do – and on top of that they were officers. They had their orders. Why complicate life when one is granted such ‘clarity’ as to one’s duty? They were little men.

The usual if mostly unspoken JAG defense of their 'system' is 'Just Trust Us'. After all, they are double professionals: lawyers and military officers. And if you can't trust lawyers and the military, well, who can you trust? Who else y'a gonna call? But we've already seen, recently what all these 'trustworthy' professionals have been doing with the massive amounts of authority that was dumped into their lap by the too-eager authoritarian-buttlickers of the 109th Congress. The DOJ has been ransacking every citizen's privacy, the FBI has been falsely (and criminally?) obtaining information on citizens, god only knows what Homeland Security has been doing with its passenger list data-mining, and even the NYPD sent officers on paid trips all over the place to root out potential disrupters (not to be confused with the sturdy Klingon 'disruptor').

But the JAGs have added a new level: the ‘immaturity’ of the ‘banality of evil’: cocky, smirky, callow … these are a different breed from the Eichmannian drones. And they can go a long way in their guild, fueled by that immaturity. They don’t follow Justice; they make it. They make it do tricks like a trained bear. They’re lawyers and they’re soldiers. Kewl, dudes! And officers and gentlemen. Ja! Yah. They are little, but they’re loud.

And We must beware of them … and all their pomps and all their works.

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Blogger Comrade O'Brien said...

You may be interested in our ongoing Orwellian protest of the Military Commissions Act. Find out more at

6:16 PM  

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