Editorial: Scapegoating Private England

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 30, Spring 2004

It is often said that violence is as American as apple pie. It seems now that torture is too. The pictures of the grinning Private Lynndie England in our news media and the shocking story of brutality which so graphically unfolded in those dramatic days in May crystalised for the world something that many have known for a long time. That is that torture is common and widespread within the American military.

Lynndie England is a perfect scapegoat for this systemic abuse. Not too bright, totally loyal to superiors, emotionally needy, keen to fit in and be accepted (she lived in a trailer park and has a broken marriage), she was tailor-made for the military PR machine. Holding Lynndie publicly responsible will make for simplistic TV imagery but would merely cover over this rottenness that runs right through the military. The chain of command that led to Lynndie’s actions needs to be exposed. That chain goes right to the top.

The soldiers now accused were in fact implementing official US government policy in their treatment of prisoners. This is policy that sits at the heart of the US and British war effort. Responsibility for it rests with those who made it, knew about it and implemented it. Donald Rumsfeld is the principal architect of the war. He it is who said that the Geneva Convention didn’t apply to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a ‘wink and nod’ message heard throughout the entire war machine. Doesn’t this make him principally responsible? Isn’t he far more responsible than Lynndie and her mates? They were only obeying orders that filtered down from the highest echelons of the war command. They understood that this was how you conduct war.

Let President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld act now on their tough words and acknowledge that the immoral war in Iraq led to the degradation of the prisoners, that they personally were principally responsible both for it and the policy of torture. Let them pull the US troops out forthwith, and grant the scapegoats, including Lynndie, discharges before sending them home.

Let them abolish torture training, close down the School of the Americas, throw the torture manuals away, and use the Beatitudes as a manual for training in non-violence! That is what Jesus wanted us to do. He left the Beatitudes as a concrete platform for Christian living. And President Bush does claim to be Christian.

Finally, let them both resign and do penance for the rest of their lives. After what has happened, ongoing Christian conversion demands nothing less.

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