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Morning Report 5/5/05Following Ordures

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Activist judge gives a thumbs-down to Lynndie

lynndie-stylized.jpg
Call this work of art “Americans: A Broad”

Yesterday’s stunning decision by the judge to reject Lynndie England‘s guilty plea may have put the lie to the Pentagon’s contention that there was no top-down conspiracy to abuse prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

But the judge, Colonel James Pohl, works for the Pentagon, and there is a chain of command, isn’t there? So who knows what will happen? Radically different stories in this morning’s Washington Post and New York Times both point to the confusion.

You can almost hear Don Rumsfeld bark at General Dick “Quag” Myers, “Who the hell is this colonel?!”

T.R. Reid‘s Post story gets right to the heart of the matter:

    The judge’s rejection of her guilty plea—together with evidence at her sentencing hearing that senior Army commanders tolerated chaotic, dangerous and illegal conditions at the notorious prison outside Baghdad—could undermine the Pentagon’s assertion that the Abu Ghraib scandal was solely the fault of a small clique of enlisted soldiers.

The Times‘ story isn’t nearly as focused, but Ralph Blumenthal provides a better picture of the drama:

    The judge, Col. James L. Pohl, ordered the mistrial after Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., testifying on behalf of Private England, his former lover, portrayed their handling of a leashed prisoner as legitimate, contradicting her sworn admission of guilt and said she had acted at his request in helping to remove an obstructive prisoner from his cell.

    “I was asking her as the senior person at that extraction,” Private Graner said.

    Clearly taken aback, Colonel Pohl broke in, lecturing the defense lawyers. “If you don’t want to plead guilty, don’t,” he said. “But you can’t plead guilty and then say you’re not. Am I missing something here?”

A few paragraphs later, Blumenthal writes:

    The drama of the two former intimates and accused co-conspirators confronting each other across a courtroom went unaddressed, although the tangle of relationships has grown with a former wife of Private Graner on hand Wednesday to testify as a witness if called, and revelations that he recently married another convicted defendant, Specialist Megan M. Ambuhl.

    Private England seemed to betray her feelings when she looked over the shoulder of a courtroom artist sketching Private Graner and commented, “You forgot the horns and goatee.”

The case now goes back to the Army commander at Fort Hood, General Thomas Metz, who has numerous options.

In the meantime, we can all go back and read the Army CID interviews of England, Graner, and the other Abu Ghraib soldiers—start at the documents overview from the Center for Public Integrity.

Anyone who does so can reasonably conclude that, in fact, there was a conspiracy: Graner was softening up the prisoners at the request of Military Intelligence.

Graner and other MPs told investigators that MI people wanted the prisoners at Abu G’s so-called Hard Site softened up for interrogation. Graner then asked some of his soldier pals—people who weren’t supposed to even be at the Hard Site—to help him out and have some fun. Hence, the pyramid scheme.

If you read the Taguba Report and other documents, you’ll see that the chain of command was responsible for letting all hell break loose on the heads of the Iraqi prisoners.

The key figure in all this was Spc. Joseph M. Darby, who blew the whistle. Darby told investigators in January 2004:

    I thought about the pictures showing the prisoners in sexual positions and I thought that it was just wrong. When I learned Cpl. Graner was going to go back and work at the Hard Site, which is where the photos showing the prisoners being abused occurred, I knew I had to do something. I didn’t want to see any more prisoners being abused because I knew it was wrong. So I created another Compact Disk with the photos showing the prisoners being abused and wrote an anonymous letter and gave it to CID.

Darby’s complete statement can be found on page 89 of a fascinating 128-page collection of CID interviews, part of a massive array of Abu G docs posted by the Center for Public Integrity.

While we’re waiting for General Metz to announce his plans for Lynndie’s case, take a look at Darby’s statement. Right from the start, it fascinates:

    I arrived at Abu Ghraib sometime around 25 or 26 Oct 03. Shortly after I arrived, I was talking with Cpl. Graner and he showed me pictures on his digital camera of a prisoner chained to his cell.

    The prisoner’s arms were chained above his head and he was naked. At the time I didn’t think too much of it, as I thought perhaps it was procedure in the Hard Site.

    Cpl. Graner told me, “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the Corrections Officer in me says I love to make a grown man piss himself.

You can almost hear General “Quag” Myers barking into his phone, “Get me General Metz! And tell Damage Control to send up some fresh trousers for me and the SECDEF!”