Previous efforts to denigrate the credibility of U.S. war policies in the War on Terror pale in the wake of the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. Photographic evidence of American soldiers abusing detainees created a firestorm of allegations concerning illegal interrogation practices and threatened to derail fundamental legal and policy pillars upon which America conducts the War on Terror. It raised the question of whether the prison abuse reflected a systemic policy to illegally obtain information from detainees or isolated acts of criminal behavior by a handful of soldiers. Thanks to several investigative reports, the legal and policy pillars supporting the War on Terror are still standing strong.
The chronology of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal shows that the military self-reported the crimes. Criminal investigations were immediately initiated upon discovery and media outlets were notified soon thereafter. Investigative reports determined that no official policy to torture was promulgated by senior officials. No direct abuse of prisoners by officers or by superiors ordering subordinates to commit the abuses was cited and all concurred in finding that the individuals were personally responsible for their acts. Reports revealed fundamental failures throughout all levels of command and supported calls for disciplinary action for several officers in the immediate chain of command who knew, or should have known, about the abuse. The total break down in the immediate chain of command weighs the heaviest in explaining the abuses committed apart from the issue of individual responsibility. These investigative reports have been effective in dispelling notions of a “culture of permissiveness” by the U.S. caused by the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
Jeffrey F. Addicott, Military Justice at Abu Ghraib, Jurist (Sept. 28, 2005, 8:01 AM), http://www.jurist.org/forum/2005/09/military-justice-at-abu-ghraib.php.