Friday, October 15, 2010
The Lost Boys Meet the Dirty Dozen
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)
"What if I'm not the hero
What if I'm the bad guy" - Quote from Twilight, tattooed on Pfc. Justin Stoner's back.
If you were to watch the interrogation tapes of some of the 5th Stryker brigade that had been obtained by CNN, you'll be struck by several things. First thing I'd like to address is the conduct of some of the 12 soldiers. These are some of the troops that have been charged and are under investigation by Army CID for three separate incidents in which innocent Afghan civilians were allegedly murdered by members of the 5th Stryker Brigade.
It would be very easy to label them as irredeemable psychopaths and to expect them to look and act the part. But if you were to look into the faces of these boys barely out of their teens, you'll note a disturbingly discordant note of contrition that's at odds with the crimes with which they've been charged. In a way, it's creepier than staring this madness in its twisted face and one can scarcely believe these sweet boys from the Bible or Corn belt are even being investigated much less preparing for an Article 32 hearing (the UCMJ's version of a grand jury investigation).
The Devil may wear Prada but Jekyll and Hyde wear olive drab.
Of course, they're not sweet boys, unless this is some massive hoax or colossal mixup. These are Army troops who've been trained to kill (but, apparently, not to distinguish between civilians and) insurgents in an alien, hostile land and have, instead, murdered unarmed civilians. Whether the troops in question are the ones who'd carried out the murders remains to be seen but one soldier, Justin Stoner, had already been given a blanket party by his fellow soldiers for complaining about their daily drug use. It was that first pulled thread that led to the discovery of the murders. Since they've started ratting out each other, someone's guilt is in little doubt.
It's a twice and three-told tale that is by now alarmingly familiar: Young soldiers either unfit to serve in a combat zone (which, as with Iraq, is virtually every square inch of Afghanistan since neither are conventional wars) or made unfit to serve and wind up deliberately killing civilians and then staging the carnage if it was combat-related. Throw a gun near a corpse and, voila! Instant insurgent. The bad guy becomes the hero and the good guy gets killed.
And when one juxtaposes these newest incidents that have been filtering out of Afghanistan since Obama's surge with a particularly horrific incident on February 12th that left three women (one pregnant) and two men dead, the horrors at Bagram Air Base, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and elsewhere, it seems like a cross between the vampire movie The Lost Boys and Lord of the Flies. In Sabrina Harman's own account, published 2 1/2 years ago, the head of a kitten was even used as a running gag. Was the boys' pig's head from Lord of the Flies very dissimilar?
Indeed, these boys are lost and if they were ever fit to serve, they certainly are not now after being exposed to a hostile, alien environment historically unfit for any conquering army from Alexander the Great to us. How could they be fit when daily drug use, staged murders, mutilations and coverups are the orders of the day without seemingly any effective command structure in place or one that guides and disciplines these young men only after the fact?
Now they're likely to be charged under Articles 81 (conspiracy), 93 (cruelty and maltreatment), 112a (abuse of controlled substances) 118 (murder), 124 (maiming), 130 (Housebreaking) and whatever article, if any, pertains to the subsequent coverup.
How did this happen?
The more cynical of us would say, not altogether without justification, that it's inevitable. Where ever we go, we leave bodies in our wake like some organized plague and pestilence. It happened in Vietnam, it's happening in Iraq and it's happening in Afghanistan. American troops are guilty of war crimes where ever they're stationed or deployed. Historically, the American military barely has a better war conduct record than the Nazis or Soviets.
In a way, the plummeting support for either war is to blame for the quality of today's recruits. As support for the war wanes, fewer young men and women can be wooed in with the old promises of college tuition and free travel and the DoD is forced to lower recruitment standards. Now, people who were once deemed undesirable are now getting a second look from recruiters like drunks wearing beer goggles at last call.
Now, we're seeing white supremacists and career criminals being made respectable and legit by a uniform and free guns and ammo. And do they take advantage of this golden 2nd chance in some redeeming Dirty Dozen mission? Hardly. Many of them come back hating Arabs and Jews more than ever. One was further radicalized during the first Gulf War and he wound up murdering 168 fellow Americans by blowing up a federal building. One was "so proud of (his) kills" he publicly bragged about it at a neo-Nazi rally.
But whether chronic or acute, evil has a price and once again, the US Army is found tragically if not criminally lacking. Last July, it was reported that the already freakishly high suicide rate among Army troops alone had increased, with 32 killing themselves just in June. (The article qualifies this figure by hastily adding that only a third of those 32 were actually deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan, thereby deliberately downplaying the effect either war has on the American military mind. What's missing from that cheery takeaway is that PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder, often takes months if not years to manifest in suicide, often long after the individual has been sent stateside or mustered out of service.)
The second thing I'd like to mention about the interrogation videos is the stark difference in humanity between our interrogation of our own and many of the interrogations of the Muslims in our custody. No one beat them, smeared them with feces, made them get naked and form human pyramids or threatened to sic guard dogs on them. You'll immediately note that the interrogations are deliberately civil and low key and the CID investigators know at least some of these boys are guilty of war crimes.
The Iraqis and Afghanis who'd been beaten and murdered in our custody were often not guilty of anything more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm no more in favor of torture than the next guy. But the stark difference between how our military treats the guilty and the innocent seems to depend entirely on skin color, religion and citizenship status and not at all on evidence. I just think that that's worth bringing up.
Posted by jurassicpork at 8:10 AM