An article out from the Associated Press says that the half-dozen soldiers facing courts-martial for torturing prisoners in Iraq “did not receive in-depth training on the Geneva Conventions.” That was the message from an Army spokeswoman in Iraq and it’s apparently echoed by at least one of the accused’s lawyer.
A question: Can this possibly matter? Perhaps as a fine point of law this would be relevant in court-martial proceeding. And the tolerance or intolerance of these soldiers’ commanding officers for this behavior is relevant. But surely no formal training in the Geneva Convention guidelines should be needed to warn people off these sorts of outrages.
I’m not inclined to believe that these sorts of things are widespread. Put tens of thousands of young men and women in a hostile situation, give them near absolute control over people they learn to both fear and hate in equal measure, and awful things are bound to happen.
But looking at even the facts now on the table this doesn’t sound like something entirely isolated. Nor does it seem like these folks felt they had a lot to fear from oversight from superiors. The fact that the Brits are now being accused of something similar points me further toward such suspicion.
Whatever the truth, these revelations deal the US a staggering blow to its credibity or, really, its authority. There are so many folks in the region inclined to believe the worst about our actions and intentions. And this challenges the assumptions of those inclined to believe the best.