The Scapegoat

The show trial of U.S. Army reservist Charles Graner had something for everyone: tragedy, comedy, pathos, and propaganda. The tragic aspect was dominant, with the photos of the disgusting abuse illustrating the theme of senseless arbitrary violence, but there was also comedy, of a sort, with Guy Womack, Graner’s lawyer, making an argument that was unusual, to say the least:

"Graner’s attorney said piling naked prisoners into pyramids and leading them by a leash were acceptable methods of prisoner control. He compared this to pyramids made by cheerleaders at sports events and parents putting tethers on toddlers.

"’Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?’ Guy Womack, Graner’s attorney, said in opening arguments to the 10-member U.S. military jury at the reservist’s court-martial….

"Womack said using a tether was a valid method of controlling detainees. ‘You’re keeping control of them. A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections,’ he said. ‘In Texas we’d lasso them and drag them out of there.’"

A crazy argument, to be sure, but one that received the endorsement of at least one "expert" witness, who testified before the military jury that stacking up naked prisoners was "creative":

"Thomas Archambault, a law enforcement instructor and an expert on restraint techniques, said he thought U.S. military policeman Charles Graner, had ‘used good foresight’ in the way he dealt with the detainees.

"He said piling the naked prisoners on top of each other was ‘a very creative technique.’ … Archambault, a former police officer who now runs a consultancy, said that given the circumstances, he saw nothing wrong either with the fact soldiers took pictures of the naked prisoners. ‘Based on the stress these soldiers had gone through, a filthy stinking environment and the fact these prisoners killed American soldiers, I think I would have done the same thing,’ the former police officer said."

Archambault testified before the judge, not the jury, and was dismissed as soon as he admitted that no training manual recommends such techniques as a method of prisoner control, but it isn’t as if such "creativity" isn’t practiced in U.S. prisons: Archambault, after all, claims to have "trained and certified over 17,000 instructors in Use of Force programs, ranging from municipal to Federal levels of Law Enforcement since 1983." Archambault is on the staff of a dodgy outfit known as "TJA Use of Force Training, Inc.," which claims to be "one of the few authorized training vendors for the U.S. military."

One wonders what TJA means: Torture Justly Administered? The origins of this mysterious acronym are nowhere revealed on the company’s Web site, but TJA is otherwise very forthcoming about its list of clients. Based in Cape Coral, Fla., and claiming to be "a Defense Department Certified contractor," TJA boasts of having trained Military Police detachments, Air Force security squadrons, the Air National Guard, and the Military Sealift Command of the Navy, as well as a slew of local police forces.

Let this be fair warning to Americans passing through Onandaga and Rensselaer counties in upstate New York: don’t get caught speeding or DUI, or you might find yourself on the bottom of a human pyramid. God help you if you should ever find yourself in the custody of the Department of Corrections of Union County, New Jersey – and remember to smile for the camera. And if I were you, there’s whole swatches of the South, including Texas, that I’d avoid under any circumstances: given the accuracy of TJA’s client list, we must take their word for it that they’ve been busy "training" thousands of law enforcement professionals throughout the region in techniques such as "clown stacking," as Archambault described it in his testimony.

The trial of Charles Graner was supposed to have been a morality play in which the accused was characterized as a bad apple who corrupted the rest: Graner was depicted as the "ringleader" of a small group of grunts who supposedly broke discipline and ran wild at Abu Ghraib, all on their own. But there was plenty of testimony from previously prosecuted participants claiming they were just following orders. Perhaps the most telling testimony, however, came from Roger Brokaw, who was a military interrogator at Abu Ghraib. Brokaw said there was a "quota" of intelligence reports that had to be filled, and that it didn’t matter what the quality of this intelligence turned out to be. Quantity was the decisive factor:

"There was pressure on us to fill quotas. I was told as long as you produce reports sent along to the higher echelons, it didn’t matter."

Womack tried to show that Graner was merely the instrument of higher-ups, but news reports of the trial were uniformly unsympathetic to the defense. This snippet from the Financial Timesaccount is typical:

"Megan Ambuhl, one of the soldiers who has already pleaded guilty, told the court that military intelligence officers asked her to point at the genitals of a naked showering Iraqi and laugh. But on cross-examination she admitted having had a sexual relationship with Spec. Graner, and said she did not want him to go to jail."

What Ambuhl’s sexual history has to do with her testimony on the role played by intelligence officers is not clear. Ambuhl is not alone in pointing to the active complicity of military intelligence officers, none of whom have been charged. Nor is the contention of the defense that this went all the way to the top beyond the boundaries of credibility. You’ll recall the case of one Joe Ryan, a private contractor who worked for CACI International as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib, whose online diary, as the Boston Globe reported, pointed the finger directly at the White House:

"March 30: The other big news at work was a message sent to us from Ms. Rice, the National Security Advisor, thanking us for the intelligence that has come out of our shop and noting that our work is being briefed to President Bush on a regular basis."

The diary was originally posted on the Web site of KSTP radio in Minneapolis, Minn., but was quickly pulled as it made national headlines. Not quickly enough, however, as cached copies were soon posted all over the Internet. This is how the Condi Rice-Abu Ghraib connection was first made public – not by some enterprising reporter, but on account of the sheer stupidity of some knuckle-dragging thug whose prowar fulminations on the KSTP site were eagerly read by the local red-state fascists.

Desperate for usable intelligence, and scrambling to avoid a looming defeat in Iraq, the White House had a clear hand in what went on not only at Abu Ghraib, but throughout the prison system set up by the Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries yet to be identified. Seymour Hersh was the first to report this, just as he broke the Abu Ghraib story, with his exposure of the program known as "Copper Green." A secret army of "special forces" drawn from a wide variety of military and intelligence units was created, and their task was succinctly summed up by a former intelligence official cited by Hersh:

"Grab whom you must. Do what you want."

The occupation authorities have so far grabbed a cumulative total of some 50,000 Iraqis, 70-to-90 percent of whom have committed no crime. War supporters in this country wax indignant over reports that some of the released detainees have joined the Iraqi resistance – but who can blame them if they were subjected to a program of systematized abuse?

The Schlesinger report, the Taguba report, and the testimony at the trial of Graner and his fellow Abu Ghraib prison guards all point to the complicity of higher-ups. The only question is how far up the totem pole it goes. If Joe Ryan is to be believed, it goes all the way up to Condi Rice herself. Will anyone dare ask our presumptive secretary of state about it at her upcoming confirmation hearings – or are the Democrats more beaten down and helpless in the face of their tormentors than the inmates at Abu Ghraib?

Andrew Sullivan opines that the horrors of Abu Ghraib undermined the war: what he doesn’t understand is that this is the war. Not the war he wished for – an antiseptic fantasy in which the grateful Iraqis thronged the streets hailing us as their "liberators" – but the war we have and will continue to have so long as Sullivan and others in the War Party demand that we "stay the course." Abu Ghraib had to happen, given the nature of the conflict: a struggle pitting the Iraqis – the overwhelming majority of whom want us out – against their occupiers. It wasn’t the implementation of the war plan, or the lack of a war plan – it was the war itself that gave rise to Abu Ghraib and the scandal of widespread torture from Guantanamo to Afghanistan.

A population that resists "liberation" by a foreign army of occupation must be systematically terrorized – there is no other way to exercise control except by continually reminding them who’s boss. Torture is a necessary corollary of occupation: it doesn’t matter that most of the Iraqis rounded up are innocent. The idea is to strike terror in the hearts of potential resistance fighters and deter them from fighting back.

The idea behind the Abu Ghraib abuse, according to Seymour Hersh, was to let out those detainees who were broken and blackmail them with photos of their humiliation: they would then turn into willing informants who would be able to gather intelligence on the insurgency. Abu Ghraib wasn’t an aberration: it was a policy. It wasn’t an isolated incident, as subsequent investigations show: it was a tactic consciously applied by top Pentagon officials, with the full knowledge and consent of Condi Rice and others in the White House. Was it a coincidence that the U.S. military was presiding over a sadistic orgy of violence and sexual humiliation just as Justice Department lawyers were writing memos redefining torture to mean the infliction of life-threatening injuries and claiming that the president and his minions are immune from prosecution for war crimes?

I don’t think so.

Graner, Lynndie England, and the others already convicted, as well as those slated to go on trial shortly, are but pawns in a game: the war-hawks in the Pentagon, who unleashed their army of torturers on the "liberated" peoples of Iraq, have so far escaped blame, and the whole mess is being swept under the rug. As George W. Bush proclaims the glories of his "global democratic revolution" and cites the upcoming elections in Iraq as evidence of America’s commitment to liberty, the War Party is desperate to hide the real face of the American Imperium: the horror of Abu Ghraib.

But the mask is slipping, and the truth is bound to come out. And when it does, the 10-year sentence handed out to Graner ought to be doubled, tripled, or maybe even quadrupled when it comes to meting out justice to the real perpetrators of the grave crimes committed at Abu Ghraib.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].