Does the punishment fit the crime?

Or do I not know the whole story? I ask this sincerely. It doesn't seem fair to me:

Specialist Jeremy Sivits, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit, faces three charges in the court-martial, including the maltreatment of detainees at the prison, conspiracy to maltreat detainees and negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty, the Army statement said. If convicted of all charges, Specialist Sivits could face a combination of penalties including as much as a year in prison, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine and a bad conduct discharge, military officials said.

As much as a year in prison? This is the man who is thought to have taken the photographs of the tortured Iraqi prisoners. I agree that the higher-ups are equally responsible, but for the people who were right there...a year? Simply possessing 5 grams of crack would put a person in prison longer.

Edited to add, for clarity, because someone emailed and asked: I'm not saying the penalty for Sivits is too harsh. On the contrary. My point is that I think it's too lenient in light of other crimes, but I'm guessing the crack example isn't a valid comparison; is the as-much-as-a-year penalty standard for the terms they're following in the courtmartial? The Geneva conventions? See this New Yorker article for more on the torture, including the fact that the British are implicated in similar treatment of prisoners and details of John Walker Lindh's humiliation as a prisoner.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Doesn't sound like much, does

Doesn't sound like much, does it? I've just not been able to look at those, makes me physically ill.

-- Michelle Palmer

Why Shouldn't It?

Think about it this way: if a journalist had taken photos of the abuses, would you be demanding that the journalist be locked up?

First, the penalties go much further than a year in prison, as you note, as well. With that kind of discharge, the guy's professional life is pretty much ruined.

Second, all that the NYT story suggests is that Sivins took pictures, as you note. If he hadn't taken those pictures, we would never have seen this scandal. Yes, if he was taking pictures, he may have been one of those who was participating in the abuse -- but we don't know that yet. That's why, even in courts martial, soldiers are innocent until proven guilty. Note that there are no charges of assault or battery mentioned. He's on trial, essentially, for negligence -- which, having taught courses on the Geneva Convention and Laws of War, yes I find despicable -- but in this very public affair, there are as yet no accusations that he himself ordered or caused the abuse.

Yes, he documented it, and it's despicable. But the MI and CIA spooks are the ones who created the climate and who ordered these things done, and they're the ones who need to hang and twist in the wind, much more so than a truck mechanic from Pennsylvania who took the pictures that called this to the world's attention. No, I'm not saying he's in any way noble or falsely accused -- but it's a lot easier for the brass to prosecute him than it is for them to indict the entire chain of command that enabled this.

For what it's worth, I'm speaking here both as the older brother of a young man who I believe honestly deserved his prison sentence, and who I love very much, and also as a Sergeant who testified at the court martial that sent one of the soldiers in his squad to prison at Fort Leavenworth. I might ask for more deliberation in calls for prosecution.


I'm not "demanding" anything; I'm raising a question, and we are deliberating.

First: The journalist analogy doesn't work for me. I'm indeed glad we can see these pictures now, but the perceptions from the victim's end are different; a journalist is not necessarily complicit in the organization and would very likely take such photos so that the world can see them and justice can be done. Maybe Sivits took the photos so that, ostensibly, he'd be perceived as going along with the torturers, but perhaps he truly intended to be a whistleblower. But to the detainees, whose testimony has implicated Sivits, the act of photographing the torture is, I'd argue (and it is just I who am talking; I'm not speaking for the detainees here), a major contribution to the humiliation, to the theater, and I'm using the term as Elaine Scarry uses it in The Body in Pain. Sure, he hasn't been charged with assault or battery, but does it have to be assault and/or battery to qualify as torture?

Second: In the comments under one of your recent posts, Rob says, "I have already heard that these soldiers are using the excuse 'I was just following orders' when questioned why they committed these heinous acts. Absolutely unacceptable." You make good points about the chain of command, but where are personal accountability and integrity here? These people aren't just warm bodies following orders, as Rob points out. Of course you're right in saying that it's easier to pin it all on a few than it would be to clean house from top to bottom (that would include this racist culture, too), but how can a balance be struck? The consequences of insurrection might be grim, but one still has a choice.

As an aside...I'm dismayed, although not surprised, at Rumsfeld's hypocrisy in praising Joseph Darby for blowing the whistle on the environment Rumsfeld helped to create.

You're onto something...

...with the crack comment. Once again, the small person is going to take a fall instead of the people truly responsible for this. Just like 5 grams of crack can get you more jail time than will ever be served by Kenneth Lay, who was responsible for the loss of countless people's life savings, this guy will be court-martialed and that'll be the end of it. And the racism, the arrogance, and the abuse will go on because Rumsfield and Bush will still be in office because we, as liberals, are too busy fighting amongst ourselves to do anything about it.

As controversial as this is, I do believe that there is some credence to the "just following orders" excuse, no matter how reprehensible these crimes, and we should not cynically dismiss that so quickly. These people have been trained to never question, but to follow orders on a dime and have been told, very loudly and over and over again, that their very survival depended on it. We cannot forget that this is a warzone, and the people who live and work in it everyday are perhaps not as sensitive--culturally or politically--as you and I are to these things. I don't pretend to even understand what it is like, so I'm more willing to give them--the soldiers anyway--a bit of benefit of the doubt. Besides, I am much more angry at the person who gave the order than the person who follows it. And I am even angrier at the Bush administration, who are acting as if they--and the hate and horseshit they spread everyday--are completely not at fault here and are scampering to cover their collective asses. Let's strip Condi, Rumsey, Dickie and Georgie down and laugh at their genitals while someone snaps a picture. I don't think it would rectify anything, mind you, but I would still like to see it.

Where in the Testimony?

Where is Sivits implicated by the detainees in the document to which you link?

And, um, "It doesn't seem fair", and saying that the penalty seems "too lenient" -- when he hasn't yet been convicted -- sure sounds like a demand to me.

Soldiers following orders.

The topic of soldiers following orders was covered quite eloquently by another poster but I will restate the fact that there are lawful orders and unlawful orders.

I was a soldier in the US Army. I was conditioned to obey direct orders. I was also taught the difference between a lawful order and an unlawful order. Every soldier knows that they do not have to obey and unlawful order and they know the very specific steps to take when given an unlawful order. The soldiers in these pictures have no excuse.

Soldiers are not automatons. The excuse of "only following orders" is no more valid now than in Nazi concentration camp or Balkan concentration camps.

Soldiers specifically United States soldiers know right from wrong. Those that break the law should be punished severely. More severly than our current military law can.

Llew Montgomery

We don't know the facts.

And I won't know the facts because I'm determined to be uninformed.

However, it seems that the original post is questioning the report that IF he is convicted of the three charges, which include not only negligence, but also maltreatment and conspiracy towards maltreatment, that he could face up to one year (in addition to the penalties related to his rank). I didn't *think* Clancy was suggesting that before we know the facts, before a conviction, that he's guilty and thus deserving more than a year, but that IF he is convicted of maltreatment in addition to "only" negligence (and I'd argue that "only" negligence is still possibly an offense worthy of more), that she was questioning whether one year was adequate.

- Michelle Palmer

Reconsidered: Negligence, Yes

Good point, Michelle, and you've led me to reconsider part of my position. Yes, under the Geneva convention, failure to protect prisoners of war is, in fact, a crime, and this is where military law differs from civilian law: you can be punished for failing to prevent a crime. However, where I think I still differ from Clancy is that I don't entirely buy that taking pictures was itself a crime, and I think the Elaine Scarry thing is a bit of a red herring: surely if taking the pictures contributed to the humiliation, then distributing them contributed even more to that humiliation? Should atrocities then never be documented? Or, as Clancy might be suggesting, does permission to document them depend on who you are?

What bothers me is the fact that Sivits has been the first to go on trial seems to indicate that yes, in fact, it does depend on who you are. I'm furious that Rumsfeld lied in writing to members of congress in order to cover up what was going on in the prisons, furious that General Myers openly admitted to sitting on the report for weeks without reading it even after the scandal had started to break, furious that these abuses were facilitated and encouraged by those in positions of power within and outside the chain of command (CIA and MI), and while yes, Sivits bears personal responsibility (the lawful versus unlawful order is an important distinction), there is no indication as yet that any of the people who gave these orders are going to be put on trial. The lower enlisted, the bottom of the food chain, are going to be the sacrificial lambs, and putting them on trial first implicitly says that they're the only problem: the system that itself demanded these abuses from those at the bottom of the food chain is itself apparently beyond question. Which means that these abuses will happen again: they'll just be performed by different people, and if taking the photos is a crime, then we can be sure that we'll never know about further abuses.

While Sivits needs to answer for what he did (and for what he failed to do), there are other people higher up who have much, much more to answer for, and questioning whether his sentence would be severe enough seems to me to divert attention from those higher-ups. To use your original analogy, Clancy, it's like arguing that someone who's caught with five grams of crack in his pocket should receive a stiffer sentence, and letting the dealer and the importer and the bribed cops go free.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.