M7A1 Essay – Abu Gharaib Prison Case Study Questions Answered

M7A1 Essay Instructions

The purpose of this activity is for you to examine a real-world case of abuse of power and the consequences that resulted.  Most of you are familiar with the Abu Ghraib Prison case and what happened when abuse of power went unchecked.  Let’s look at the case in some detail and share your thoughts and opinions in a 2-3 page essay.

Some have argued that the Abu Ghraib prison scandal became a symbol of the military’s unpreparedness to deal with the chaos and insurgency of a post-war Iraq. Having read the case study and viewed the video tape reflect for a few moments on the events and climate that permitted such activities to take place. Then answer the questions outlined below in a 2-3 page APA format essay. In your essay, consider the following questions

  • First, when considering the actions that took place at Abu Ghraib, who should be held responsible? Who should be held accountable?
  • Describe the mitigating factors that cause you to hold an individual or individuals more or less responsible. Accountable? 
  • Discuss what caused/allowed Abu Ghraib to happen.
  • Explain if what happened at Abu Ghraib was the result of just a “few bad apples”…or was it something more systemic?
  • Why you do suppose that those who were troubled by what they knew was taking place did not stop it? Report it? Why did some apparently go along who really didn’t want to?
  • Finally, if there is one overarching lesson to be learned from Abu Ghraib it is…?

M7A1 Essay – Abu Gharaib Prison Case Study Questions Answered

The prisoner abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib prison from April 2004 under the Coalition Provisional Authority’s watch is by far one the most heinous acts ever recorded in modern history. According to Amnesty International, these atrocities were widespread and often ranged from murder, physical and even sexual abuse (Salvatore Anthony Esposito, 2012). Thus, pursuant to the facts presented in this case study, I am of the opinion that military police guards, their commanding officers and other senior officials of the Bush administration are personally liable for the abuse that become apparent at Abu Ghraib prison. While individual soldiers were responsible for carrying out various abusive acts, they did so while following orders from their commanding officers who were answerable to (the then Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld. It is these particular individuals, who I believe, should be held accountable for what occurred in this overseas detention center.

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There are a number of extenuating circumstances that come into play when holding an individual or group of individuals more or less responsible for the atrocities that occurred at Abu Ghraib. Firstly, any moral agent is entirely responsible for their actions. As Benvenisti (2014) argues, an individual capable of basic comprehension and with ordinary sense of right and wrong, who acts independently without being subjected to duress, is answerable for their actions (65). In this regard, the individual reservists who were, later on, described as having committed “blatant sadistic acts” were party to the abuse. Some were pictured abusing the Iraqi prisoners using unconventional techniques that now even included threatening prisoners with un-muzzled guard dogs. Moreover, the commanding officers also played a major role in allowing these abuses to take place. As one of the indicted prison guards later revealed, the commanding officers often gave these orders which they expected would be followed to the letter by their subordinates. Similarly, officials from the United States government are also liable for the human rights abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib. In particular, the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the actions that took place in the detention center and is ,therefore, accountable since he was head of the Department of Defense (DOD).

It is vital to understand the cataclysm of causative events and factors that were at play at the time when seeking to explore the reasons why the Abu Ghraib incident even took place in the first place. Continued US presence in Iraq had sparked an insurgency among disillusioned Baathists who now viewed them as occupiers as opposed to liberators. In response, any individual accused of financing or participating in these movements was immediately arrested and transported to Abu Ghraib for processing. The abuse that soon followed was conducted by junior officers who did so only after receiving orders from the existing chain of command (Brooks, 2015, p. 78). Most notably, Generals Geoff Miller and Ricardo Sanchez are explicitly cited as key figures responsible for giving the green light allowing operatives to use any means at their disposal to extract crucial intelligence from prisoners. This included the use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation, exposing prisoners to the elements, shackling them in painful positions for extended periods and preying on their phobias. At the heart of this problem was the White House’s disregard for the Geneva Conventions as it relates to the overall   treatment prisoners. In essence, the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib were labeled “enemy combatants”. It was this tag that the Bush administration used as an excuse to sidestep Geneva Conventions, subsequently creating an environment conducive for abuse.

The evidence presented after the investigations into the abuse at Abu Ghraib reveals that what took place there was not the mere action of some “few bad apples” as the public was led to believe. In reality, the whole barrel was rotten and there is much that points to this abuse being systematic. The abuse was so widespread that reports indicate that it still continued a year after the story came to light. To begin with, General Geoff Miller was tasked with implementing Guantánamo Bay-style methods of interrogation in detention centers across Iraq. Next in command was General Ricardo Sanchez who then authorized the use of these policies and made absolutely certain that they were implemented by all commanding officers. While it has been intensively argued that the commanding officers were simply following orders, there is clear evidence that suggests that they tolerated and encouraged these actions. This makes them equally culpable for the human rights abuses committed at the detention center. As argued by legal pundits with regard to the Vietnam My Lai massacre of 1968, the disregard of civilian life and prisoners of war (POW) was beginning to creep into the United States military and bound to emerge later on in future (Johnson, O’Connor, Sassaman, & Rawal, 2010). Abu Ghraib, therefore, came to embody this prediction, revealing the darker side of US foreign policy.             Even so, the incidents at Abu Ghraib prison was, in essence, a blessing in disguise for policy makers within the United States especially owing to the overarching lessons learned. Public uproar within the United States and around the world led many to question its legitimacy in addition to the justification of its activities in Iraq. President George W. Bush was forced to acknowledge these crimes publicly, re-affirming that the United States was indeed a “nation of law” while also insisting that all its overseas detention centers would, from thenceforward,  abide by domestic and international law. The so-called “bad apples” and all those complicit in abusing the prisoners were soon brought to justice and others were dishonorably discharged from the military. Thus, the United States was forced to commit to the elimination of all kinds of torture and expected to lead this fight by example.

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