When the photos of Private Lynndie England of the 372nd Military Police Company at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, abusing and humiliating prisoners came to light in 2003, I gleefully and instantly used her name as a punchline. As a writer and a comedian, I did my part in securing her name in pop culture. I willingly vilified her as a caricature of a sadist – I wrote she was the Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now of Iraqi prison guards.
The horror, the horror…
I said that she even made smokers look bad.
I’ll admit it. I suspected that the rogue individual defense made by the Bush Administration and more specifically Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was baloney. But I eagerly made jokes and quips at the expense of England anyway. I hopped on the ‘lynching Lynndie’ bandwagon with no hesitation. I even considered registering mockedbylynndie.com – where it would showcase the iconic picture of the soldier, cigarette hanging from her mouth pointing at whatever contributors didn’t like at that moment. Lynndie England: disgraced Iraq War soldier and sad internet meme.
‘A Monster-in-chief‘ is what she was called by The Guardian in 2004, ‘A Symbol of Shame‘ by CBS, ‘the face of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib’ in Marie Claire. The whole time, England, herself, in so many words said that she was a scapegoat, said that Rumsfeld knew, said that she was just following orders from her superiors. She said this on her way to prison after she was convicted of conspiracy, maltreating Iraqi detainees. She said this when her 20-30 year sentence was reduced. She held fast to this when she was finally released from prison in 2007.
In May of 2004 Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference, “We’re taking and will continue to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those that may have violated the code of military conduct and betrayed the trust placed in them by the American people I have no doubt that we will take these charges and allegations most seriously.” He even went so far as to call the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib “totally unacceptable and un-American”.
England was locked up for 3 years and dishonorably discharged from the military.
President Barack Obama released what is now known as the Torture Memos – the legal opinions that justified water boarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, physical violence and reality show staples like bugs and public humiliation. Basically, what we saw in the pictures of England, were justified for the CIA by the legal jerry-rigging of lawyers John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury.
A week later after these memos were released a report by the Senate Armed Services Committee drew the connection between the Torture Memos and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
It’s proof that England was telling the truth. She was just following orders.
These memos skirted around and ensured acts otherwise known as torture somehow didn’t violate the Geneva Convention, the US Constitution or our common sense of human rights. Bybee, of course is now a judge in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has rightfully caused some outrage…since his (ahem) judgment has now been called into question.
These practices have been called ‘harsh interrogation techniques’ by their supporters, namely kneejerk Obama oppos…and/or former vice president Dick Cheney.
Where were these ‘harsh interrogation technique’ peddlers when England was taking the fall? What were they saying then? Peddling the rogue individual defense, of course. The lone wolf. The bad apple: Lynndie England. Yes, they let – we let a woman that signed up for the military during war time when she was still in high school become a universal object of disdain.
Support our troops?
“We didn’t kill them. We didn’t cut their heads off.” England said in an interview. “We didn’t shoot them. We didn’t cut them and let them bleed to death. We just did what we were told to soften them up for interrogation, and we were told to do anything short of killing them.”
Sure when she says it – it’s grotesque. But when it’s in a legal memo – it’s up for debate.
Now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag, it’s becoming clear that she is less like Marlon Brando’s character and more like the Kamikazi pilots during WWII. She was sacrificed – her livelihood, her future in the line of duty – for the sake of a war effort. Her country and more specifically her government abandoned her for doing exactly as she (it appears now) was told.
She should be pardoned. Her record completely wiped clean.
I never thought I would say this – but Lynndie England is a symbol of embarrassment. Not because she posed in pictures following orders – but because our government let her take the fall. And we/I completely fell for it.
This piece also appears on Huffington Post.
Author’s Note: I was invited to submit my column to Pajamas Media. This piece was rejected by them because they disagreed with the idea that the acts at Abu Ghraib and the CIA Torture Memos are in anyway related. Ahem.