Following the Battle of Trenton in 1776, Washington set firm rules for the treatment of prisoners in American custody. “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,” he wrote. In all respects the prisoners were to be treated no worse than American soldiers; and in some respects, better. Through this approach, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries, and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause .... Washington makes clear that he took this approach in the end because of his experience in the wilderness, and the lesson he learned there: soldiers who mistreated prisoners, who took up cruel practices, were bad and unruly soldiers—the discipline and morale of the entire fighting force was undermined by such conduct. For Washington, the issues were clear on both a moral and practical level, and his guidance was given with firm conviction.
Washington's rules on the treatment of prisoners were doctrine of the United States Army for 227 years. From Washington's perspective, they were not marginal matters. Rather, they defined the United States in relationship to the rest of the world.
But early in 2002, a later George W, one who knew no military service, decided he knew better than the Founding Father. The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib makes clear that what transpired in that notorious Iraqi prison was not the misdoings of a few “rotten apples,” but rather the foreseeable consequence of policies shaped at the highest levels of the Bush Administration.
26 February 2007
Labels: the horror
Viewing HBO's The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib has Scott Horton at Balkinization reflecting on the two Georges, Washington and Bush.