Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure

Speaking of The New Yorker and continuing on with my obsession with superior orders...

A while back I read Errol Morris and Philip Gourevitch's article on their movie Standard Operating Procedure. The article was about the M.P. company at Abu Gharib and specifically about Specialist Sabrina Harman. She's the subject of the infamous thumbs up photos. The article was actually pretty sympathetic to Harman and the other M.P.'s, but that's not what set my radar off. Harman's unit, the 372nd M.P. company was a combat M.P. unit. They were trained to support front line units and earlier on their deployment they had trained Iraqi police. But they ended up as prison guards at Abu Gharib. Why? Gourevitch and Morris say:

The new assignment [...] bewildered the company. Combat units don’t run prisons. That is the province of another cadre of M.P.s, known as internment and resettlement M.P.s, who are trained according to the Army’s extensive doctrine on handling all manner of wartime captives and displaced persons. The 372nd M.P.s had no such specialized experience.

This is what we call a feature, not a bug. Their lack of experience in handling prisoners and they ignorance of proper procedures, including the Geneva conventions, was just what the officers running Abu Gharib wanted. The brass deliberately staffed the prison with people they knew, or at least hoped, would be amenable to helping them torture the prisoners.

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