One bad day…

There was an AP story that ran in the Oakland Tribune today that attributed the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib to what essentially amounts to one bad day.

The day in question was November 8, 2003. According to the story the guards in the prison were reacting to the shooting down of a Blackhawk helicopter, mortar attacks on the prison itself, as well as other US installations throughout Iraq and a number of other incidents that conspired to make tensions exceptionally high.

So, in other words, it’s someone else’s fault. What a load of crap. Whoever fed that story to the AP reporter who submitted it must think that we’re all a bunch of 12 year olds who will readily accept an explanation for the prisoner abuses we’ve all seen the photos of that comes right out of a comic book. To be specific, a Batman comic book.

See Batman, his sidekick Robin, and most of his regular villains are all the unbalanced freaks that they are because of “one bad day.” That’s the fundamental premise behind lots of superhero comics, but with Batman it’s the dominant theme. Bruce Wayne became the obsessed vigilante in a scary bat costume that he is because of one bad day when his parents were killed in a mugging gone wrong right in front of him. The Joker became the hideous freak he is because on one bad day he fell into a vat of chemicals that twisted his features and his mind. Harvey Dent, former DA of Gotham City, turned into a loon with a split personality that is governed by the flip of a two-headed coin because of an accident that scarred half of his body and turned him into Two Face. The list goes on and on.

The thing is, we all have bad days. Granted, in the world of Batman we’re talking about spectacularly bad days experienced by people who are probably ready to flip their wigs anyway, but I’ve known people who’ve had worse days than any character in Batman and didn’t go bat-shit loony. I’ve had some pretty monumental bad days myself over the last year and while I’m far from a happy camper I’ve so far not felt the need to dress up in an odd costume and plot ridiculously complex super crimes as an outlet for my pain.

The MPs running the prison in Iraq are expected to have bad days. Hell, anyone in any military unit during a war or occupation is pretty much trained to have an endless stream of bad days. Basic training is effectively a series of bad days designed, at least partially, to dull your emotional responses to bad times. I have no problem accepting the idea that many of those soldiers at Abu Ghraib were pretty stressed. I’d expect nothing less. But I do have a problem excusing their behavior as nothing more than a response to Iraqi insurgents’ attacks on their fellow troops.

I think this just ignores the fact that this kind of shit is par for the course in war. It’s very wrong, but that’s because war itself is very wrong. As I’ve said before, there are no nice bits in war. I find it wholly more likely that these soldiers, who I’m sure will all spend time in federal pounding in the ass prison themselves for what they did, were simply doing what they’d been told to do by their superior officers. Those superiors gave those orders, which we may or may not find any evidence of, because they were desperate to get an advantage against the insurgents. If they could get someone to talk and tell them who was coordinating the attacks and how they were being supplied they’d have an edge and could shut down the insurgency quickly, thus avoiding any further embarrassment at the Pentagon or the White House over how obviously unaccomplished this mission was.

If this story keeps dominating the news the way it has for the past several weeks I’m predicting that Dubya’s going to have himself one bad day at the polls in November.

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