The Blame Game

In 1961, a year after the trial of Adolf Eichmann for atrocitiesperpetrated during World War II, Stanley Milgram, a researcher atYale, conducted an experiment to gauge the balance between personalconscience and obedience. He gave volunteers the impression thatthey were to administer a series of progressively strongerelectrical shocks to other test subjects (purportedly volunteersthemselves, actually professional actors).

As the severity of the shocks increased so did the cries of painfrom the recipient test subjects. And if the volunteer questionedthe ethical nature of the continued abuse, they were relieved ofany liability and given orders to continue by theauthoritative-looking test administrator. In 62.5 percent ofvolunteers continued to administer shocks – up to lethal levels -without further question.

The original intention of the Milgram experiments was to gaugethe accountability of Nazi soldiers for their participation duringthe holocaust. What it gave us instead was an uncomfortable insightinto institutional abuse and a chilling look at how easy it is foraverage people to forgo their personal morality when faced with anauthoritative presence.

The recent Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses are a perfect example ofthis.

There is almost no accounting for personal abuse ininstitutions. Almost always there is a sustaining system ultimatelyresponsible for creating an environment of neglect. For the sevenG.I.s accused of abusive treatment of Iraqi detainees, that system- the one ultimately responsible for complete neglect of humanrights and dignity at Abu Ghraib – is finally coming underfire.

After reports and photographs of prisoner abuse were made publicearlier this month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld martyredhimself, taking full responsibility for the “oversights” leading tothe incidents. Since the military had done an outstanding job ofnarrowing the actual responsibility and guilt to the seven soldiersinvolved, Secretary Rumsfeld’s admission of guilt appeared to be anempty gesture; more of an expression of consternation than actualacknowledgement of guilt. Little did we know how honest he was.

As reported by The New York Times, an upcoming article in TheNew Yorker magazine reports that Rumsy and one of his top aides,Stephen A. Cambone, had approved the expansion of what is referredto as the “special access program.” The program allowed for sexualhumiliation and physical intimidation in order to gain informationabout Iraqi insurgency in places ranging from covert battlefieldoperations to Abu Ghraib.

These accusations, combined with holes within Rumsfeld’s owntestimony concerning the dates he was made aware of the abuses, aswell as the dates he briefed the president on the abuses, paint apicture of administratively-sanctioned abuse. And that picture isdamning for more than just the Bush administration.

These seven soldiers didn’t act alone. They were part of abigger system. And while they are guilty as hell, they are victimsof a negligent administration. The guilt lies in the hands ofeveryone through the ranks, from the commanding officers toSecretary Rumsfeld, to President Bush, to American voters.

How can we, as the top of the political food chain, be so blind?Perhaps Bush did buy his way into the Whitehouse, and perhaps hedid do a great job of creating a Teflon wall around his reasoningfor the Iraqi invasion, but when are we, the voting public, finallygoing to forgo the post-September 11th guilt and fear and startgetting pissed off?

As much as our personal freedoms might seem like a myth, we are,as a consuming, tax-paying, Survivor-watching public, the ultimateand final voice in a corrupt administration. We are ones thatallowed the invasion of Iraq. We are the ones who allowed theperpetration of abuses at Abu Ghraib and we are the ones ultimatelyresponsible for making things right.

Take down your flags. Ignore partisan leanings. Don’t vote forRalph Nader. And quit worrying about tax cuts. Put aside irony andideals for just a moment and please, please, please, get thatmotherfucker out of the White House. It is our responsibility torealign America and the international American image. This is thegreatest country in the world. Let’s start acting like it.