On Sept. 26, Pvt. First Class Lynndie England (you know, the Abu Ghraib superbabe who gained world recognition for adorning prisoners with leashes, confirming the existence of detainee genitalia and sleeping with her superior) was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, four counts of maltreatment and one count of committing an indecent act.
She faced a maximum of nine years behind bars. She was sentenced to three years and will be eligible for parole after one. She can also have her sentenced reduced by up to six months for good behavior.
What? That's all she got? They should have burned her at the stake and then stoked the blaze further so the flames spread through the upper ranks and fried those who condoned, sanctioned or at the very least turned a blind eye to her actions.
The actions taken by this young lady were absolutely inexcusable, and the sentence received in no way reflects the seriousness of her crimes. To put a three-year prison term into perspective, in many states across the nation, the possession of marijuana lands you one year in jail (which is when England will get out on parole). In Wyoming, possessing more than 3 ounces lands you five years. In Montana, more than 2.12 ounces lands you 20.
England's offenses, however, far outweigh carrying a 3-ounce bag of cannabis. She stripped (literally) the detainees of their dignity,
humiliated them and abused them; all direct violations of the Geneva Convention.
Some argue she does not understand what is enumerated in the Geneva Convention and therefore cannot be held accountable. In fact, an Army investigation into the ordeal confirmed that soldiers at Abu Ghraib were not trained in Geneva Convention rules.
This line of thought, however, supports the old cliché - ignorance is bliss. In the American judicial system, being ignorant is never an excuse. Ever tried telling a police officer, "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know"? It will not work. And it shouldn't work with England either.
She knew that what she was doing was wrong, by her own admission, yet she proceeded regardless. For this, she deserves worse than what she got.
Moreover, by not giving her a harsher punishment, the U.S. government missed an opportunity to send a message to the other Englands within their ranks. Instead of asserting that this type of behavior will not be tolerated, by giving perpetrators a mere slap on the wrist, they are allowing it to continue.
I am aware that two of England's
supervisors received stricter sentences. Spc. Charles Graner - a top prison guard and father of England's child - and Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick received 10 (of a possible 17) and eight years in prison, respectively. Yet by not sentencing the little men, their ignorance is condoned and their further manipulation is perpetuated.
This of course does not mean that the higher-ups who "tricked" her into believing what she was doing was right should get off scot-free. They are equally as guilty and should take the fall as well.
Several reports and allegations attest to the fact that high-ranking officers were well aware of the Abu Ghraib abuse, and instead of condemning the soldiers for their actions, they encouraged them to continue.
In an exclusive interview with "Dateline NBC," England recalled that Graner would share his photographs with military intelligence officers when they would drop in. The response: "Keep up the good work," "Wow, I never would have thought of that" or "Oh, wow, can I get a copy of that?"
Megan Ambuhl, a soldier who served in Iraq with Graner, made statements similar to England's during Graner's trial last year, claiming they were regularly told by military intelligence to "soften up" detainees for interrogations. "(Military intelligence) encouraged us all the time," she testified.
Frederick also tried to blame his superiors, saying when he questioned the degrading treatment of prisoners, he was told that's what military intelligence wanted.
Conclusion: Obviously the higher-ups knew. Unfortunately, little is being done to take them down. Col. Tom Pappas, head of military intelligence, was relieved of command, reprimanded and fined $8,000 in lieu of the scandal. Laugh. Head of the prison's interrogation center Lt. Col. Stephen Jordan's role in the scandal is "still under investigation."
If the U.S. government is serious about repairing its image abroad, then it must punish those responsible, and the punishment must fit the crime. At this point, it is doing neither.
Scott Patterson is an international studies senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.