On where the blame should fall

Lawrence Kaplan at The New Republic has some thoughts on whether the system or the actual perpetrators should be blamed for wartime abuses. After valiantly parsing Sen. Kerry's remarks on the Abu Ghraib disgrace, he concludes:

Echoing as it does the clich? that Vietnam was an "atrocity-producing situation," Kerry's suggestion that Abu Ghraib was more policy than accident implies that the guards were not so much victimizers as victims who deserve a Nuremberg defense. But the notion, popularized then as now by the likes of Kerry and Hersh, is risible. By all accounts, what happened at Abu Ghraib did not reflect official policy--indeed, the source of the photographs was a military investigation into violations of official policy. But even in the unlikely event that the photos reflect practices sanctioned, as Kerry puts it, "up the chain of command," the candidate's blame-the-mission-more-than-the-perpetrators stance relieves the guilty of the burden they so clearly bear, and, to the extent it identifies any moral agency at all, locates it in a supposed policy that--whether measured by the Uniform Code of Military Justice or the Old Testament--[*it is every soldier's duty to disobey*][1]. None of this is to say that any senior administration official aware of the abuses should be spared swift and severe punishment. On the contrary, accountability runs up the chain of command. But that hardly exempts the abusers themselves.

That seems about right.


fn1. Emphasis added.

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Um, not sure of that "Old

Um, not sure of that "Old Testament" allusion slipped in there -- didn't Abraham try to obey the plainly immoral command to sacrifice Isaac, and isn't this generally praised as a sign of his proper obedience to his Superior?
--G