“Prima che ci fosse Abu Ghraib, c’era Virginia Beach”

Una lunga inchiesta – temo solo per abbonati – del Wall Street Journal sulle radici delle torture nei confronti dei soldati iracheni:

“Before there was Abu Ghraib, there was Virginia Beach.

In March 2003, shortly before the 372nd Military Police Company of Army reservists shipped out to Iraq, its members enjoyed a weekend of R&R.

Three of the soldiers — Lynndie England, Charles Graner and Steven Strother — took off for Virginia Beach, Va., in a borrowed Ford Focus. They got drunk one night, and when Spc. Strother passed out, Spc. England took off her clothes and got in bed with him, according to Spc. Strother’s testimony before a military court. He said Cpl. Graner took pictures, and then Spc. England snapped more photos while Cpl. Graner exposed himself next to Spc. Strother’s head.

“It was just a joke,” Spc. Strother testified.

It was also a hint of worse things to come.

What happened at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq eight months later is now well known as a low point in U.S. military history. Naked detainees were stacked in pyramids, raped with phosphorescent light sticks and forced to masturbate in groups. While all that and more happened, American soldiers smiled for the cameras and signaled their approval with broad grins and hoisted thumbs.

An independent panel headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger assigned direct blame to the soldiers in the prison and their immediate supervisors. The panel also blamed top leaders at the Pentagon. It said interrogation methods used on suspected unlawful combatants at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, where the Bush administration says the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply, were transferred to Iraq, which the Pentagon says is covered by the treaty protecting prisoners. At the same time, many of the controls that were in place at Guantánamo were absent at Abu Ghraib, investigators found.

Intense pressure from high up the chain of command led to overly aggressive tactics, the report concluded. Meanwhile, it said, overwhelmed soldiers in the prison were unclear as to who was in charge and how far they should go to help get information.

Beyond these larger forces, some who were inside Abu Ghraib tell a relatively simple story. They describe how one soldier with a strong personality and red flags in his record apparently triggered a descent into horrific behavior while a distracted Army hierarchy failed to stop it.

The Army Reserves’ 372nd Military Police Company is based in Cresaptown, Md., population 6,000. Its civilian members are cops and restaurant managers and salesmen. They come from small towns in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, places where coal mines once dominated local economies.

Some joined the reserves because of anger over the Sept. 11 attacks, but most for the money. In peacetime, they might pick up an extra $250 a month, enough for a car payment, and have to serve just one weekend a month plus two weeks of annual summer camp. But with the regular armed services stretched thin by Afghanistan and Iraq, the government has called Army reservists and National Guard members to active duty in large numbers and pressed them into jobs normally done by full-time soldiers.

In 2001, the 372nd was sent to Bosnia for the better part of a year. Not long after getting back, members learned they would leave again, for Iraq. Cracks in morale appeared, as most had never imagined having to spend so much time away from homes and jobs. In February 2003, when the company reported for duty at Fort Lee, Va., some reservists complained that they were too sick to serve. The Army filled the gap with individual soldiers from other reserve units.

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