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It's time I finally spoke out on this issue.

Watching the frequent and increasingly disturbing reports coming out of Iraq about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners has been not surprising in the least.

You see, I have a unique perspective on this particular issue, having spent my time as a U.S. Army Military Policeman. So, for those of you out there ready to crucify each and every one of those kids for their admittedly shocking behavior, sit up and pay attention.

I went to Fort McClellan, Alabama in 1985, a couple months after my eighteenth birthday. I joined for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was a steady paying job and I would be following in my father's and grandfather's path of Law enforcement. The most serious issue I had dealt with up to this point in my life was trying to pass my senior government class so that I could graduate. (I finally aced my final, allowing me to graduate with a grade of 'D' in the class. It was the only time in my high school career I received anything other than an 'A'.)

I was young. The Army promised to turn me into a man, capable of handling any situation that might come up in my law enforcement duties while a member of the U.S. Armed services in only sixteen short weeks.

That's eight weeks of basic training and eight weeks of Military Police School.

I might mention at this point that the Marine Corps takes almost that long just to put someone through basic training.

But I was ready! I wanted to learn and be a part of the law enforcement community and to do my duty as a by gawd Amer-i-cun.

Now, let me make you aware of something: If my memory serves me, approximately four hours of training time in the eight weeks of Military Police School dealt with the handling of P.O.W.'s.

Four hours of training for one of the most mission critical tasks of the Military Police during periods of war.

Having been both a civilian and military law enforcement official, I'd like to point out a few distinct differences between the two lines of work:

In the civilian sector, the minimum age for a police officer is 21.

In the Military, you can join at 17 with parental consent.

In the civilian sector, you deal with a large range of perpetrators, ranging from housewives to accountants to hardened criminals.

In the military, every apprehension you make is of an individual who is trained to kill. The are trained in hand-to-hand combat, they are trained with weapons, they are trained in the art of escape and evasion.

In the civilian sector, the rights of suspect are of paramount importance.

In the Military, you enforce the Uniform Code of Military Justice; a system which is so inclusive that on any given day every member of the armed services could very easily, if unwittingly, perform an action for which they could face court martial proceedings. (There is no serious distinction between the level of offenses in the military, only their punishment. In other words, there is no such thing as a misdemeanor in the U.C.M.J. By definition, all crimes falling under its purvue are Federal Offenses. You can be court martialed for failing to pay your bills. You can be court martialed for swearing at a superior. For offenses that, in the civilian sector, would only get you a bad credit rating or fired from your job, you can have the rest of your life ruined.) The secret, of course, is not pissing off the wrong people.

Now, with that in mind, let's look at what is probably a typical scenario in Iraq.

An eighteen year-old kid is guarding a group of people who he or she has been told will kill any and all Americans as enemies of Allah at any available opportunity. Then, a Colonel or Major or their Provost Martial or some guy in plain clothes who reeks of Counter-Intelligence comes by and says, "You know, if they were softened up a bit before they got to the interrogation, it wouldn't hurt matters any. But don't do anything that would violate the Geneva Convention," wink-wink nudge-nudge.

Don't believe it could happen? I'm here to tell you, such "suggestions," to violate the approved code of ethics happen all the time. It's not an order, of course. That would be unlawful. And since you know the secret to surviving in the Military is not pissing off the wrong people, you're not going to call said Colonel on his suggestion, and your certainly not going to ignore it.

Let me give you an example: After having a particularly rough time with a prisoner, I brought him into the station in handcuffs and I, myself, had a bruise growing on my cheek. My Provost Marshall saw this and pulled me aside.

"If they're still beligerent when you put them in the car," he said, "don't bother trying to fasten their seatbelts. Nobody can blame you for not wanting to craw into a confined space with a violent offender. Then, make sure that you handcuff them behind their back." He smiled at me and leaned in close. "Then, on the way to the station, say a dog runs into the middle of the road. Nobody is going to blame you for slamming on your brakes to keep from running over a dog. Your subject, on the other hand, gets his face slammed into to the glass. Takes the fight right out of them." He smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and walked away.

It happens.

So, with this in mind, you have a bunch of eighteen year old kids who made the decision to put on a uniform after being subjected to one of the best marketing firms on the face of the planet. They have almost no training on how to deal with prisoners-of-war. They are subject to the "suggestions," of people around them who know that if said suggestions are followed, the kids are going to take the fall, not them.

And then, they know that the people they are guarding would kill them--maybe they have even killed a friend of theirs--at any given opportunity.

Guilt? Innocence? Right? Wrong?

These kids are thinking survival.

Does it make it right? Not by any fucking stretch of the imagination. But ffolks, do me a favor:

Look beyond the Privates and Specialists and Corporals.

They're just trying to stay alive. They are wrong, but how many of you would be wrong too, in similar circumstances?

You want the abuse to stop? Me too. There's only one way I know to make that happen.

End this fucking war.

Joseph Haines, signing off from The Edge of the Abyss.

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