Jewish World Review August 10, 2004 / 25 Menachem-Av, 5764
These soldiers refuse to take their infamy into
The soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company recently came home from
Iraq and some are pretty angry. Made infamous by the abuses at Abu Ghraib
prison, they have been caricatured as a bunch of thuggish yahoos from the
hills of West Virginia and Maryland. Now their entire unit may be
They seem, however, unwilling to go quietly, taking their infamy into
I first learned about the 372nd a year ago. One of my students, Richard
Murphy, had been sent to Iraq after his first year of law school. When
Murphy called me just before he entered Iraq, he said his parents had sent
him body armor because his unit had been given out-of-date Vietnam-era flak
jackets. I learned that 40,000 other soldiers in Iraq lacked either the
vests or the essential ceramic plates, and I wrote columns that focused
national attention on the problem.
When the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal hit, the 372nd was suddenly the
focus of international coverage. Stories detailed the broken family
histories of some of the accused guards, including sexual affairs and wife
beatings. Defendant Pvt. Lynndie England, featured in some of the most
shocking pictures, was reported to be carrying the child of another
defendant, Spec. Charles Graner Jr. Both appear in sexually explicit
photos. England's military pretrial hearing created additional shockwaves
this past week.
As for the other soldiers, they feel as if they've been made to look like
recruits from a Jerry Springer show, "hicks with sticks." It did not matter
that few of these soldiers had contact with "Tier 1," where military
intelligence held special prisoners. It did not matter that other tiers (not
under the supervision of military intelligence) appear to have been run in a
professional and humane fashion. None of that mattered because none of that
fit the spin. The abuses were portrayed as the isolated product of some
whacked-out white trash who became savages the moment social controls were
The return of troops can always be a mixed blessing for politicians. They
can return with new perspectives and difficult questions about the planning
and purpose of a war. Putting aside Abu Ghraib, the 372nd was a microcosm of
the problems experienced by many soldiers in Iraq.
Members of the 372nd did not expect to serve beyond a year in Iraq. They
were extended twice. From the outset of their deployment, they discovered
that they would have to fend for themselves without essential equipment. In
addition to not being issued the modern Kevlar vests, the 372nd discovered
that it would be given unarmored Humvees to drive through some of the most
violent areas of Iraq. Then the unit was told to ride guard duty for a
Halliburton subsidiary. The soldiers rode next to truck drivers making
$70,000 a year three times their salaries to protect the deliveries of
this private company. Murphy said he felt like a rent-a-guard for a
mega-conglomerate that could afford its own security force.
Despite these experiences, the 372nd took pride in getting the job done. The
soldiers guarded trucks traveling more than 100,000 miles through hostile
Iraqi territory. They trained about 2,000 police officers. And, yes, they
ran Abu Ghraib for six months. They offer a different story from the "other
tiers," including how they fought for better food and conditions for
detainees. None of that mattered after the pictures from the prison.
Now, they've come home with many questions: Unit members say they want to
know why their families had to buy their body armor. They want to know why
they were given Humvees with the protection of a Ford Pinto. They want to
know why they were required to guard private trucks. More important, they
may want to know why they've been made the scapegoats of this scandal.
This week, 372nd troops were awarded Purple Hearts, but they are coming home
with more than medals on their minds.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George
Washington University Law School.
Click here to visit his website. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Jonathan Turley