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Excusing military elite in Abu Ghraib scandal part of 'shameful pattern'

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A scholar working on a book about the war in Iraq agrees with a recent Human Rights Watch report that described Abu Ghraib as only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of U.S. involvement in prisoner abuse.

The scholar, Stephen Hartnett, also believes that the recent U.S. Army investigation that absolved U.S. military elite from responsibility in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal is part of a “shameful pattern” in this country.

The recent report that cleared four of five top military officers “repeats a shameful pattern of displacing responsibility from the high-ranking architects of the torture to its low-ranking perpetrators,” said Hartnett, a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Everyone in the chain of command – from the military to policy-makers to the intelligence services to the White House – should be accountable to the American people, said Hartnett, who is completing a book on “Globalization and Empire: Free Markets, The U.S. Invasion of Iraq, and The Twilight of Democracy.”

“While the individuals who engaged in torture should be held accountable, Americans deserve a full disclosure of how Bush administration legal decisions, Department of Defense policies and CIA practices – all vetted at the highest levels – led to the abuses.

“Without such disclosures, abuses like those committed at Abu Ghraib will likely continue at other detention facilities around the globe, thus further tarnishing America’s reputation and hampering our efforts against al Qaeda.”

Hartnett’s book, co-written with Laura Stengrim, will be published in December by the University of Alabama Press. He also wrote “ ‘The Whole Operation of Deception’: Reconstructing President Bush’s Rhetoric of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” which appeared in the May 2004 issue of the journal Cultural Studies & Critical Methodologies.

Hartnett, whose research interests include rhetorical criticism of historical and contemporary discourse, can be reached at 217-333-1593 or