August 19, 2006

The Fable of the Few Bad Apples

These are the sorts of headlines that make us feel good about the system, like the guilty are being punished, and justice is running her course:

Ex-Contractor Guilty of Assaulting Detainee (Washington Post)

and …

Ex-C.I.A. Employee Guilty in Assault of Afghan (NYT)

But the story of David Passaro is not so great news, but rather more myth.

Even though he killed a man, Passaro was only convicted of assault. This easy treatment is consistent with other prisoner abuse cases where only 1 in 8 convictions has resulted in jail time of more than a year. Passaro's case was the only civilian case prosecuted by the Justice Department even though 20 were recommended for prosecution by the Pentagon.

So there are many more cases that will never see a courtroom. Like all the other defendants in trials like this, Passaro claims that his superiors knew what was happening and encouraged it. He says this sort of harsh abuse was going on all the time, everyone was doing it, and I believe him.

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