Saturday, May 07, 2005

Cohen on Lynndie England

Richard Cohen has finally lost his mind. Or, as a minimum, he should drink only decaf before he writes his column. I've read him forever and usually admire him, but this time I'm left shaking my head and wondering if he smelled burnt toast before he started writing.

This time he wrote about Lynndie England, a soldier charged in regard to prisoner abuse in Iraq. She was the one holding the leash around a prisoner's neck, among other criminal absurdities. She was also the one dominated and reportedly impregnated by another reservist, a prison guard in civilian life. It was his testimony in the sentencing phase of her trail, after she had already pled guilty, that resulted in a mistrial.

Cohen wrote about her, but I'm not sure what his point was. It would seem he meant to say that she victimized others but was a victim herself. He's not very clear about what she was a victim of, much less what that means. Along the way he said some pretty odd things:

There is no end to the sadness of Lynndie England. There is no excusing what she did, but explaining is a different matter. She is that rare genuine article, the cliche, the stereotype that turns out upon investigation to be true. She lived with her family in a trailer in West Virginia. She's only a high school graduate. She married when she was 19 -- on a lark, she told her friends, and then for only two years.

She joined the Army Reserve not, as the flag-wavers would like it, for patriotic reasons but for college money (she wanted to be a meteorologist and chase storms). She had an affair or something with Graner in Iraq and has a baby by him. He apparently encouraged her to abuse prisoners. He also married another woman.

A psychologist from her home area testified that England had been a blue baby, born also with a malformation of the tongue that gave her a speech impediment. Apparently, she often chose not to talk at all. She had a learning disability as well. And you can see -- can't you? -- what no one will testify to: She's homely -- and that matters for a woman in America. She posed for pornographic pictures with Graner. The discipline of the Army apparently meant she no longer had to have any herself. This is why fascism can be so (sexually) exciting.

Say what? But wait, there's more:

She is the sort of woman who gets used by others, most often men. Powerless everywhere in life except on her end of the leash, she just had to come night after night to the section of Abu Ghraib where Graner held sway. She was admonished for this -- her real work was suffering -- but Graner drew her. She knew that what she was doing was wrong -- "I could have said no,'' she told the military court. "I knew it was wrong.'' But in all likelihood, only theoretically could she have said no. Some women always say yes. ...

Lynndie England was one of [the little people], and she is suffering for that -- officially for abusing prisoners, actually for being a loser.

I'm not sure what his point was, but he insulted a lot of folks trying to get to it. As a liberal elite, he's expected to sneer at people who live in trailers in West Virginia and have only a high school education. You can bet he doesn't personally know anyone like that. After insulting other sorts of people, he wrapped up his definition of "loser" by including both homely women and some women who always say yes. Not cool, Richard.

I guess my favorite curiosity in this column is his observation that being in a disciplined organization means you don't have to have any self-discipline, which illustrates why fascism can be so sexually exciting.

Again--say what?


Anonymous AHS MilBlogger said...

Okay, this guy just won the weirdo of the year award. He lost me with the bit about fascism being sexually exciting and in his odd characterizations of England. I'm with you - "say what?"

7:42 PM, May 07, 2005  
Blogger RomanWanderer said...

I think he read too many bad novels.

8:18 PM, May 07, 2005  
Blogger Torrid said...

I have no idea what Cohen is getting at, but I think the judge is pretty clear in making England out to be a victim. If she could not have necessarily known what she was doing was illegal, then I believe you must give quite a bit of leeway, owing to the strong rules of order and hierarchy in the military. And what it further indicates is that, by logic, her superiors MUST have created an atmosphere that suggested it was OK, perhaps even encouraged, to do what she did. And that's a damning accusation, indeed.

9:29 PM, May 07, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Add me to the list of people who are left thinking, "Say what?"

RW, lol.

12:30 AM, May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Fred Schoeneman said...


Thanks for writing this and calling the essay to my attention. For a long time I had been feeling bad about all that "concentration camp" porn I've been masturbating to, pictures of jackbooted nazi thugs lording it over emaciated jews. Now I know that what I used to think was just sick and wrong is totally natural.

12:31 AM, May 08, 2005  
Blogger Junebugg said...

Is this guy getting his own wet dreams confused with Lynndie's life? Maybe he wants a woman on a leash? Perhaps to make up for the fact that he's a limp wristed twit? And true, women enjoy visual admiration. But beauty only lasts so long. Age and gravity get to everyone. Any woman worth knowing will have personality and brains far beyond her pretty face's value.

1:44 AM, May 08, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Torrid, the judge didn't make England out to be a victim. He simply reacted properly to her lawyers first having her plead guilty and then putting on a witness who said she thought she was doing what she was supposed to do, i.e., not guilty. As the judge said when he declared the mistrial, you can't have it both ways. The witness, Graner, was the superior (from her standpoint) who created the atmosphere that suggested it was OK for her and others to do what they did. Graner is in jail for that, and a number of his superiors up the chain of command, including a brigadier general, have also been punished.

Fred, I think you lost me. If your point is it seems that for some people any offense can be excused by claiming the offender is a "victim" of some sort, I agree with you. That's ridiculous.

4:52 AM, May 08, 2005  
Blogger B said...

What a curious diatribe. I think that a case can be made that there are extenuating circumstances - it has seemed to me that her attorneys and the press have danced delicately around the issue of whether she is mentally challenged (which should be considered an extenuating circumstance). But I can't see how her appearance (?!), level of education, or origins are relevant. His words do the exact opposite of his supposed intent. Instead of making a cogent case for factors that might call for leniency (while still holding her accountable for something that she knew was wrong), he thoroughly patronized, demeaned, and humiliated her. With a friend like that....

12:22 PM, May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Fred Schoeneman said...


Just mocking the line in the quoted piece "This is why fascism can be so (sexually) exciting."

I want to state, for the record, that I do not find fascism sexually exciting, and that anyone who does has no business interjecting it as a justification for what happened at Abu Ghraib.

1:32 PM, May 08, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

It's my understanding that England's plea was rejected due to testimony that the photos were to be used as a part of interrogation training. Thus England would have been doing the acts under orders and may herself have been trained to believe this an appropriate way to interrogate prisoners.

I'm curious as to why THAT isn't the lead on this. Torture and humilitation are being used as tools of interrogation by the United States of America?

10:10 PM, May 08, 2005  
Blogger Kines said...

It's like saying Hitler was a nice guy, just a victim because of a bad childhood.


Apologists... tsk tsk. He's making Lynndie seem like the "victim"... Hello? Since when are people victims of the "higher ups"? Since when do we get away with a crime by saying "He told me to do so"? Since when have we even thought of supporting people who say so? I'm going to have to blog about this =)

11:40 AM, May 10, 2005  
Blogger Rae said...

I think he has a crush on her... you know when guys get a crush on a woman they lose their train of thought and end up babbling....

12:19 PM, May 10, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Carla, the judge rejected England's guilty plea because her lawyers put on a witness during the penalty phase whose testimony indicated she thought she wasn't guilty. As the judge told her lawyers, you can't have it both ways. Doesn't matter why she may have thought she wasn't guilty, just that it contradicted her plea. One of the oddities of our judicial system, military and civil, is the fiction that a guilty plea is, in fact, an admission of guilt. As everyone including judges knows, the plea is sometimes nothing more than the best way out of a bad situation. However, there can't be any indication to that effect in court because it threatens the integrity of the system.

Every member of the U.S. military is taught that illegal acts are an individual responsibility. "Following orders" is never an acceptable defense. That's been true since at least the days of the Nuremberg trials.

Humiliation, threats, and at least the prospect of physical pressure are legitimate elements of interrogation, to include those conducted by police officers in the U.S. People who are determined not to divulge information have to be convinced otherwise, and treating them like honored guests usually doesn't work. The issue is how far does it go. With all the press coverage of Abu Ghraib, some of it clearly agenda-driven, you've been exposed to the making of sausage, never a good idea.

7:54 AM, May 11, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Tom, I am glad you posted about this column. I think it tells far more about Cohen's thinking than England's.

This, to me, is a remarkable example of the cultural gulf between NY/DC "What's The Matter With Kansas" thinking and the responsibility culture of the military. But Cohen knows nothing about the military. Nothing. And doesn't want to learn.

That's what this article conveyed to me. Cohen is all about excuses and condescension, whereas the army is all about no excuses and building competence.

8:12 PM, May 12, 2005  

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