I’ve seen people (including some I like and respect) comparing the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib after the US took control of the prison with the treatment the Iraqis faced under Saddam Hussein’s rule. They keep saying that because it wasn’t “normal” for the abuse to happen, and because there were fewer people abused and it didn’t go on for as long, it isn’t as bad as things were before.
There isn’t any kind of mathematics for this kind of crime. The fact that there were more incidents of torture, rape, and murder at that prison in years past than there were in the last year doesn’t lessen the impact of these crimes. The older offenses cannot be used in any way to excuse the new.
The torturers in American uniforms grew up in a society that says, very clearly, that what they did was wrong. Always, in every circumstance, completely, 100% wrong. Our cultural context makes what they did “more wrong” than it would be for someone who grew up in a society where that was normal. In an absolute sense, yes, it’s wrong, period. In a relative sense, in context, the American torturers bear more culpability.
We’re in Iraq (and Afghanistan) saying that our way is better. That way includes the notion that every individual deserves to be treated with respect. That every human has the right to live without torture, rape, or murder. That no child should be blown up on the way to school, shot while playing, or be killed when rockets hit her home.
The criminals who disgraced their uniforms contradict that message.