Decline and Fall of the 205th MI Brigade

By Ray Starmann

Why did you commit the atrocities that you are charged with? – “I was just following orders.” – An Order is an Order. Is this the prosecution at Nuremberg questioning a captured SS Death’s Head camp commandant? It sure sounds like it, doesn’t it?

Sadly, that is an almost verbatim response from the general court-martial of U.S. Army Spec. Charles Graner Jr. Even more worrisome, is that Pfc. Lynndie England, who will be tried in the coming months, used the same defense: “An order is an order.”

More shocking than the actual defense of “I was just following orders” is the fact that educated JAG lawyers would actually believe that this is a justifiable defense. Sixty years ago, the Nazis on trial at Nuremberg were given a harsh lesson in international law: You have a higher duty than to that of your commander or your leader. You have a duty to humanity. While having no sympathy for, but understanding how Germans raised in an autocratic, militaristic society grew up with the adage “Befehl ist Befehl” (an order is an order), it is difficult to comprehend Americans falling into the same trap.

Spec. Graner insisted that he was only following orders. Whose orders was he obeying? Orders from Col. Thomas Pappas and the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade? Why didn’t he question these orders? It is not every soldier’s duty to resist unlawful orders or orders against the laws of humanity and the Geneva Convention? Did he believe he was following lawful orders? After all, lately, the rules of the Geneva Convention have been switched around in a legal version of a carnival shell game.

What does the court-martial of Spec. Graner say about the U.S. Army as a whole? It is a strong indictment of the idiotic “Army of One.” Inundated with young people from the Jackass generation, many of our soldiers don’t seem to know right from wrong, don’t appear to understand the ancient Laws of Land Warfare, and worse, seemingly don’t seem to care. The morality of exigency has permeated all ranks of the “Army of One.” The attitude is – do whatever you want, whenever you want to, because the end justifies the means.

My old Army boss, a light colonel currently serving in the Baghdad area, responded to my questions about violations of the Geneva Convention with the following response: “Well, you see it’s the generation. These kids, they’re not like the ones you saw in the Army in the late 80’s. They think they can do anything.” My response to that was, “What the hell does that mean? Who in the hell is in charge? Is anyone, anymore?”

Who is really responsible for the Abu Ghraib atrocities? Who really knows? Hidden by a mirage of more smoke and mirrors than at a county fair freak show, the Abu Ghraib scandal looks like a bad episode of “Mission Impossible.”

Graner stated under oath that he was obeying orders from MI, namely the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

I served in the 205th MI Brigade thirteen years ago. I shake my head when I think of the Kafkaesque metamorphosis that must have occurred to turn the brigade into a unit of torturers and sadists. When I was an officer in the 205th, it was a unit that couldn’t shoot straight, come to the field in proper uniform, or do required vehicle maintenance. The commander, Col. Kevin J. Vargas, a great guy and a former SF officer, was always going ballistic on someone. The 205th was a lot of things, but its officers and soldiers weren’t capable of ordering torture and atrocities. At least the 205th that I knew over a decade ago wasn’t.

The depth of the 205th MI Brigade’s involvement in the Abu Ghraib affair is yet to be fully determined. But it appears that the brigade was under an immense amount of pressure to deliver any type of HUMINT on the escalating Iraqi insurgency. The combat arms leaders surely put the screws on MI to produce. Of course they probably forgot that they or their classmates had participated in MI’s self-immolation for the last twenty years. During the late 1980s and 1990s, MI had been apparently “reborn” with an obsessive focus on tactical intelligence and combat arms butt-kissing and boot-licking, while disdaining what MI had done so well in the past – collecting human intelligence.

Military Intelligence’s twenty-year sado-masochist journey continues with MI people continuing to flog themselves in the spirit of Henry II. The combat arms boys continue to perform their chosen duty to sabot MI on a daily basis. Abu Ghraib is just a pit stop on MI’s S&M road trip to nowhere.

The Greatest Generation knew MI was on the road to disaster a long time before MI knew it. At a cocktail party hosted by the Maestro of MI’s Destruction, then-Maj. Gen. Julius Parker, I saw the general toast a dozen OSS vets who had been inducted into the MI Hall of Fame. He lifted his glass and stated, “Army Intelligence has arrived.” The OSS vets practically laughed in his face. No, general, MI just exited stage left – out of a wing at Abu Ghraib prison.

During World War II, George Stevens, the famed film producer of “Shane” and “Giant,” served with OSS. Stevens happened to be on the spot with his 16mm color film camera, when elements of the 45th Infantry Division crashed through the Arbeit Macht Frei electrified gates of Dachau, took down the SS guards and liberated tens of thousands of people from the devil’s hands.

Watching this footage, you can see the emotion on the faces of the men of the 45th. Some are crying, others have the thousand-yard stare, while others look on the verge of vindictive rage. But you can also see that these men are disciplined. There are no atrocities, no games, no torture. The SS guards sit in tight groups, awaiting the fate they deserve at the end of a rope. During World War II, we were the good guys and we acted like it.

We’re supposed to be the good guys now. Let’s start acting like it. The eyes of the world are upon us.

Ray Starmann is a Contributing Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at thrillerwriter39@verizon.net. Send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.