Many years ago, there was a psychological study showing that most people would be willing to torture another human being, if placed in an environment where torture was acceptable.
And it would be easy to blame the abuse committed at the Abu Ghraib prison on the particular culture of abuse that festered and grew at that particular complex.
But the fact is, there is a culture of lawlessness that has been encouraged by the Bush administration and has been ignored by the entire nation since the start of this debacle.
President Bush has made it clear that he believes that laws are to be followed only when convenient. He has ignored – at times openly mocked - international law. He has sacrificed constitutional protections in the name of security.
The Bush administration currently has a case before the Supreme Court, arguing that the “detainees” (what a nice word for “prisoners”) at Guatanamo Bay are not protected by the Geneva Convention. The administration’s brief on the matter says: “The president, in his capacity as commander in chief, has conclusively determined that the Guantánamo detainees . . . are not entitled to prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention."
In other words, the president has conclusively determined that long-standing legal provisions do not apply to him. Clear enough?
Bush has declared that Americans are not subject to the decisions of the new International Criminal Court, which is supposed to punish war crimes.
Bush has declared that by simply designating any American citizen an “enemy combatant” they are no longer entitled to constitutional protections and legal rights.
Bush has argued that such a person can be confined indefinitely, without charges, without a trial, without a lawyer, and with absolutely no oversight from any legal body.
During the 2003 State of the Union Address, Bush said that more than 3,000 suspected terrorist had been arrested in many countries. “And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem for the United States.”
A rather chilling – and thoroughly lawless - statement.
The fundamental attitude and governing philosophy of this administration is that laws are optional, to be put on and discarded like clothing depending upon whether or not they happen to be convenient at the moment.
He has created an environment in which lawlessness is acceptable.
But if the Commander-In-Chief holds the law in contempt – why would we expect those whom he commands to respect it?