May 2004 Ethics Dunces
She is likely to become one of those nameless figures forever linked to a contentious moment in American history, along side the terrified and naked Vietnamese girl fleeing a US napalm raid, and the college woman screaming over a fallen student at Kent State. Lynndie, in contrast, is featured in many of the more graphic photos coming out of Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, smiling, laughing, and mugging for the camera.
Lynndie is, not surprisingly, quite unhappy about the context of her sudden fame, and according to family members, has an explanation. "Mom," she reportedly said, "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
In the annals of inadequate excuses for outrageous behavior, this has to be a classic, far outdistancing "I was just following orders." What was the "wrong place?" Answer: At the end of a leash that had its other end around a prone and naked Iraqi prisoner's neck. And when was the "wrong time"? Answer: when someone was taking pictures.
Satisfied by Lynndie's comments, her friends and family have lashed out in a series of ill-advised attacks. President Bush had no right to express "disgust" at the pictures, said one family member, since he hadn't served in combat. A friend suggested that the photos had been "staged," although it is unclear how that would exonerate Lynndie. A family's position at such times is difficult, and they cannot be blamed for supporting their daughter. But randomly blaming everyone else for Lynndie's plight is neither fair nor wise.
Meanwhile, Ethics Scoreboard will feel more kindly toward Lynndie if she expands her description of her situation just a bit. She was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing very wrong things to other human beings.