Editorial: Treating people like animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2004:
A photograph of U.S. Army Private First Class Lynndie
England, 21, dragging a naked Iraqi military prisoner on a dog
leash emerged early during the investigation of abuses to prisoners
by U.S. guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The photo, part
of a sequence featuring England mistreating naked Iraqi men, could
scarcely have been more illustrative of how the standard treatment of
dogs in a society tends to set the floor for the treatment of humans.
While the standard for the treatment of dogs in the U.S. is
still low, it does exist. The legal definitions of abuse in many
states remain weak, and the definitions of neglect are often weaker,
but the federal Animal Welfare Act and the anti-cruelty laws of all
50 states specifically set some limits on what may be done to a dog.
For the most part, the U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib who have
been disciplined for mistreating prisoners were accused of doing
things that they could have done to dogs with impunity. Only seven
guards who allegedly went beyond what could be done to dogs were
criminally charged during the preliminary investigation.
Lieutenant General Paul Mikolashek of the U.S. Army Office of
the Inspector General on July 23 disclosed 94 additional cases of
abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 39 deaths of
which 20 were homicides. Criminal charges are anticipated in
connection with these cases.
U.S. troops were not supposed to treat prisoners as they
would have been treated under deposed Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein
and the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, who apparently
recognized no floor level of acceptability for the treatment of
either humans or animals. Under Saddam and the Taliban, dogs who
were deemed problematic were usually shot or poisoned in the street,
not impounded. Prisoners were killed by the hundreds of thousands,
often without a trial, fair or otherwise, and frequently for no
more reason than that their existence was inconvenient.
Unfortunately, responding like the locals to fear of rabies
and leishmaniasis, a disfiguring disease sometimes carried by canine
parasites, many U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan suspended
the back-home rules for the acceptable treatment of dogs, and
ordered troops to shoot strays on and around military outposts. A
few soldiers found ways and means of sending favorite street dogs and
cats home to the U.S., as described in a March 2004 ANIMAL PEOPLE
cover feature. Other soldiers, including many of those assigned to
guarding prisoners, may have concluded that all standards of decency
toward fellow beings were in abeyance. Throughout the world,
societies that accept shooting dogs tend to accept beating and
torturing human prisoners as well.
Even if no direct orders were ever given to mistreat
prisoners, the troops got the message.
Apart from the Lynndie England prisoner-on-a-leash photo
sequence, which made her the fully clothed star of several
pornographic web sites, many other photos from Abu Ghraib reportedly
demonstrated the association of cruelty to animals with cruelty to
humans–but the anonymous photographer(s) also seemed to observe some
awareness of acceptable limits, even in attempting to shock and
The Washington Post on May 6 revealed that it had obtained at
the same time as the notorious England photos “shots of a cow being
skinned and gutted and soldiers posing with her severed head. There
were also dozens of pictures of a cat’s severed head,” the Post
Curbside cattle slaughter is easily seen in Iraq, as in much
of the rest of the Islamic world, where western-style factory
slaughter has yet to displace small neighborhood abbatoirs.
Cat decapitation is not a common sight, but rabies is
endemic in Iraq, and cats who have bitten people are routinely
killed and decapitated for rabies testing.
Even if the cat was decapitated as an act of undepicted
sadism, the soldier(s) who photographed her head seem to have been
aware that showing the deed itself would have depicted an illegal
act, below the floor level of permissibility back home, and would
have been self-incriminating.
Soldiers may enter military service with morbid
preoccupations, or may develop such preoccupations under the stress
of war, but even severely troubled soldiers are for the most part
law-abiding citizens. The worst moral failings of soldiers, at
least in modern times, tend to result from following orders given by
personnel of higher rank who are not fit to lead.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has often reported about animal abuse in
military training, including animals shot to enable U.S. military
medical personnel to practice on live subjects, dogs gassed and
burned alive by Al Qaida and the Taliban, and bayoneting of live
dogs at Peruvian military schools.
Incidents of recreational animal abuse involving soldiers
surface about as often, but tend to involve far fewer troops, and
tend to result in swift military discipline.
On June 14, 2004, for instance, Associated Press reported
that some Israeli soldiers had been seen misusing their
military-issue weapons to shoot birds and deer. The Israeli military
imprisoned a soldier who shot a deer on the Golan Heights, using his
case to set a stern example, less than three weeks after Israeli
tanks destroyed the Gaza Zoo without warning in a 3 a.m. raid, under
orders (as reported in the June 2004 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE).
Six Australian Defence Force soldiers stationed at the
Lavarack Barracks near Townsville on May 10, 2004 pleaded guilty to
urinating on a litter of kittens, dragging one behind a motorcycle
before crushing his head with another vehicle and burning the
remaining three alive. The soldiers “were fined $2,000 [each] and
ordered to do community service, but escaped without convictions
being recorded,” reported Jason Gregory of the Brisbane
Courier-Mail. The Queensland branch of the Australian Royal SPCA
refused the soldiers’ offers to do their community service at the
Townsville animal shelter, and asked the Australian Defence Force to
dishonorably discharge them. Anticipated dishonorable discharges
were still pending as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.
In the most prominent recent U.S. case, former Marine Corps
lance corporals Scott Brendle and Darien Brock in February 2002
plea-bargained 60-day jail terms and fines of $2,000 each for
shooting wild horses. Suspected of shooting 33 horses in 1998 near
Virginia City, Nevada, Brendle and Brock were dishonorably
discharged from the Marines in February 1999, less than a month
after they were first arrested.
The defense in cruelty cases involving soldiers typically
contends that the cruel acts involve carryover from military training.
The military and judicial response is typically that the mark
of a good soldier is developing the ability to use deadly force only
as necessary, under orders.
Often the desensitization training that accompanies learning
to use weapons is compared to the process of learning to hunt. The
U.S. military used that comparison itself for decades, but at least
officially has moved away from it, in recognition of yet another
floor level for acceptable conduct. The U.S. military today claims
to emphasize that a soldier is to kill only designated targets,
under orders, not as a matter of personal volition.
This came about through unspoken recognition, from a wholly
different direction, of a point that ANIMAL PEOPLE made in 1994-1995
through a series of studies of rates of hunting participation with
reported levels of family violence at the county level in New York,
Ohio, and Michigan. These three states include more than 14% of all
the licensed hunters in the U.S. The more licensed hunters per
capita in the county, ANIMAL PEOPLE found, the more family violence
there was. There were seven times more sexual assaults on children
in rural Michigan, with the most hunters in the U.S., than in
demographically comparable counties in upstate New York where hunting
participation was about 20% lower.
Only a few years ago spouse-killings and family killings by
soldiers and ex-soldiers purportedly suffering from post-traumatic
stress syndrome were approximately as common as instances of hunters
murdering spouses and families, typically followed by their own
suicide. The entrenched attitude among military personnel was that
shooting a wife or girlfriend for alleged adultery was, if not
acceptable conduct, at least to be expected.
Hunters continue to be disproportionately involved in such
crimes, but the involvement of soldiers appears to have become much
less frequent. The change came after a series of spouse murders at
military bases, notably Fort Bragg, caused the Pentagon to
belatedly recognize that family killings by soldiers and ex-soldiers
were part of a phenomenon, not just isolated incidents, and to
accept responsibility for stopping the violence.
To the military, the problem was “optional targeting,”
which is precisely the essence of hunting: within the scope of
permitted target species, the hunter is authorized to kill any
animal, and chooses which animal to kill based on personal criteria.
U.S. military training is now supposed to shift from simply
removing inhibitions about killing fellow humans to more selectively
removing inhibitions about killing fellow humans when under explicit
orders. The U.S. military hopes that small changes in drill routines,
together with improved military family counseling, will help to
reduce the explosions of violence that often accompany post-traumatic
U.S. military training, like virtually all military training
throughout history, formerly emphasized simply killing “the enemy.”
“The enemy” was anyone who might be seen as a threat. Anyone
defined as “the enemy” could be killed, just as any problematic dog
could be killed.
Now our attitudes toward dogs have changed. Problematic dogs
are no longer reflexively condemned as enemies. Even dangerous dogs,
most Americans seem to have agreed, deserve impoundment and at least
a modicum of legal “due process” before dispatch.
Dogs are seen as family members. Because dogs may no longer
be killed on a whim, relegating human family members to the status
of dogs is not enough to justify killing them, and even killing real
enemies who shoot back has become quite restrained compared to the
attitudes that enabled World War II bomber crews to burn whole cities
Women, dogs, and chains
Lynndie England dragging a naked prisoner on a dog-leash
would also have been a shocking image in World War II, but only
because she was female and the man was unclothed. Images of men
guarding heavily shackled and striped-suited chain gangs shocked
nobody. Chain-gangs and striped suits had just barely begun to be
criticized by social reformers. Humane organizations actually
recommended chaining dogs as a preferable alternative to allowing
dogs to run at large, as most dogs in the U.S. then did.
A very few people spoke out against chaining dogs in the
1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, but as recently as the mid-1980s
National Institute for Animal Advocacy and Animal Advocacy
Connecticut founder Julie Lewin could hardly find anyone to listen to
her recommendation that prolonged dog chaining should be banned.
Most national humane organizations voiced only pro forma
objections to chaining even after epidemiologist Jeffrey Sachs
published evidence in 1997 that about 29% of all dogs who kill a
human are chained when they attack.
In 2003, however, Lewin’s 1986 recommendation at last
became a Connecticut state law, after clearing the state legislature
in 2002 only to be vetoed by the governor.
Anti-chaining legislation is now being advanced nationwide,
with increasing momentum, by Dogs Deserve Better founder Tammy
Grimes of Tipton, Pennsylvania.
Grimes over the 2004 Fourth of July weekend drew attention to
her effort by chaining herself for 36 hours in first a parking lot
and then a bookstore. Grimes, mother of two, is concerned both
about dogs and with the human victims of dog attacks.
She believes that neither dogs nor humans should be chained,
as a matter of both compassion and public safety.
So many cities have passed anti-chaining ordinances since
Grimes started Dogs Deserve Better that we can no longer recite the
list. New Jersey anti-chaining activist Linda Gentile has proved
particularly persuasive before local town councils.
At least three major national groups are now putting their
weight behind the campaign.
How much more the anti-chaining movement will accomplish
cannot be predicted as yet. But Grimes and her allies are further
raising the floor for what can be done to dogs.
If dogs cannot be chained in a manner causing them obvious
prolonged distress, then maybe soldiers like Lynndie England will no
longer imagine that they can chain prisoners of war for amusement.