Two news stories collided in my mind today. The first is from the Canadian outlet CNews: Bad cop gets slap on wrist. The second is from The Nation: The US Soldier Who Committed Suicide After She Refused to Take Part in Torture. The cop and the soldier featured are far apart morally but the two stories share a cautionary tale; namely, that the militarization of society in North America (in which I include the police) is killing the best within people by rewarding the worst.
A synopsis of the first story: On Feb. 20, 2002, Dan Major was arrested in a Toronto suburb for allegedly sexually assaulting, harassing and threatening his estranged wife, Sherry. Sergeant. Terry Jordan, who investigated the charge, was secretly having an affair with the ex-wife. While Major spent six months in jail awaiting trial, Jordan sent a letter recommending his continued incarceration without bail because Major was so dangerous. Needless to say, Major lost his job as an executive with an athletic club; he lost all access to his children; his life was ruined. Then, in June 2003, the judge dismissed all charges because Major’s ex-wife had lied about many things, including having cancer, and, so, it “would be unsafe to accept her testimony.”
Suspecting Jordan of sleeping with his ex-wife, Major complained repeated to the police, who did nothing. Then, his ex-wife stopped paying rent and the landlord seized her computer, turning it over to Major. On it he found “racy love letters from Jordan, six of them sent while he was in pre-trial custody.” He turned the emails over to the police in April 2009; an investigation commenced. Meantime, Jordan was promoted. Jordan pleaded guilty to discreditable conduct and neglect of duty. Last week, he was ‘punished’ with an 18-month demotion after which his higher rank will be restored. After fighting for 8-years to vindicate himself, that is the justice Major secured. His response: “It is too late for me. I have lost everything.”
A synopsis of the second story: Alyssa Peterson — an Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to a prison in Iraq — died seven years ago this week on September 15, 2003. Allegedly it was suicide…tho’ I confess to half-suspecting murder-by-military. When Peterson was ordered to take part in interrogations that involved the sort of torture later revealed by Abu Graib, she refused. She is said to have killed herself a few days later. Official records, however, at first declared her death to be the result of a “non-hostile weapons discharge,” which is usually considered to be an accidental ‘friendly’ fire death.
In 2005, reporter Kevin Elston followed a hunch and began making “hundreds of phone calls ” to the military, who stonewalled him. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed documents that stated: “Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.” Of Peterson, the documents stated, “She said that she did not know how to be two people; she…could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.”
She was “reprimanded” for showing “empathy” for prisoners. Perhaps because there is a record of her being sent to suicide prevention training, Peterson’s death was deemed suicide by investigators. “The official report revealed that a notebook she had written in was found next to her body, but blacked out its contents.”
The cautionary tale: over the last decade, society has reconstructed the institutions that administer ‘protection’ and ‘security’, giving them broad sweeping authority (such as the privilege to torture) and taking away accountability. The incentives are clear. Those in a state-issued uniform — almost any uniform — are the lords and masters of society who are not merely free to brutalize ordinary people but are encouraged to do so. If the uniform-wearer has enough decency to refuse, then they immediately lose theirimmunity to being savaged. The only protection average or decent people have is if a spotlight can be shone on the brutalization of innocence encouraged by the system. Those who do evil hate the light.
Isolated in Iraq, Peterson was utterly at the military’s mercy; after her death, it took a Herculean effort to pry loose even some of the details surrounding her death — details that Elston was good enough to share with her parents because the military did not. Major was ‘luckier’. His life was destroyed but he is alive and, perhaps, he will be able to rebuild his future. But, again, the predominant response of the authorities to his complaints was “move along folks, there’s nothing to see here.” In short, a cover-up, and one that continued through to last week. Major was never informed by the police of Jordan’s guilty plea nor of the fact that there would be a disciplinary hearing last Wednesday. A reporter told him.
There can be many reasons why good people do not stand up in the face of injustice, brutality, and lies. One of them: the system constructed on the deceit of providing “security” will destroy them without batting an eye. This is nothing new. Police brutality and military atrocities have been present for as long as those institutions have existed but they now run rampant. What we are seeing now are the results of having systematically stripped away the true “protections” that ordinary and decent people have against their own governmental institutions — protections like due process, transparency, bans on torture, criminal charges that apply to authorities as surely as to ‘civilians’. What we are seeing is the institutionalized punishment of those who wish to be decent human beings, like Peterson, or who are merely living their lives and “get in the way”, like Major.