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Blowing the Whistle in Iraq – Duty or Loyalty

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1190
  • Category: Loyalty

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The abuse scandal of prisoners at Abu Ghraib occurred during the Iraq war. From 2003 to 2006 Abu Ghraib prison was a US Army detention center for captured Iraqis. An investigation into the treatment of detainees at the prison was prompted by the discovery of graphic photos depicting guards abusing detainees in 2003. The facility was located near Baghdad on 280 acres. At the height of the scandal, the prison held up to 3,800 detainees. Most of the detainees lived in tents in the prison yards (CNN Library).

Spec. Joe Darby was a U.S. Army Reservist serving as a Military Police (M.P.) at the Abu Ghraib prison, when, in January of 2004 he blew the whistle on several of his colleagues that were involved in the abuse scandal. He said he received the now-notorious abuse photos on computer disks (CDs) from Cpl. Charles Graner at the beginning of December (Associated Press). He turned them over to the Army investigators Jan. 12, testifying that he knew Graner was a ringleader in the abuse and would be returning to the prison soon from another assignment. Darby was right in disclosing the abuse and blowing the whistle because the duty of prevention of further illegal abuse of prisoners by U.S. Army personnel outweighed any other duty or loyalty that he may have felt bound to. According to Kantian deontology, which is the best moral theory to apply here, Darby had a duty to blow the whistle because the concept of duty is the focus or central point of deontology, and rather than being worried about the consequences of an action, the important thing is the way actors think when they make choices.
The act should come from respect for the moral law. The only inherently good thing, according to Kant, is the good will. The will is good when one acts out of duty and not out of inclination (to gain something material or gain a feeling of self-satisfaction). Darby made the decision to blow the whistle for the sole reason of preventing further wrongdoing by fellow soldiers, and further harm to prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He acted out of good will; he had neither material gain nor did the act of whistleblowing make him feel good. He perceived it as his moral duty to disclose the information. Withholding evidence and knowledge of something as fundamentally wrong as torture could have led to other, and more severe, problems for Spec. Darby overall. The abuse could have escalated and eventually have been found out anyway. In that case, justified legal action against him as a co-conspirator, for withholding evidence, and failure to disclose illegal activity could have been used against him. Feeling as distressed as he did about finding the photos of the abuse, living with the knowledge of having ignored inhumane acts performed by Army personnel may have led to tremendous psychological stress due to feelings of guilt.

In a situation where whistleblowing becomes a very real possibility for someone, two, possibly more, loyalties start conflicting within the person having to decide on whether to blow the whistle or not, Most often this is a conflict between a public or common moral interest that the actor feels he has to protect and his feeling of duty, commitment , and loyalty to an organization and/or one or several individuals. This conflict of loyalties can be agonizing for the potential whistleblower because he will have to disregard one loyalty in favor of another (both of which are of equal moral importance to him) if he blows the whistle.
In Spec. Darby’s case there were several conflicts. First, the loyalty to the institution of the Army; second the loyalty to his colleagues; third, public interest in the prevention of harm and illegal activities, and finally the fear of retaliation, the threat to his own person as well as his family. In one interview, about disclosing the abuse at Abu Ghraib, Darby is quoted as saying it was ‘the right decision and it had to be made'(Norris). While he was hailed as a hero by some, he was also facing a lot of opposition for his actions as a whistleblower. An opponent of whistleblowing may argue that deontology cannot justify introducing the external or public disclosure in every case of alleged wrong doing as universal law. This is correct, but it can be countered here that it is equally not justifiable to introduce for a person to keep quiet about knowledge of intentional wrongdoing forever/indefinitely as a universal law. The maxim, however, does not have to be this general. No alleged wrong doing should be reported without consideration of circumstance and severity of the wrong doing. If someone’s moral beliefs are compromised by finding out a wrong doing they know is (1) illegal, (2) immoral and (3) harming others, it is the actor’s duty to blow the whistle (according to Kantian deontology) if the action of whistleblowing is done for the sole reason of doing the right thing out of good will.

The duty to blow the whistle, for moral as well as legal reasons is already being upheld in several professions and in many states. For example, teachers, and physicians are required to report suspicions of abuse, nurses are required to report mistakes in the medical treatment of patients, and there are laws that punish the failure to report a felony in numerous states. Even in the Military there are clauses that obligate a soldier to refuse an order that is not legal. These are all examples of deontological theory supporting whistleblowing as the duty of a good citizen. While blowing the whistle externally is still often a controversial concept, internal whistleblowing has long been encouraged or been made obligatory by management in corporate codes of ethics (Paddget).

Spec. Jeremy Sivits, who is also mentioned in case 6.2, was the first soldier to be tried for his participation in the abuse. In his defense, his attorney insisted that Sivits was merely following orders, as he had been trained, to photograph the abuse. He claimed that following orders was the right thing to do for Sivits (Clancy, Vaught and Solomon 359). This defense did not hold up in court, and Jeremy Sivits was tried and convicted, possibly because his invoking the defense of obedience was flawed. ‘Strict’ obedience, which is what Sivits obedience to superiors essentially was, cannot excuse participation in a case involving unlawful actions as using torture and abuse on detainees of the U.S. Army.  The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) 809[890]. ART.90 (20), makes it clear that military personnel need to obey the ‘lawful command of his superior officer,’ 891.ART.91 (2), the ‘lawful order of a warrant officer’, 892.ART.92 (1) the ‘lawful general order’, 892.ART.92 (2) ‘lawful order’. In each case, military personnel have an obligation and a duty to only obey lawful orders and indeed have an obligation to disobey Unlawful orders, including orders by the president that do not comply with the UCMJ. The moral and legal obligation is to the U.S. Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders, especially if those orders are in direct violation of the Constitution and the UCMJ (Mosqueda).

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