Dishonoring Merita

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By G.W. Schulz

As jaded as it sounds, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be surprised when news accounts surface yet again of U.S. soldiers terrorizing civilians in Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter. We’re told they’re isolated incidents. We’re told they were initiated by twisted individuals.

That’s what we heard after My Lai. That’s what we heard after Abu Ghraib. And that’s what we’ll hear if four soldiers from the B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment are found guilty of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl in Iraq.

I’m not easy to move emotionally, but some of the details of the trial reported on today by the Post are nothing short of sickening. And while My Lai and Abu Ghraib were much more publicized, we don’t have to go back too far to find yet more “isolated” incidents.

Post reporter Dana Priest recounts a profoundly sad story in her 2003 book The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military about an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl in Kosovo named Merita Shabiu who was raped and murdered by SSgt. Frank Ronghi in 2000 in the town of Vitina.

He pulled her into a storage room inside the apartment building where her family lived. As he proceeded to rape her, she struggled, so he attempted to choke her to death. She continued gasping for air, however, so he applied the full weight of his body to the back of her neck through a combat boot.

No piece of nonfiction that I’ve read in the last year moved me as much as reading that story did. And I’m still sparing you by leaving out some of the darkest details. Warning signs of Ronghi’s cruel desires that had surfaced previously were ignored.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of how power and authority can affect someone psychologically knows there’s always more than just the possibility of isolated incidents like this taking place. Maybe we could all benefit from rereading the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

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