Gary Myers, defence lawyer in Haditha case

Gary Myers acted for the defence by representing the U.S. soldiers in the My Lai incident, and in the Abu Graib cases, and will likely be part of the team defending those charged over the Haditha incident should members of the U.S. armed forces be charged with a crime. He recently gave an interview on Newsnight, a political programme on the BBC over here.

It’s possible that, come the following weeks, evidence will be such that charges for a crime(s) will be brought against some personnel; if that’s the case, it’s pretty likely also that a Pit thread will be devoted to some part of the affair. However, that is not what i’m pitting.

Here’s a transcript of a part of that interview*;

You don’t engage in atrocities? I’m sure we could work up a little list of atrocities the U.S. has been involved in, or that U.S. citizens had a hand in. The feeling that Americans are somehow much less likely than others to commit evil acts because they’re a “decent people” is disturbing; this is the man who worked in the My Lai and Abu Graib trials, and he doesn’t think Americans can commit atrocities? What the hell would he have to see to think they do?

And I know he’s their prospective defence lawyer, which means he’s going to stick to the facts and use bland or somewhat biased language, but “end up in a criminal setting”? That’s pushing the boundaries of “we can’t assume they did it” and into “if they did, it was fate, it was through circumstances outside their control” territory. Can anyone picture this being an adequate defence in court?

If what is said about the situation by others than the U.S. forces is true, then they put themselves into that situation. To suggest that they were helplessly struggling against the tides of fate again disgusts me. Responsiblity lies somewhere; if it occurred, it may be found to be the fault of the individual soldiers, their CO, their training, the policy makers, others besides, or more than one of those groups. But responsibility* does lie somewhere*.

Like I said, there’ll probably be thread in the Pit and GD about this in the future for a good while. Charges haven’t even been brought (yet?). But the starting position on this issue outlined by Mr. Myers really worries me, and he himself seems either incredibly shortsighted, an idiot, or a total jackass.
*Written up by me, so apologies for any mistakes, from here (click on “Watch the latest programme”, the interview is about 30 minutes into the video).

Seems to me that when he said “don’t”, he may have meant “shouldn’t.” Or more likely, he’s feeding into America’s river in Egypt.

Language, language, language. It apparently ain’t Myers’ strong suit.

How does one coin a favorite phrase? Coin, when used as a verb, means invent, devise, fabricate.


I read this as referring to the nature of our society in general, not necessarily to the exclusion of others. Please note he doesn’t say “We’re THE decent people…” Nothing here says other countries aren’t decent. The point is that as a society, as a people, we don’t approve of or engage in atrocities. He doesn’t say that no American has ever committed a crime, or an atrocity.

Of course, if you simply want to take offense at something, this is a good a target as anything else.

What would you prefer that the defense attorney say? “Oh, yeah, America is rotten to the core, there’s hardly a decent human being left over there, and these young punks committed atrocities that would have made Adolph Eichmann proud.”?

But excluding others is exactly what he’s doing. By saying “we’re a decent people”, he is excluding some other group who are not decent people; otherwise this is a redundant phrase, since all people are decent.

The second part of that confuses me; how can he both be saying that Americans don’t engage in atrocities and that no American has ever committed an atrocity? The two are mutually exclusive (unless one sole American atrocity has taken place).

You’re suggesting that I’d like to find something to take offense at, and was lucky enough to find something I feign offense at? Nope. I watched the programme, I was disgusted. What makes you think this? I’m honestly interested as to how i’ve given that impression.

Engaging in hyperbole? Same mistake Mr. Myers has made. No, “Americans are all bastards” is just as foolish as “Americans do not commit atrocities”. To answer your question, why did he have to say anything along these lines at all?

What he’s saying here is that American belief in the inherent goodness of America makes it very difficult to get a conviction for atrocities committed by American citizens in military/police action.

It is his impression that this belief, coupled with the understanding that the young men and women serving in the armed forces have been thrust into an extremely difficult environment, morally speaking, has created a general disincentive toward conviction.

The “tipping point” of which he speaks and the “impact” to which he refers mean that Myers believes that this case could be different, and a convicton might be more likely. However, that likelihood is counterbalanced by the fact that we generally (and here, Abu Ghraib is a significant recent example) have punished the direct perpetrators of the act rather than the ones who commanded them, who are equally culpable.

“Criminal setting” means the proceedings here, not the situation that led to the proceedings.

Breaking that all down, Myers is doing some pre-trial posturing, that’s all. He’s saying, “There is a precedent against conviction of people like my client. That’s because my client’s natonal group is generally well-behaved and because they were ordered to do the things they allegedly did by bad people who should be punished.”

Sorry, but this is nothing up over which you ought to get riled. I think that you’ve misread his statement due to personal investment in a side opposed to Myers’s.

Well, yeah. Wouldn’t you agree that there are, and have been, groups or societies on the face of the earth that are (or have not been) “decent,” however you define that? IMHO, the Nazis were not decent. Nor were the sons of Saddam Hussein. Nor are the Taliban and Al Quaida. I question the decency of some of the groups I hear about in certain African nations who lop off the arms of children so they cannot grow up to be warriers. I question the decency of the Soviet regime that intentionally left huge numbers of Ukrainians to starve to death. The KKK was a group of Americans who were not decent IMHO. That doesn’t mean that the entire society coast to coast was devoted to bigotry.

There is a difference between “Americans” as a group and “Americans” as individuals. It is IMHO accurate to say that Americans find torture to be abhorrent and indecent. It may also be accurate to say that the BTK killer (who was certainly not a decent individual) was an American. To give a less significant example, it is correct to say “Women like to shop,” without having to give the disclaimer “…Well, most of them, anyway, although some men like to shop too, and my sister Emily hates shopping…”

See the difference? A group can have a general characteristic without it having to be absolutely true of every single member of that group.

What Happy Scrappy Hero Pup says makes sense, so I apologise for giving the impression this issue was worth anger.

Seems that the general impression is that I’m convinced that the U.S. soldiers in this case are guilty; i’m really not. I certainly haven’t seen enough evidence one way or the other to say whether they are or not. All I want from this case (as all cases) is justice, and if that results in an aquittal (or even no charges being brought) then fine and good.

True, but then surely saying “Most Americans don’t commit atrocities” isn’t needed? Why does he need to point it out; surely it’s obvious that the vast majority of Americans aren’t evil?

That last sentence is key in my opinion. These things are crimes and they need to not happen. When they do happen, the perpetrators need to be punished. It seems like the response from the administration has consistently been to find excuses for everyone involved. But that doesn’t work - someone is responsible, and they need to be punished, and steps need to be taken to ensure that our soldiers aren’t put in those “criminal settings” again. If it’s not the soldiers’ fault, then the officers who sent them to that “criminal setting” need to be punished. Because this is unacceptable. The Army cannot allow this to continue on a moral level, and it cannot allow it for the sake of the safety of the citizens of the United States, who are sort of depending on our soldiers not to make everyone in Iraq hate us and personally want to kill us.

The clear rhetorical force of “Americans do not commit atrocities” is that there is some specific commitment of Americans, as such, to not committing atrocities. It’s as if I said, “Canadians don’t allow the sick to go untreated.” Well, most people probably don’t allow the sick to go untreated; but when I say it like that, I’m saying there’s something special about Canadians in this regard.

(It’s all a little like when people list “Mom, the flag, and apple pie” as American values. It gives one an amusing mental image of other nations growing their citizens in vats.)

I do understand what you’re saying, but there’s still the same problem; he’s saying Americans are “better” in this regard. That other populations have a few atrocities to their name, and although they’re very much against causing atrocities, Americans are still a level above that; As you say, that there is something “special” about Americans in this regard. I disagree with that.

In your example, it would be you considering Canadians to be “better” than others in their treatment of the sick, and i’d say that’s also incorrect. You could make a convincing argument that the Canadian government does more for the sick with their health provisions, of course. But I don’t think you can make a case for saying “In general, Canadians especially don’t allow the sick to go untreated” anymore than you can say “In general, Americans especially don’t commit atrocities”.

Quite so. I may have gone off in the wrong direction, interpreting your comment as talking about the statement as being logically nonsensical, when in fact you’re (sensibly) denying its rhetorical intent.

I don’t know that. How many human lives in Africa could I save with the money that I spend each month on cable TV? They need drugs to fight AIDS. How many children are orphaned because of me and these blinders I wear?

How do I know there is any difference between me and a Nazi?

Revenant, I agree with you that there’s a touch of American exceptionalism in there that the rest of the world may find a little alienating. But IMHO this is the good side of American exceptionalism, it’s the kind that’s driven the U.S. (in the distant past it seems) to push for human rights internationally, etc. Because we like to see ourselves as the good guys and are horrified when our troops haven’t behaved like the pure-hearted young men we know them to be.

Yes that attitude can have a dark side (a pollyannaish refusal to believe Americans can commit atrocities, and some difficulty preventing or prosecuting them when they happen). But it’s not what you should worry about. What you should worry about is when Americans STOP asserting American exceptionalism as exceptional moral fiber and start asserting that we don’t need to be held to the same ethical standards as everyone else. When Rumsfeld and Dershowitz (!) start arguing American doesn’t have to give POW’s the protections of the Geneva Convention, for example. That’s what’s happened in the past few years that everyone on the planet should worry about. People arguing not that Americans would never do terrible things, but that Americans can and should do terrible things in the name of national security. A diminishing sense of moral outrage is probably the most dangerous thing to come along in this country since the bomb.

I’d suggest those things make you selfish, not evil (i’m equally guilty of this).

This is much the same semantic argument as “not all Muslims are evil”, or more to the point “a very small number of Muslims are evil”. It’s interesting that people who disagree with that proposition are vilified, but if that same statement applies to Americans and they agree with it they are vilified as well. 9/11- oh, it was just a few Muslims, and they don’t represent Islam as a whole. Haditha- America sucks! They’re all criminals and murderers! Interesting dichotomy, wouldn’t you say?

It’s almost as if we must be tolerant of others on the one hand but we can be smacked around by everybody else on the other.

You would think so, but I think you’ve noticed by now that that isn’t the case. America sucks, and therefore by extension all citizens of America suck. It’s because of this general sentiment that such a disclaimer is necessary.

The above is not an attempt to justify atrocities. I believe that the commission of atrocities should be severely punished, not only because it makes our country and our people look bad but because it’s the right and just thing to do (which is far too often overlooked). But it still bears repeating: a few people committing crimes are not representative of the whole, given any sample, be it American, Muslim, Arab, whatever.

Airman Doors, you rock. What you just said is exactly what I wanted to say, but you did it better. Thank you.

I do hope you’re not suggesting I would be so hypocritical. Of course some Muslims are evil, just as there’s a certain amount of evil people in any group. To suggest all members of a group are evil is just as foolish as suggesting all members of a group aren’t.

I think you’re overemphasising how widespread this sentiment is. I’m sure there are (likely many) people who think like this, but just the same there are many who judge Americans as individuals and not as a whole.

The problem with this disclaimer, though, is that it shows Myers has this same sentiment, but in reverse. As opposed to people who hear of Americans committing atrocities and ascribe that as a characteristic of all Americans, Myers is taking the individual characteristic of decentness and applying that to all Americans.

What i’d ask of you is this; you’re pretty certain that there are a good amount of people who say all Americans are evil based on the behaviour of some individuals (and I don’t disagree that these people exist). That their words show them to be hateful towards all Americans. Yet, when Myers makes his generalisation, it’s assumed by you and MLS that he’s speaking of some Americans, and not all? Why are you able to say “Those people are speaking about all Americans, but Myers is only speaking about some”?

What a pile of dung: “American exceptionalism”, i.e. "we’re the bestest country in the world.
Fact is America has been at least as ruthless with its enemies, real or imagined as viceversa. And secondly, far from being the first country in the world. You are actually quite down the list – at least in this folllowing, rather well-respected source

Nothing novel here mind you, war is war and almost all all bets are off for either side to the point that its simply a fight for survival, not ideas – unless of course you’re one of the imbecils that fell for the “greet us with flowers” sondbite.They chop off heads, you execute six month old babies point-blank.

Tell me, are you really surprised this is happening? 'cause I could point you to a book or ten where this is all covered. It’s a FUCKING WAR ya know.

So please, don’t come back with “the few bad apples” Bushit.

Either way, enjoy your evening – surely there’ll be a lot more dead people from both sides in this mad enterprise.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, “Hatred”.