There's the repeatedly expressed opinion by the anonymous poster in this thread that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib don't really, necessarily illustrate a big, serious disease in the system, because they have free will and were not led to those actions in any significant degree by having been conditioned to (may I paraphrase drastically) hate Iraqis and see them as less than human.
Setting aside, for the moment, the irony inherent in someone denying the culpability of the system, claiming free will and individual responsibility and the magnificence thereof and neglecting to identify him/herself (and my resultant scorn for anonymous bitchposts in general), this person seems to have missed the point, despite stumbling across it and falling right on his/her face.
What point, you ask? The more cynical among you probably already got it. Free will is a wonderful thing (and as I've said before, "wonderful" does not necessarily mean "good"). It offers us the power of choice. So, yes, because of free will, human beings, alone among animals, not only are responsible for proving their value to the Universe, but most definitely responsible for their own actions. Those soldiers had a choice - they made what (I hope) most of us consider the wrong one. Those soldiers, the ones who gave them their orders, and those who stood silently by without reporting the abuses, are alone responsible for the atrocities committed inside Abu Ghraib Prison. And reasonably, according to their own country's code of justice (that, within the "civilised" world, is essentially the same, from nation to nation, barring a few dozen insane abuses of democracy that have popped up in the States recently), they are the only ones who can be punished for what happened.
However (and please note that I stress this), that does not excuse the much greater problem. Despite the exercise (or lack thereof) of free will in this situation, the system is, to some degree at least, to blame. Or at least, responsible. At least, the system, or the environment, in which these people regularly exist did contribute to the end result. Yes, human beings possess the power of reason. Free will. But human beings also spend most of their lives, at least in Western society, not only having that free will subverted (a suitably insidious definition), but being conditioned to believe that free will is undesirable, dangerous, leading to unhappiness, instability, even evil, and more recently, at least from what I glean of the American news, "unpatriotic", and notably, historically, "subversive". Free will, we all know, if we've known mundanes at any point in our lives, and it can hardly be avoided, is not "cool".
Of course this does not excuse the behaviour of individuals who decide to discard their individuality and either decide not to exercise their free will or exercise it in support of something questionable, or reprehensible. I'm not saying these people shouldn't be penalized for making poor choices - nobody can learn from mistakes if the mistakes have no consequences. I'm saying that it shouldn't stop there.
It's virtually hopeless to say that the world needs to change - then again, there's something noble about a hopeless cause. The world does need to change. I bitch a lot about the evils of capitalism, and materialism, but what I think is really at the root of all the big problems in the world is plain and simple selfishness. Maybe it came from capitalism, sure - I'm pretty sure that it did. But as a species we've become selfish, lazy, conceited, complacent. The last one is probably the least directly destructive but the most obvious - if we weren't complacent about war, the American invasion of Iraq never would have happened, I'd be willing to bet on it. Being able to kill a hundred thousand people from a continent away does a lot to minimize the reality of the atrocity of war in general. And the decision to shrug and carry on and support your country for no other reason than because you're supposed to support your country is an exercise of free will, sure. It's a free decision not to think about the situation rationally, not to get all the information, not to trouble yourself because you'd rather be complacent and ignorant and content than angry and troubled and aware of what's going on around you. And that applies to every single idiotic law that's been passed in the U.S. in the past three years, and everywhere else, for that matter. A lot of people get pissy and indignant when you imply that they're sheep because they'd rather "be happy" than know what's happening in the world.
Well. I'm very sorry about the pain it might cause the hypothetical sheep to be called a sheep, but that makes them no less a sheep. A person who gives up their accountability also forfeits the privilege of courtesy, or quite frankly the privilege of my not assuming they're an idiot. Then again, I think quite a few people are idiots. I'm reasonably sure of my judgement in most cases. Says nothing good about the state of the world, at least my little slice of it.
Back on topic. My point? Treat the disease, not just the symptoms. If we have a system that first (perhaps unconsciously) creates monsters and then condemns them, then let's move right on and prosecute the system itself. Not just those directly resonsible for mistakes, but those who allowed the mistakes to be made, either by silence or by willing ignorance. Don't just vaguely approve of individual accountability as something that existed way back when in the golden age when the world was innocent. Force it. Penalize those who refuse to display it. Send angry letters. Teach your children the social contract. Set an example. Vote intelligently. Riot in the streets. Fix every single part of the system that needs fixing. If necessary, take it apart and put it back together again - we're overdue for a revolution, anyway. Just... something.
Going out of my field - but my point stands. This isn't about America. This is about everywhere. Something to think about: human beings serve no significant natural function, contribute little to an ecosystem. Personally, I think that means we have to prove that we deserve to be here. And so far? We're not doing so well.
But returning at last to the original thread, let's carry a little further the metaphor of the prison abuses as symptoms of a disease, which I find unpleasantly suitable. Our anonymous poster replied: Also, not for nothing, lancing the buba was superficial indeed, but also the only way people with bubonic plague had a chance to survive the disease.
One also might argue (and I'm not necessarily saying that *I* would), if cynical enough, that something that deformed was no longer worth saving. At least not so long as the patient refused to acknowledge the disease.
Still; there's something romantic about a hopeless cause. *shrug*