A Search For Redemption

In last Friday’s Washington Post, I found Abu Ghraib MP Slain In Bid for Redemption to be a touching and sobering article.

Santos A. Cardona, an Army dog handler involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, was determined to continue fighting in America’s overseas battles to erase the stain of his assault conviction, his family members said.

Those closest to him said his passion for doing what he loved in the service of his country led him to try to return to Iraq in 2006, but the military brought him home after his planned deployment was publicized. Late last year, Cardona, 34, got his chance to rejoin the fight.

He traveled to Afghanistan as a government contractor, using a German shepherd to search for improvised explosive devices and weapons stockpiles. On Saturday, Cardona and his dog, Zomie, were killed when his military convoy hit a roadside bomb, according to Cardona’s employer and his family.

Cardona’s death was a violent end to a quest for redemption. His loved ones said he undertook one last year at war to earn money for his young daughter, show the military that he was good at his job, and dispel the cloud caused by photographs from Abu Ghraib that circled the globe.

Later, the article discusses Cardona’s role in Abu Graib and the subsequent trial

Cardona and his tan Belgian Malinois, Duco, were shown in photographs of detainee abuse that surfaced publicly in 2004. The most notable image showed Duco growling at a cowering, naked detainee.

Cardona argued he was ordered to have Duco intimidate high-value detainees at the behest of senior officers — claims supported by court testimony and military records — and jurors acquitted him of all but one assault charge. Cardona was ecstatic after receiving a verdict that spared him jail time and allowed him to stay in the Army.[emphasis added]

But staying in the Army did not mean the legacy of Abu Ghraib would disappear. After his blocked attempt to return to Iraq in 2006, he worked at the Army’s dog kennels at Fort Bragg, N.C. Demoted as part of his sentence and finding he was unable to sign up for the five more years it would have taken to earn a full military retirement pension, Cardona was honorably discharged on Sept. 29, 2007, according to Army records.

Though Cardona always believed he had done nothing wrong at Abu Ghraib, he carried a silent anger at those who ordered his actions but never were held to account, family members said.

Cardona’s daughter, Keelyn, is nine years old. Keelyn’s mother is Heather Ashby. The article describes Cardona’s early Army life

Easygoing, sometimes goofy, Cardona was dedicated to the life of a soldier. He joined the Army at age 17 in 1993 — needing his father’s signature to do so — and envisioned a military career. He met Ashby, also a military police soldier, while the two were stationed in Germany in the late 1990s, and Keelyn was born in 1999. It was then that Cardona fell in love with dog handling and was sent to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, where he used his dogs on patrols to sniff out bombs and provide security.

He so loved his working dogs that he adopted them after they were retired from service. Duco, now 12 years old, lives with Keelyn and Ashby in Florida.

I’m sure there are those that could never forgive Cardona his role in Abu Ghraib. But taking the article at face value, Cardona was totally committed to the Army and to his dogs. After being blocked by Army brass from continuing to ply his training, Cardona found a way, perhaps the only way, to use his training to serve his country and provide for his family, by searching for roadside bombs that have claimed so many lives.

Santos Cardona

Santos Cardona

The article Shock and Anger in Baghdad Greet the Abu Ghraib News tells of the anger expressed by Iraqis when the US attempted to reassign Cardona to Iraq after his conviction, apparently to train Iraq’s police

For many Iraqis, the punishment meted out to those found guilty of atrocities in the prison was too lenient; and Sgt. Cardona’s return only confirmed suspicions that the U.S. military never took the case seriously. A top Iraqi military commander, trained and appointed to his high position by the U.S., once told me that the Americans should have made an example of all those found guilty by “cutting of their heads and displaying them at the entrance of the Green Zone.” This, from a man who proudly labeled himself as a “friend of America.”

And this

Even America’s allies here bring up Abu Ghraib all the time, as proof of how little the U.S. understands Iraq. Last year, a European diplomat told [the author] the infamous Abu Ghraib photos—some of them featuring Sgt Cardona—”did more damage to U.S. credibility in Iraq than a Cruise missile smashing into a kindergarden.”

Let’s see.

  • cutting off heads and displaying them
  • photos that do more damage to U.S. credibility than cruise missiles hitting a kindergarden

And the U.S. has little understanding of Iraq? Do these quotes not tell us quite a bit of what we need to know?  And recently, there was a story from Saudi Arabia about a female that was detained because she was …. driving. And then a day or two later, there was a story about two men in Saudi Arabia that were detained because they sought the autograph of … a female author. I think that Iraq, and the Middle East in general, overestimates the difficulty that Westerners have in understanding their cultures. It doesn’t seem too complicated to me. But then acid helps make everything clearer.

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