Aidan Delgado volunteered for the Army Reserve. His company was one of the first across the border of Iraq in 2003. His experience of the brutality and dehumanization of modern warfare convinced him that he could not participate and retain his Buddhist beliefs. He became a noncombatant, and received conscientious objector status at the end of his tour of duty. The Sutras of Abu Ghraib is the story of his journey. This excerpt is a meditation on how easy it is to distance ourselves from the devastation of war-making.
I had once told Sergeant Toro that I enjoyed working on the trucks of soldiers I liked and respected, knowing that it was making their lives easier. With the knowledge that I’ve gained working in the headquarters, I begin to fit the 320th Company and our narrow purpose into a larger scheme. We are one of many companies, not really responsible for anything on our own, but taken together we form a mechanism that keeps the entire prison running: from the guards who stand along the wire to the cooks who feed them to the mechanics who service their equipment. I begin to see my tiny fragment of war service as part of an enormous glittering structure, comprising thousands of individual soldiers, each secure in the knowledge that what they are personally doing isn’t wrong. I look at the truth of the prisoners’ experience and then I look at my stated life, and it feels false, right to the core. The truth that I believe is that prisoners are being terribly abused inside Abu Ghraib, degraded, falsely imprisoned, even killed, as happened in the November riot. But it’s not my fault, I’m just a mechanic fixing the vehicles of the guys who run the prison. It’s not really their fault either, they’re just standing around guarding the prisoners as they were ordered to do by those higher up the chain of command. Well, who the hell is responsible for all this, then? All of us … the generals … I don’t know, me personally? That’s what it feels like. Lying on the ground underneath a Humvee with the mud caked in its tires, I finally look up and perceive my place in the web: I can call myself a conscientious objector and denounce war all I like, but I’m still here, still playing my part like a good soldier.”
—from The Sutras of Abu Ghraib, Beacon Press, 2007. 228 pages, $24.95