Scapegoating ‘Bad Apples’
Pages From the “Pig Playbook,” Reading, No. 1
What is the Pig Playbook?
Not many people are familiar with the Pig Playbook or PPB. The PPB is a stock of tactics and schemes the capitalist imperialists use to achieve and maintain power and domination over everyone else. It’s like an unwritten dirty tricks manual for cowards and sociopaths, containing a range of techniques used to keep masses of oppressed people blind, deaf and dumb to their own exploitation and their being manipulated by the pigs to aid in oppressing others.
In his Art of War, Sun Tzu keenly observed that one of the most effective ways to defeat an opponent is to stop his plans. Studying and learning the PPB reveals the range of tactics the pigs draw on devising their plans. With its knowledge we can recognize and counter those tactics and even predict and prevent their use altogether. Furthermore, we can even devise a few plans of our own toward putting them out of biz.
To this end we want to give regular readings in the PPB.
In this first reading, the pig tactic of focus will be the “bad apple” blame-game.
The “Bad Apple” blame-game
Often when the dirty workings of the capitalist imperialist system are exposed to the public, and its legitimacy is discredited or brought into question, the response is to pretend that some “bad apple,” acting outside and against the system’s rules and moral standards, is to blame and not the system itself.
In which case they’ll scapegoat one or a few of their own agents or puppets (usually as low in rank as possible) and throw them under the bus.
We find examples of scapegoating “bad apples” in situations ranging from cases arising from the pigs’ imperialist war practices to their massive prison slave system. Let’s examine a few of them.
Example #1: Mass murders
We take our first example from the genocidal U.S. war against Vietnam. Enough time has passed where a lot of the dirt that was concealed at the time has surfaced.1
In the case of Vietnam, which is of course not exceptional, mass murder and massacres of unarmed civilians by U.S. forces were not merely everyday occurrences, but were established military strategy set by officials at the highest levels of planning and command. However, U.S. officials scapegoated Lieutenant William Calley when one such massacre—the infamous My Lai massacre—came to public attention. Public exposure came only because one soldier shaken by his own experiences broke ranks and the military code of silence upon returning to the States, and did everything in his power to expose the atrocity. This soldier was Ron Ridenour.
In that case, on March 16, 1968, Calley led his Charlie Company in a raid on My Lai, a village of women, children and old people. The Company had been specifically instructed the day before by their commanding officer, Captain Ernest Medina, to “Kill everything in the village.” And when specifically asked for clarification by one of the Company’s artillery gunners if he meant women and children as well, Medina replied, “Kill everything that moves.” Even the German Nazis were seldom so explicit.
The soldiers went on a killing spree, even pumping bullets into infants at point blank range, and shooting up the village’s livestock. In the middle of this literal orgy of bloodletting and rape of women and young girls, the soldiers settled down for a quiet lunch break then returned to their grisly task. In the end over 500 civilians lay dead.
The top ranking U.S. military commander, General William Westmoreland, commended the massacre, which was falsely portrayed as a gun battle in which 128 enemy fighters were killed.
The truth surfaced over a year later when Ridenhour’s efforts managed to gain the attention of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Hersh uncovered the massacre and published an article on his findings including an Army photograph of dozens of dead Vietnamese women and children dumped in a ditch. The image even showed a dead infant’s head stuffed between a dead young female’s legs as if to force it back into the womb.
Lieutenant Calley, the lowest ranking officer on whom overall blame could be placed, was portrayed by officials as a mentally unstable “bad apple” responsible for the slaughter. For the murder of 22 civilians he was persecuted and sentenced to life in prison, but was quickly released by President Richard Nixon and required to serve only 40 months, most of it in his own quarters.
The public bought the official story scapegoating Calley. However, the Army’s own inside investigation found that 28 ranking officers, including two generals, were involved in misconduct related to the My Lai butchery and the cover-up that followed. But of course none were punished and the public never knew of it.
Hersh’s article exposing My Lai was published in 35 papers, following which another soldier involved in the massacre, Paul Meadlo, was interviewed on CBS by Mike Wallace, confessing the murder of civilians, “and babies.”
In an effort at damage control, General Westmoreland appointed General Williams Peers to lead an inquiry into My Lai solely to give the appearance of the military’s taking action. Westmoreland explicitly instructed Peers not to investigate any actual murders, but to look only into the prior inadequate investigations of the My Lai situation.
But Peers went much further and his investigations uncovered massacres like My Lai all over the place, including one in another village, My Khe, which occurred on the same day as My Lai just a few miles up the road.
Concerning My Lai, the Peers investigation found such “crimes” committed by the soldiers as “individual and group acts of murder, rape, sodomy, maiming and assault on non-combatants,” with numbers killed in excess of 400. Also it found a deliberate cover-up of the massacre by officials “at every command level from company to division.” Subsequently Westmoreland had Peers and his report censored so they revealed nothing to the public beyond the already published official version. As investigative journalist Nick Turse observed:
“The Pentagon was especially dismayed that Peers had chronicled not only the slaughter at My Lai by Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, but also the killings carried out on the same day in the nearby village of My Khe by the men of Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry. The whole Pentagon strategy centered on portraying My Lai as a one-off aberration rather than part of a consistent pattern of criminality resulting from policies set at the top. Having two different massacres carried out within hours of each other by two entirely different army units in two separate villages was hardly compatible with that message. So when reporters asked about the events at My Khe, Peers sidestepped the questions, and Pentagon briefers simply lied, saying that that massacre had been perpetrated by South Vietnamese troops. ‘Westmoreland covered his ass,’ Colonel Henry Tufts, the head of army criminal investigative command, would observe years later about the chief of staff’s response to the My Lai affair. ‘He did what he had to do to preserve the system.’”
Note this insider’s admission that it is the system itself that is fundamentally to blame and had to be protected.
Most telling is that after the Peers report, Westmoreland set up an unofficial task force to investigate future atrocities in Vietnam, the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group. But the purpose of the group was not to stop atrocities nor bring perpetrators to justice. It was instead formed to do the exact opposite—to bury such incidents and protect the U.S. military’s public image. What’s more the group reported directly to top U.S. military officials and the White House.
In fact My Lai style slaughters were only a tiny factor in the official U.S. military strategy of systematic mass killings of civilians in Vietnam, resulting in millions dead. This strategy, devised at the highest levels of planning and command was based on targeting the civilian population with bombers, gunships, chemical weapons, experimental weapons designed to inflict high casualties, incendiaries and explosives, etc. The object was to break the large popular opposition to the U.S. invasion and division of Vietnam, and to produce astronomical casualty rates, which were falsely portrayed as enemy troops, killed so to falsely project U.S. military operations in Vietnam as a “success.”
This strategy and its incalculable cost in human life and suffering, and environmental destruction, certainly was much larger than a single scapegoat in the form of a low-ranking officer could be responsible for. But it all was white washed and covered up by blaming one incident (which was actually part of an overall genocidal strategy that couldn’t be publicly admitted) on a single “bad apple”—Lieutenant William Calley.
Example #2: Torture in Iraq
The same “bad apple” scapegoat tactic was used when photographs surfaced in 2004 of U.S. soldiers torturing and sexually degrading Arab detainees in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. In response, a handful of low ranking U.S. soldiers were portrayed as renegades acting on their own. Several of them protested, however, that they were acting on directions of the highest-ranking officials at Abu Ghraib and according to their training.
In fact it was later revealed that the torture and humiliation techniques revealed in those photos were methods refined and practiced under direction of General Geoffrey Miller at Guantanamo Bay, which the U.S. military and CIA was using as a torture research laboratory during 2002. And in response to widespread resistance to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Miller was transferred to Abu Ghraib in 2003 to implement his techniques on captured Iraqis.2
Furthermore, as of 2006, in studies conducted by New York University, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch, based on government documentation, hundreds of cases of torture of detainees by U.S. forces were found. Among them were over 100 who’d died in U.S. custody, including 34 that the Defense Department (sic!) admitted were homicides, many of whom were tortured to death.
Long before the 2004 photos surfaced or the 2006 reports, Pentagon officials and then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld knew of and approved what was happening. Scott Morton of the New York Bar Association investigated the targeted prosecutions of U.S. soldiers during the torture scandal and found they were simply being scapegoated. He observed, “the highest profile cases in which the severest sanctions are sought consistently involve those soldiers who...permitted photographic evidence of the crimes at Abu Ghraib to become public knowledge.” He concluded, “…it wasn’t the abuse of prisoners which was being punished, but the fact that the military, and particularly Rumsfeld, has been embarrassed by these matters becoming public.”
Also, inside Pentagon investigations of detainee torture concluded in 2004 found detainee torture systematic. These investigations were used not to stop torture or to punish its perpetrators, but instead to redefine torture so the abuses could be “legalized.” One such investigative report by Major General Antonio Taguba detailed extensive torture and abuse, although no efforts were made to seriously inquire into torture-related murders in U.S. custody.
Taguba’s report was leaked in May 2004 to the media. Shortly afterward, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, sent an email to ranking U.S. officials warning them not to read the Taguba report, claiming the leak was being investigated for “criminal prosecution” (which is another Pig Playbook tactic; namely, discouraging and silencing whistleblowers from exposing official crimes to the public by persecuting and prosecuting them instead of the criminal acts they expose, and denouncing the public exposures as endangering “national security,” (which is being done today to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, Private Chelsea [Bradley] Manning, Edward Snowden, and various U.S. intelligence agency whistleblowers).
The matter of systematic tortures of detainees by U.S. forces was testified to by Deborah Pearlstein, former Director of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First, before the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives on July 21, 2008, to no avail.3
Only much later (after it could no longer be suppressed that the military and CIA were systematically torturing Arab detainees under the George W. Bush administration, and based on established military policy and memoranda coming directly out of the White House) did President Barack Obama make a public show of denouncing the practices. Yet none of the top-level officials responsible for the torture program faced any punishment.
Yet when the matter presented the danger of discrediting and affecting U.S. military policy, detainee torture was portrayed as deviant acts of a few low ranking soldiers who were scapegoated as “bad apples.”
Example #3: Brutality in
The same goes for U.S. prisons. One account I can personally give. As a published statement I sent out on October 24, 2013 revealed, I and numerous other prisoners here in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) Bill Clements Unit (BCU), witnessed the murder/wrongful death of another prisoner, Christopher Woolverton, at the hands of BCU officials.
Woolverton, a known asthmatic, had been left for several days without help, lying unresponsive on his cell floor in obvious medical distress. He was left in this condition, not accepting meals or his medications, and lying in his own body waste (including bloody stool) for over four days.
On October 22, 2013, still lying unresponsive on the floor and posing no threat to anyone, Woolverton was repeatedly sprayed directly in the head and face with large quantities of OC gas by Sergeant Andrew Gratz. Gratz is an extremely abusive and cocky guard almost unanimously disliked by BCU prisoners because of his abusive impunity. The quantity of gas used by him on Woolverton far exceeded that authorized by policy. And both policy and law forbid the use of caustic gas both on asthmatic prisoners and non-disruptives.
The assault on Woolverton was supervised by lieutenant Matthew Seymour and nurse Debra Killian, with clearance from the BCU Warden and Major, who personally observed Woolverton on the floor and were briefed on his situation only minutes before he was gassed.
Following the gassing he was subjected to further use of excessive and needless force by guards dressed in full body riot armor raiding the cell. He was then taken out of the cellblock by them for about three minutes unable to walk, then brought back in and left lying unresponsive on the floor of another cell with no property or his asthma inhalers, and still drenched in gas—where he died a few hours later.
He was never given any fresh air nor was he decontaminated, as the law requires whenever a prisoner is contaminated with gas. Upon being brought back into the cellblock by the armored group of guards, he had distinctly told them and Gratz, “I can’t breathe.” They ignored him. I spoke out as well stating he was in obvious medical distress and in need of help. I was also ignored by them.
I and several other prisoner witnesses filed grievances inside the institution about Woolverton’s treatment and the abuse of OC gas. I also sent word to the outside about it, which resulted in wide exposure via reports and an article written and circulated by one of my publishers based largely on my description of the incident.4
Following this exposure and protests, the nurse Killian was scapegoated and lost her job. Nothing was done to those who’d left Woolverton in distress for days, nor who’d assaulted him, supervised or authorized it.
Instead, all of us who grieved it were told in responses by BCU Assistant Warden James Beach that what happened to Woolverton was none of our business and they had no interest in our statements as witnesses. Here’s what Beach wrote in response to my own grievance #2014033040 in relevant part:
“The situation that you described has nothing to do with you and you were not involved in this incident concerning offender Woolverton. The incident investigation [and] the result of that investigation will not be discussed with you.”
In my appeal of Beach’s response I pointed out:
“Curious . . . that in many other professional investigations of a potentially illegal situation, witnesses are considered to have something to do with such incidents and are consulted in the process of conducting any competent investigation. However, in this notoriously corrupt TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice), even vocal witnesses who present actual complaints of witnessing foul play concerning a prisoner’s death are told they have noting to do with such incidents and are not questioned to even pretend to conduct an impartial investigation, and the involved staff’s word is simply taken as true. If this isn’t corruption and creating an environment detrimental to our safety and lives, my name is Santa Claus.”
In response to my appeal a TDCJ administrator, Jason Henton wrote, “You were correctly advised in your step one answer.”
A genuine investigation had to be avoided since responsibility for Woolverton’s abuse would go too far up the TDCJ chain of command, and could not avoid the conclusion that his death was the result of widespread, long standing, systemic abuses of force in general, and OC gas in particular, in the TDCJ and at BCU especially.
In fact, a Texas Tribune article published just a month before Woolverton’s death, reported that BCU has the highest number of uses of force and OC gas on prisoners in the entire TDCJ. With over 1,500 incidents of uses of chemical agents and over 3,400 uses of “major” force on BCU prisoners just between 2006 and 2012, numbers, which the article reports experts as finding “overwhelming.”5 What really puts such numbers into perspective is the findings of Texas federal courts that the TDCJ has a culture of malicious and sadistic violence and abuse of chemical agents by guards on prisoners that is worse than in any other U.S. prison system.6
This situation and Woolverton’s death occurring in the context of such conditions is clearly the result of official policy and not the acts of a few “bad apples,” and certainly not the fault of a single nurse.
Fruit never falls far from its tree. If everywhere we see atrocities occurring at government hands that are passed off as the acts of “bad apples,” but upon closer inspection are revealed to be chronic, systemic and widespread, we must begin to recognize that the tree this bad fruit is falling from is itself thoroughly rotten, and the source and cause of their decay.
This tree has a name. It’s called capitalist-imperialism—the most putrid, and environmentally and socially destructive political-economic system history has known, a decadent system that V. I. Lenin characterized as “rotten ripe for revolution.” Settling for any “solution” short of revolution will see us all go extinct. We must wake up to its designs and stop it cold.
Hopefully, these reflections on the PPB will help remove our blinders and fortify our resolve.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
1 An extensive and thoroughly documented expose on the Vietnam War, which includes source references to much of my discussion in this section, can be found in Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War In Vietnam (Henry Holt, New York, 2013).
2 On General Miller’s torture program developed at Guantanamo Bay and transferred to Abu Ghraib, see Alfred McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror (Henry Holt, New York, 2006) pp., 126-30, 133-34, 137, 153-56.
3 See Deborah Pearlstein’s testimonial account of the 2006 torture reports and official efforts to hide the Taguba report, before the Committee on the Judiciary at http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/Pearlstein080715.pdf
4 Karl Kersplebedeb, “Asthmatic Prisoner Doused With Pepper Spray, Refused Medical Care, Dies: Just Another Day in the Texas Prison System,” November 8, 2013, at rashidmod.com and Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 14, No. 1
5 Brandi Grissom, “Violence Behind Bars—A Tie to Mental Illness,” The Texas Tribune, September 22, 2013.
6 See Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855 (S. D. Tex. 1999); Ruiz v. Johnson, 154 F. Supp. 2d 976 (S.D. Tex. 2001); also my article on the extensively documented abusive nature of Texas prisons, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “U.S. Prison Practices Would Disgrace a Nation of Savages: Texas—A Case on Record,” at rashidmod.com and Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 14, No. 1