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Prison abuse sentence apt

An Army reservist charged in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has been sentenced to eight years in prison, a reduction in rank, a dishonorable discharge from the Army and the forfeiture of his pay.

Some Iraqis have opined that the death penalty was the only appropriate sentence for the abuses that Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, 39, inflicted upon inmates at the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad. Frederick, the highest ranking soldier charged in the prison scandal, admitted that he placed wires in a detainee's hands and told him he would be electrocuted if he fell off a box. Frederick also admitted that he forced prisoners to masturbate.

While people outside the military justice system can debate the respective merits of Frederick's punishment, his was the longest prison sentence yet in connection with the scandal. Because the United States and its military operate under the rule of law, it is likely inconceivable to people who live under dictatorships that punishments could be made to fit the crime. In this case, the military court got it right.

There are ongoing questions about the top-down nature of the prison abuses. Many lower-ranking service members have said they were ordered to follow the instructions of military intelligence officers. Frederick also testified that he was given no training or support in supervising detainees.

Frederick, a state corrections officer in civilian life, pleaded guilty to eight counts of conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault and committing an indecent act. Although issues raised in his defense echo those of other service members implicated in the prison abuses, Frederick's age, experience as a veteran military police officer and his civilian occupation suggest he should have recognized how his conduct and that of others was abusive, then taken steps to stop it.

His prosecution should not absolve others who outrank the staff sergeant from Buckingham, Va. They allegedly share blame for the outrageous conduct at Abu Ghraib prison. One military intelligence soldier called as a witness in Frederick's case referred to an e-mail from the U.S. command in Baghdad that read, "The gloves are coming off, gentlemen, regarding these detainees." The command, it read, "wants the detainees broken."

While the investigation into the prison abuses is ongoing, there is considerable evidence in the public domain that points to commanders making outrageous demands of the troops in their command, as well as rogue service members who acted on their own. All should be investigated and held to account for their actions. And the world should see clearly how justice is done in a nation ruled by laws, not people.