In the mid-seventies, when I was reporting from Rome for The New Republic, jailbreaks were commonplace. Red Brigades terrorists and other such broke out of prisons throughout the country, and one day I got a telephone call from Washington. An irritated colleague asked, “Can’t the Italians keep anyone in jail?” My answer was fairly blunt. “Suppose you’re a prison guard,” I said, “you’re making barely enough to scrape by, month by month. Then somebody calls you late at night. The message is brutal. ’Stay away from cell block B Thursday after 11 o’clock. We’ll pay you ten thousand dollars and we won’t kill your daughter.’”
What would you do? Stupid rhetorical question, I know, but nobody had posed it to my colleague, who was anything but stupid and was very well educated. It’s just that very few deep thinkers are familiar with the dark side. When you find one–Eric Hoffer, for example, or Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for another–it is worth your while to pay close attention.
These thoughts are prompted by the two recent dreadful jailbreaks in Libya and Iraq, both of which are very serious and infuriating. Some of those evil people in Abu Ghraib were transported there by Marine convoys that covered many miles of very dangerous territory (IEDs abounded), so that “the rule of law” could be established under American guidance. Some of those convoys were commanded by people very close to us. So the family takes it very seriously. Would that our commander in chief were serious, and that American guidance had continued. But no, he was in a hurry to get out, and this is one of the consequences.
I’m not suggesting that all, or even most, of the guards at Abu Ghraib or Benghazi were complicit in the two massive breakouts in recent days. In both cases, police and security forces were killed; they weren’t conveniently elsewhere. But jailbreaks, especially when high-profile prisoners are involved, are not spontaneous happenings. They are planned, and you can be sure that the planners had managed to enlist the support of some of the men in charge. “I’ll pay you ten thousand dollars and we won’t kill your daughter” works most every time.