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AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION OF IRAQI PRISONER ABUSE: AN EMPIRICAL
TEST OF THE LEGITIMACY AND RECREANCY THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS
RACHEL L. TAYLOR
A THESIS TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Rachel L. Taylor
I would first like to give my thanks to my thesis committee, Dr. Alex Piquero, Dr.
Jeffrey S. Adler, and Dr. Lonn Lanza-Kaduce, for all of their time, patience, and
commitment to my work. While each committee member added insightful and unique
contributions to this thesis, Dr. Piquero helped inspire this thesis; without his guidance it
would not have come to be.
I would also like to thank my fellow graduate students in the Department of
Criminology, Law, and Society at the University of Florida for their assistance. I would
like to give a special thanks to those who went above and beyond their student role in
order to facilitate the completion of this thesis: Kate Fox for keeping me sane, and both
Matt Nobles, my student mentor, and Wesley Jennings for their vast statistical
Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a special thanks to Dr. Meyer
Kestnbaum, Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, for
inspiring me to study war crimes, encouraging me to pursue progressively higher
education, strengthening my confidence in my work, and for his sheer commitment to all
of my academic and non-academic achievements.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ......... ................................................................................... iii
L IST O F TA B L E S ............................................ .............................................. v
ABSTRACT .............. .......................................... vi
1 IN TR O D U C TIO N ......................................................................... .... .. ........
2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE ............................................................ ............. 5
3 M E T H O D O L O G Y ............................................................................. ................... 20
D a ta ................................................................................2 0
H ypotheses ................................................. 20
D ep en d ent V ariab les........... .... .............................................................. ...... .. ....2 1
In dep en dent V ariab les ......................................................................... .................. 2 3
C o n tro l V ariab les ......... .................................................................................. ......... 2 5
A nalytic P lan .................................................................. 26
4 R E S U L T S .............................................................................2 7
5 DISCU SSION AND CON CLU SION S ............................................. ....................34
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ...................................... .................................... ....................38
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ...................................................................... ..................41
LIST OF TABLES
1 Frequencies for Control V ariables ........................................ ....................... 30
2 D escrip tiv e S statistics ..................................................................... .....................3 0
3 Multiple Regression: War Worth Fighting & Bush Apologize Associated with
Concern/Anger .................................... .............................. .........31
4 Logistic Regression: War Worth Fighting & Bush Apologize Associated with
B ig D eal ............................................................... ..... ..... ......... 31
5 Logistic Regression: Exposure to Media Associated with Widespread/Isolated....31
6 Logistic Regression: War Worth Fighting Associated with Crime.......................32
7 Logistic Regression: War Worth Fighting Associated with Officers ...................32
8 Multiple Regression: Officers Associated with Concern/Anger.............................32
9 Logistic Regression: Officers Associated with Big Deal................... ..............33
10 Multiple Regression: Exposure to Media Associated with Concern/Anger ..........33
11 Logistic Regression: Exposure to Media Associated with Bush Apologize ..........33
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION OF IRAQI PRSIONER ABUSE: AN EMPIRICAL
TEST OF THE LEGITIMACY AND RECREANCY THEORETICAL
Rachel L. Taylor
Chair: Alex Piquero
Major Department: Criminology, Law and Society
What explains American public opinion on who is responsible for the Iraqi
prisoner abuse? Americans' assessments of institutions shape their response to the
abuse scandal, insofar as to blame the individual or the institution. According to the
literature, both recreancy and legitimacy have explanatory power. Freudenburg
defines recreancy as, the failure of institutional actors to carry out their
responsibilities with the degree of vigor necessary to merit the societal trust they
enjoy". When institutions are perceived as being recreant, people are likely to be
concerned. Tyler and Darley define legitimacy as lawful, in accordance with
accepted standards, and those authorities which are legitimate "ought to be obeyed."
For this thesis, legitimacy will be explored in the context of how individuals may or
may not question legitimate authority as represented by military officers when they
disagree with the official message. This thesis will also examine the media's effects
and whether more or less exposure to media sources may influence American public
In examining Americans' opinions on the Iraqi prisoner abuse, the elements that
shape those opinions must first be determined. This thesis will explore key relationships
between national norms of moral responsibility and legitimacy, recreancy or institutional
assessments, and how they relate to war crimes in general, and more specifically, how
they relate to Americans' views on who is responsible for the Iraqi prisoner abuse.
Furthermore, this thesis will also explore media's effects on the American public opinion.
First and foremost, the United States is a nation that idealizes individuality and
therefore individual responsibility. In relation to war criminals, the idea of
individualizing guilt is as old as the Nuremburg Military Tribunals conducted after
WWII. "... [P]rior to Nuremburg, the standard sanctions for violations of the laws of
warfare had been either military reprisals or ... reparations imposed by the victorious
states upon the losers" (Levinson, 1973: 247). Skeptics argue that this change occurred
in order to prosecute Nazi Germany more effectively (Kelman and Hamilton, 1989: 73).
While some argue that individualizing guilt omits the idea of collective responsibility and
the role of the state or society in the production of the criminal, others argue that there is
no such thing as collective responsibility or that it is just a way of getting out of
pinpointing guilty individuals. Despite the varying opinions on the subject and
Nuremburg's codification of individual responsibility, the truth is that only relatively
high-ranking soldiers were held to such standards. Questions about responsibility may
linger in the minds of the public due to the difficulty inherent in establishing
responsibility with regards to the structured hierarchy of the military. With regards to the
Iraqi prisoner abuse, are the superior officers of the prison guards responsible? How
many of those officers should be charged as war criminals and how far up the chain of
command should the responsibility fall?
Opinions about state responsibility are interlinked with the individual's perceptions
of the state's legitimacy or illegitimacy: Whether or not the government and its actions
are seen as legitimate may affect feelings of anger or disapproval about the Iraqi prisoner
abuse. If the state's actions are seen as legitimate, then those opinions about
responsibility will more than likely reflect that. In other words, one might expect that if
the state's actions are seen as legitimate, then individuals will not be as angry. Also, how
the government deals with responsibility of war crimes may further influence feelings
about the Iraqi prisoner abuse. Tyler and Darley define legitimacy as lawful, in
accordance with accepted standards, and those authorities which are legitimate "ought to
be obeyed" (2000: 707). If the American public feels that lower-ranking soldiers are
subjects of the state, they may be more inclined to feel that higher-ranking soldiers are
responsible despite the American tradition of individual responsibility. Also, due to the
vagueness of some laws of war, which has been somewhat reflected in media coverage,
the American public may further consider lower-ranking soldiers as less responsible.
Military personnel are taught to obey their superiors, therefore it may be expected that the
American public will attribute the actual interpretation of the laws of war to the officers
In addition, what can we expect when the state or any other legitimate institution
becomes recreant? Since the 1960's, the American people have been much more critical
of its government than they had been during the first half of the century, especially in
relation to war. America's involvement in the Vietnam war led to a massive decline in
political trust from 1966-1975 (Cunningham, 2002: 520). Between 1980 and 1984 there
was a slight recovery in public trust, but, according to Miller and Borrelli, this increase
was not fully established, nor was it due to a solution that solved the root problem that
caused the decline in the first place (1991: 153). This decline in public trust may be in
part due to the government's recreancy during this timeframe. According to
Freudenburg's definition of recreancy, the failure of the institution, or the government,
was its lack of success in Vietnam coupled with the massive loss of life endured by the
These experiences have made America's citizens reluctant to enter a long-enduring
war and may also affect how the government continues to be viewed today. Americans
now prefer swift military action over a lasting involvement with international conflicts
(Cunningham, 2002: 522). Feelings of fear and insecurity from the attacks of September
11th demanded immediate action from the world's strongest military power. Similar to
America's predicament in Vietnam, the U.S. again finds itself in a situation that it cannot
readily back out of. This thesis will further explore how increasing tensions between the
Iraqis and Allied forces have lead to what we now refer to as the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Finally, in order to examine media's effects on the American public opinion, it is
important to identify what media the public was exposed to. The amount of time from
the first story about the prisoner abuse was broadcasted, May 1, 2005 (Television News
Archive: Vanderbilt University: 2000), until the day the data used in this thesis was
collected, May 5-6, 2005, amounts to a total of about five days. Within those five days,
nearly every media source in the United States spent some amount of time covering the
Iraqi prisoner abuse story. Many television news broadcasts aired several stories about it
each day. To say the least, media coverage of the Iraqi prisoner abuse was widespread
between May 1-5, 2005. While there was no doubt that these incidents occurred, some
news reports portrayed the government as condoning the abuse and insisting that these
incidents were isolated, while still others portrayed the government as non-reactive,
unapologetic, and declaring that these incidents were widespread. Different media
sources may have had differing effects, but there is little doubt that this knowledge had at
least some effect on the American public.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Let us further examine the terminology in this literature: the state, legitimacy (and
even more importantly, the state's legitimate actions), war crimes, and recreancy. It is
important to understand the ambiguities surrounding these terms and what roles they play
in sculpting the opinions of the average American with respect to the Iraqi prisoner
abuse. Furthermore, a state's legitimacy must be taken in context of the society in which
it resides and its surrounding states; therefore economy, politics, and international
relations must also be considered. Elements of civil society are not only interconnected,
but they are also interlinked with the civilians that reside in it. This argument will also
prove vital in the explanation of public opinion.
For this thesis, "the state" is conceptualized as a "public power," or in other words,
an institution equipped with the ability to use force. Therefore, state "actors" are the
personnel that organize such an institution and in turn possess the capability of enforcing
that power (Ward and Green, 2000: 76). Legitimate actions committed by the personnel
do not necessarily have to meet norms and or beliefs and are therefore not subject to the
label of "evil or unjust." In other words, an act that is deviant is not necessarily
illegitimate. "Moreover, the concept of legitimacy is, as we shall see, so beset with
ambiguities and questions of degree that it can hardly be used to define anything," (Ward
and Green, 2000: 78).
This same notion can be extended to that of a war crime. As defined by Article 6
of the 1945 Charter of the International Military Tribunal, war crimes are,
... namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include,
but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labour or for any
other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory [sic], murder or ill-
treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of
public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or
devastation not justified by military necessity. (Dinstein, 1996: 1)
Also included in war crimes are employment of poisoned weapons or the improper
use of flags of truce (Dinstein, 1996: 3). As stated by the definition, such evil or unjust
acts may be considered legitimate when they are catalyzed by military necessity.
It is important then to understand the ambiguity surrounding the military necessity
exception. The "Double Effect" rule was instated to explain further the military necessity
exception, but it does more than bring up uncertainty; it is a possible explanation as why
individual soldiers may be more inclined to commit war crimes. As illustrated above,
international laws forbid 'unnecessary human suffering' but allow for military action that
will assist in the victory of war. According to this rule, attacking non-combatants is
generally prohibited. However, if these same non-combatants are in the path of a military
target, military action is then permitted. Under these circumstances, their deaths are
considered collateral damage. According to Walzer, "[t]he Double Effect is a way of
reconciling the absolute prohibition against attacking non-combatants with the legitimate
conduct of military activity" (Walzer, 1979: 153). The argument is laid out as follows:
1. The act is good in itself or at least indifferent, which means, for our
purposes, that it is a legitimate act of war.
2. The direct effect is morally acceptable-the destruction of military supplies,
for example, or the killing of enemy soldiers.
3. The intention of the actor is good, that is, he aims only at the acceptable
effect; the evil effect is not one of his ends, nor is it a means to his ends.
4. The good effect is sufficiently good to compensate for allowing the evil
effect; it must be justifiable under Sidgwick's proportionality rule.
A rule of thumb is that the amount of force used should not be disproportionate to
the object to be achieved. The vagueness of the definitions of legitimacy and war crimes
continues to present a problem for both direct participants and the citizens of that society.
Some even argue that the purpose of the laws of war is to legitimize war crimes rather
than limit them (Normand and Jochnick, 1994: 388). While soldiers may be required to
memorize these rules and others, such as how to treat a prisoner of war, when they are in
boot camp, applicability in present day Iraq may be questionable due to uncertainty
surrounding the situation. This issue will be readdressed this later on.
The most troubling of the key terms in this thesis is recreancy because unlike the
state, legitimacy, and war crimes, recreancy is a relatively new term and has therefore
been less researched. Again, Freudenburg defines recreancy as, ". the failure of
institutional actors to carry out their responsibilities with the degree of vigor necessary to
merit the societal trust they enjoy" (1993: 909). Freudenburg coined this phrase because
he felt that the English language did not have a phrase that encompassed all of the
elements (credibility, trustworthiness, responsibility, and behavior) that make up his
newly constructed term. Freudenburg states that one who is recreant is not necessarily an
"evil-doer"; rather, someone who is recreant can fail in trust, competence, or
responsibility and can be used at either the individual or the collective level (1993, 916).
As the nation has become more dependent on its corporate and governmental
institutions, the risk of recreancy has increased. Freudenburg's study supports the fact
that American citizens recognize this fact and have become more aware of the different
types of risks that they face today. In his study, the recreancy perspective explains
roughly three times as much variance in concern than socio-demographic and ideological
variables combined. While Freudenburg concentrated his study on facilities that handled
nuclear waste, he argues that his results may be applicable to other institutions
(Freudenburg, 1993: 915-817). If the military fails to carry out its responsibilities in a
manner that is congruent with the norms of the average American, it may be deemed as a
recreant institution. Unlike the Freudenburg study, this thesis contains data on the sense
people have of whether actions do or do not deserve trust. Therefore, not only will this
newly adapted term assist in understanding how recreant institutions may influence the
public's opinions, but this thesis may then, in turn, be an advancement on previous
In this piece, it is important to understand how legitimacy and recreancy are
interrelated. While both of these terms address the lawful obedience to acceptable
standards by the institutions and the personnel that enforce them, recreancy refers more to
the institution itself as legitimacy more so addresses the actions of these institutions.
While they are similar, they are not the same thing.
Let us return to legitimacy and further examine how it relates to the civil society
and its influential elements; mainly the economy, politics, and the media. Civil society is
defined by Adamson (1987-1988: 320) as "the space between large-scale bureaucratic
structures of state and economy on the one hand and the private sphere of family,
friendship, personality, and intimacy on the other." Those occupying this space are then
further defined as "organizations which generate opinions and goals with which they seek
not only to influence public opinions and policies within existing structures and rules, but
sometimes also to alter the structure and rules themselves" (1987-1988: 321 italics not in
original). Civil society and the economy have an intimate interdependency; the economy
relies on the civil society as much as the civil society depends on the economy. The role
of politics is then to govern civil society and the economy and therefore possess a
stronghold on the entire relationship, including public opinion.
How does the media affect all of these elements? Some points to how the media
influences peoples' opinions about the economy and politics, while others further argue
that the media is influenced by politics. Unfortunately over time the media has become
more influenced by these same elements that it is supposed to be the most objective
about. In the article "The Decline of Mass Media," Richard Maisel (1973) argues that the
only way to examine our institutions is in retrospect and that specialized media is
becoming increasingly important due to the lack of reliability on the mass media. Since
the media regulate to a large extent the public's knowledge about world events, the media
also has the capability of influencing public opinion. The media, especially television
networks, are limited to the number of stories aired and breadth of information
surrounding those select cases. In turn, the stories that a given network chooses to air are
highly influential on public opinion and the media has made no secret of the Iraqi
According to Benjamin Page, mass media indirectly influences beliefs and politics.
He points out how some television stations are more liberal/conservative than others and
communications specialists agree that it is nearly impossible to have a value-free report.
While they are hesitant about saying that journalists have a political agenda per se, it is
clear that some views are consistent with some political heads and agendas. Because
government sources are used in many of the cases in which political views are being
explored, Page argues that it is only natural that some reports will be skewed. While few
studies have been done as to whether it is the journalists themselves who may be biased
or whether it is the owners or managers of the media source, it is clear that the media is
subjective (Page, 1996: 20-24).
Page agrees with Maisel and points out that there is much research that indicates
that media bias has a large effect on citizens, policy makers, and public opinion. The
impact of media as political actors relies heavily upon how persuasive power is
distributed among them and how political stands are distributed among media outlets. In
other words, it is more influential if all media outlets are sending out the same news then
when different ideas are sent out from different media sources.
As with any other type of socialization, individuals are taught from an early age to
obey and respect the laws and those that enforce the laws of the state. In turn, children
learn to internalize these rules as morals. When this fails, authorities look to legitimacy
to be their strong hold in the public's opinion. For example, some citizens may not feel
that a law such as the legalization of abortion is morally correct, but most citizens will
defer to those laws and those that enforce them despite the moral conflict (Tyler and
Darley, 2000: 722). For example, those individuals that feel that abortion is similar to
murder and are strongly opposed to abortions, they will resist these rules (Tyler and
Darley, 2000: 729).
Robinson and Darley (1995: 201) agree that perceptions of morality affect citizen
compliance. They argue that citizens are much more likely to obey rules and laws that
they feel are morally correct and therefore more likely to defer to authority figures who
enforce those laws than if the laws go against their own social values. When citizens are
positively motivated to obey authority, they are much more willing to comply than when
presented with threat or force. On the same note, if a citizen does not believe that the
authority figure possesses the same moral values or that the laws that he or she enforces
are not morally correct, the citizen may also believe that authority figure to be
illegitimate. In other words, if the American people feel that the military or the state
actors are morally incorrect with respect to their actions, they will no longer trust them
and/or deem them as recreant and vice versa.
Once legitimacy has been established, one way authorities may maintain legitimacy
is by using fairness of procedures and ethics (Tyler and Darley, 2000: 723). If citizens
feel that those in authority are being fair, they are more likely to obey them and vice
versa. A poor personal experience with a legal authority can dismantle the credibility of
that institution for that individual. At the same time, when fear or the threat of violence
is flourishing in a nation, the public may not consider some fairness of procedures and
ethics to be as important or as compelling.
Historical evidence of this fact is the containment of Japanese Americans during
WWII. On December 7, 1941, Japanese aviators destroyed or damaged nineteen United
States Navy ships and submarines, annihilated a number of planes and military facilities,
and killed approximately 2,300 American citizens, an incident that is forever ingrained in
the minds of Americans as the bombing of Pearl Harbor (Daniels, 1993: 22). Rumors of
espionage by Japanese Americans spread panic among both the American citizens and
politicians (although it was later revealed that these were false allegations). Daniels
further states that, ... the press, the public, politicians, and some military officials
began to clamor that something had to be done about the 'Japs who were running around
loose"' (Daniels, 1993: 27). This fear and distrust by both political leaders and the public
lead to the internment and abuse of thousands of Japanese Americans. Okihiro and Sly
(1983: 66) have found that while the public originally were not in favor of the internment
of Japanese Americans, a series of events by government officials and publicity from the
media generated public support. In other words, the American public felt that the
internment and mistreatment of Japanese Americans during this time in history was
legitimatized by the fear and uncertainty they experienced from the bombing of Pearl
Harbor combined with the fact that government officials were executing these actions.
In the past, media did not illustrate images of Japanese Americans being abused
that have been depicted to the American public recently with regards to Iraqi prisoners.
In a time when citizens were less critical of the American public, it was decades before
the mistreatment of Japanese Americans was publicly recognized by Ronald Reagan.
Since the 1970's the American people have been more critical of government actions.
Now pictures and stories in the media depicting soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners has
brought these incidents to light in the in the minds of the American people.
Gramsci understands people's opinions and beliefs are not cut and dry; that power
works in a much more subtle way. He argues that the governing power must make
economic sacrifices for the subordinate group and that this relationship is very unstable
and can be turned very quickly (Gramsci, 1971: 57-80). There must be a give and take
relationship of some kind, no matter how superficial. He illustrates legitimacy as mostly
an economic relationship between the classes and speaks of such transactions as
bargaining. Gramsci says that the authorities merely make it appear as if their values and
interests are the similar to those of the subordinates. For this thesis, one can make sense
of this relationship by saying that the state, or the military, offers the American public
safety and security and in turn the public may be willing to ignore some of the less
honorable on-goings at the Iraqi prison camps in order to achieve a sense of protection.
The American public may then in turn feel that those in authority possess the same
interests when in reality they do not.
Acceptance from the international community is also important to both the average
American and even more important to the government. To be excluded or shamed from
this community can have detrimental effects on the economy and safety of the United
States. As long as its dominance appears to serve universal interests, they are able to
maintain legitimacy within the international community. Both membership and material
goods/trade are benefits to conforming to international rules and norms (Ward and Green,
The Iraqi prisoner abuse then has the potential of damaging this image both
nationally and internationally. According to Risse and Sikkink, shaming is a way of
persuading leaders that their behavior is unacceptable to other civilized communities
(1999: 15). Later, Sullivan illustrates how the abuse of Iraqi prisoners has been depicted
to the international community as merely a few isolated incidences. He then argues that
in actuality the problem is much more extensive than it is perceived to be. In accordance
with both Risse and Sikkink's argument supplemented by Sullivan's, it is possible (and
even more importantly the public may think that it is possible) that the state may attempt
to salvage its image in both the international community and in the minds of the
American public by prosecuting a few individuals rather than accepting the responsibility
for a much more widespread issue.
An alternative view to Sullivan's argument is that there simply is not enough
evidence to incriminate other individuals. As stated above, America has not fully
recovered from its decline in political trust from 1966-1975 (Cunningham, 2002: 520).
Historically, both American and foreign soldiers have not been strangers to crimes of
obedience. Most Americans are able to recall vivid images of incidents in Rwanda and
the Vietnam War; the slaughter of innocent women and children. One main issue
inherent in war crimes and crimes of obedience is law enforcement and the attribution of
responsibility in these cases. As with domestic criminals, only a small number of
individuals are actually found and punished. Overall, the entire judicial process is not
very efficient (Ellis, 2001: 98). Literally thousands of war crimes were committed in
Vietnam, but there were virtually no trials for them except that of the famous incident in
which Lieutenant Calley ordered the massacre of 109 Vietnamese.
Similarly, in Rwanda between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi
minority, were killed and even more were raped or wounded by Hutus (the majority).
Over 100,000 people were accused of participating in these atrocities, but maybe a
handful will actually go to trial (Steiner and Alston, 2000: 84-85). Unfortunately,
limitations of the both local and the international courts hinder the judicial processing of
these war crimes. In order to maintain legitimacy, some individuals must be prosecuted
for their actions.
As mentioned previously, either these individuals are possibly scapegoats so that
the state can maintain a positive public image, there simply is not enough evidence to
make any further implications, or it may maintain that the laws of war are unable to
uphold strict liability. According to Levinson (1973: 257) for war crimes both mens rea
and actus reus are necessary. Furthermore, "knowledge that a crime has been or is about
to be committed is not sufficient to warrant a conviction ... (Levinson, 1973, 258).
When it comes to superior officers' knowledge, even official documentation laced with
signatures is insufficient as proof of knowledge unless it was initiated by them (Levinson,
1973: 259). Whether the blame is placed on the laws or those who make or interpret the
laws, the fact is that a limited number of people are being punished for a mass of
With this in mind, it is clear that the need to establish culpability exists. Kritz
agrees with Ellis in that there is a "need to establish mechanisms of accountability ... "
(Kritz, 1999: 172). The latest solution has been the conversion of local courts to one
international court that deals solely with war crimes. In order for an international court to
succeed, it must be willing to assist with the enforcement of its laws and ideologies.
While the Cold War had slowed the process of developing a more permanent
international court, its revival in 1993 has been followed up by an agreement to draft and
adopt a treaty establishing this permanent international court in 1998. Skeptics argue that
an international court is a waste of resources and will again have little deterrent effect,
but more than 100 countries were willing to make the leap forward. While the United
States has originally signed the treaty instating the International Criminal Court (ICC),
since then President Bush unsigned it. By unsigning this treaty, the United States may
have lost legitimacy in the international community as well as in the minds of the
When establishing responsibility, not only do the individual soldiers, superior
officers, and the "state" have to be examined, but the circumstances in which soldiers
commit these atrocities must also be understood. The question of other extenuating
circumstances that might drive upstanding soldiers to treat Iraqi prisoners of war in such
a manner or maybe even allow superior officers turn their head in these instances must be
Most Americans know the "story" as follows: a handful of British soldiers who
were on the night shift became war criminals when they humiliated and abused Iraqi
prisoners. These war criminals are usually found to be rarities in an honored military
command; bad apples. The identified unlawful soldiers have been and continue to be
tried in a court that rejects such atrocities. But, according to two volumes, "The Abu
Ghraib Investigations," by a former Newsweek editor, Steven Strasser, and "Torture and
Truth," by a New York Review of Books contributor, Mark Danner, these incidents are
far from few and isolated events. These books are almost numbingly exhaustive in
their cataloging of specific mistakes, incidents and responsibilities" (Sullivan, 2005: 8).
Sullivan reports that in actuality these atrocities amount to hundreds of thousands of
events. According to Cunningham, whenhn public perceptions of the reality don't mesh
with the stated ideology, for growing sectors of the population, conflict and legitimation
problems intensify" (2002: 518).
In several interviews with soldiers, the treatment of the guards by the prisoners has
been revealed. American and British soldiers have informed the public that practically on
a day-to-day basis, Iraqi prisoners throw their feces and urine at the American and British
soldiers who guard them. Iraqi prisoners allegedly yell obscenities at the military police
officers and threaten to take the lives of soldiers' families upon release. Public
knowledge of these events may also play a big role in influencing Americans' public
opinion about the Iraqi abuse.
The state of mind of the average American must not be neglected when examining
their opinions. As stated previously, fairness is less of an issue when the threat of
violence exists; the same threat can also influence political and social change. Like the
bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the attacks on September 11th, 2001 and the threat of
further violence post-9/11 may have been a substantial enough strain for a change in
opinions to take place. Nieberg states that "...when the threat and fear come near or
cross the threshold, a general tendency toward non-enforcement of the law sets in. The
status quo interests begin to share with the disaffected groups a desire to evade and to
change the law" (Nieberg, 1962: 808). This statement can speak for an attitudinal change
in both the soldiers and the American public.
Finally, it is important to readdress military necessity and its role in the abuse of
Iraqi prisoners. If both the soldiers and the American public are persuaded that the abuse
of the Iraqi prisoners is of military necessity, then the government will not only be able to
maintain legitimacy, but Americans may not be as upset or angry than they may
otherwise be. On the other hand, even though such military conduct may be deemed
necessary, it may not merit the trust that the Bush Administration or the armed forces
enjoy. In Sullivan's piece, he quotes President Bush saying "As a matter of policy, the
United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent
appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the
principles of Geneva" (2005: 8).
Furthermore, Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee argues that the treatment of
the Iraqi prisoners is not torture. He says that the president was in his legal rights to
allow the military to inflict "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment on the prisoners
without it being labeled the strict definition of torture. In order to be labeled as torture,
Bybee says that "the abuser must be inflicting pain 'of such a high level of intensity that
the pain is difficult for the subject to endure'" (Sullivan, 2005: 8).
Also previously mentioned was how soldiers are required to memorize how to treat
prisoners of war. At some point during boot camp, each soldier receives training on the
human treatment of prisoners of war. Any prisoner, whether combatant or non-
combatant, is to receive proper and humane treatment. In other words, torture is
prohibited and punishable by court-martial. There is no question that the actions of the
soldiers illustrated in the photographs publicized by the media are illegal, but their
actions may be considered less questionable if military necessity requires it. Under these
circumstances, the abuse may even be considered self-defense where the treatment is
necessary to extract information from the captives in order to prevent further attacks on
American civilians and ally soldiers. Whether or not the accused soldiers' actions are in
themselves legitimate is of no consequence in this thesis if the American public believes
their actions to be legitimate.
Conflicting views on what constitutes torture, coupled with vague instructions from
government officials, may lead to confusion about limitations on treatment of the enemy.
Eric Schmitt, a reporter for the New York Times, references this in his article titled "3 in
82nd Airborne Say Beating Iraqi Prisoners was Routine." In this article, Schmitt quotes
Captain Fishback of the U.S. Army from a letter he wrote to the Senate Armed Services
Committee on September 16, 2005 stating:
Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my
leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am
certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death
threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced
physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading
treatment. (2005: 1)
If military and political actors are unable to agree on what is military necessity,
what is humane treatment, and what is a prisoner of war, how will the civilian population
be able to make these distinctions.
In order to test the legitimacy and recreancy franks, data from the ABC
News/Washington Post Iraq Abuse Poll (May of 2004) was used. The population
sampled for this survey included respondents aged 18 years and older living in
households with telephones in the continental United States (48 states). The sample was
selected using a systematic random sampling from which a representative sample of 802
individuals was drawn. The interviewers instituted a random-digit dialing method to
ensure the inclusion of both listed and non-listed telephone numbers. Within the
household, the respondent selected was the adult residing in the household who most
recently had a birthday and was home at the time of the interview. Furthermore, to
compensate for the fact that women tend to be easier to reach, the interviewers were
asked to speak to the male household member 75 percent of the time and the female 25
percent of the time. If the selected sex was unavailable, the interviewer asked to speak
with the person of the other sex who last had a birthday. Among the information
collected included basic demographic information (sex, age, ethnicity, education, and
political party affiliation) and views pertaining to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
The main question that this thesis seeks to answer is: what factors explain
Americans' opinions on who is responsible for the Iraqi prisoner abuse ? After the
review of the literature, the hypothesis is that whether or not Americans see the Bush
Administration's actions as legitimate and whether or not it is seen as a recreant
institution will in fact affect these opinions. In other words, those individuals who
disapprove of both the war itself and the handling of the Iraqi prisoner abuse by the Bush
Administration will be more likely to place the responsibility of the abuse on the higher
ranking soldiers rather than the individual soldier and vice versa. Also, those respondents
who think that President Bush should apologize to Iraq for the prisoner abuse and who do
not feel that the war is worth fighting will have higher levels of concern/anger and will be
more likely to feel that the abuse is a big deal.
The literature also supports the idea that media affects public opinion. One might
suspect that those who are exposed to, or expose themselves to, more media pertaining to
the abuse of Iraqi prisoners will have stronger negative feelings about it and the Bush
Administration. In other words, respondents more exposed to the media will be more
likely to think that Bush should apologize to the Iraqi people for these incidents.
Furthermore, the hypothesis is that this same individual will be more likely to see the
Bush Administration as a recreant institution and vice versa. If the reverse were to occur,
one might imagine, as Maisel (1973) points out, that the media may be politically fueled.
Also, it is hypothesized that individuals exposed to more media will be more likely to feel
that the apparent abuse of the Iraqi prisoners is more widespread rather than being
restricted to merely a few incidents. Finally, those individuals who are exposed to more
media will have stronger feelings of concern/anger and more likely to indicate that the
incidents are a big deal.
The dependent variables of this thesis include Americans' opinions on the extent of
the abuse, whether individual soldiers or higher-ranking officers should be responsible
for the abuse, and personal reactions to the abuse itself. Opinions on the extent of abuse
is operationalized by question number seven from the survey; "Do you think the apparent
abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers represents a few isolated incidents, or do you
think it's more widespread than that?" Responses to question number nine, "(Do you
think higher-level military officers should be punished for allowing a breakdown in
training and discipline that let this happen), or (do you think these incidents are only the
responsibility of the individual soldiers involved)?" will be used to examine the
dependent variable of whether individual soldiers or higher-ranking officers should be
responsible for the abuse. I will also use this variable as an independent variable in order
to predict concern/anger and whether the respondent felt the incidents were a big deal.
Finally, personal reactions to the abuse itself are directly examined by the questions
thirteen and fourteen respectively "What's your own personal reaction to the apparent
abuse of Iraqi prisoners?", "Do you feel that these incidents are (not a big deal, because
this kind of thing happens in a war situation), or do you think that they are (a big deal,
because this kind of abuse is unacceptable no matter the situation)?", and question eight,
"Do you think the soldiers involved should or should not be charged with a crime?" For
these questions, the words in the parentheses were reversed for every other respondent to
eliminate leading the individual interviewed.
In order to analyze the effects on these variables, they were then recorded into
dummy variables. For question number seven the response, "Abuse is more widespread"
was recorded from 2 to 0, the response "Represents a few isolated incidents" retained its
value of"1" and all other responses including "don't know/no opinion" were labeled as
"missing." For the results section, question seven is labeled "Widespread/Isolated." The
responses to question nine were transformed from three responses (officer's should be
punished for breakdown, responsibility of individual soldier, and neither) into two. This
was done in order to isolate what influences opinions about whether officers should be
punished. Thus, "Officers should be punished for breakdown" retained the value of 1,
"Responsibility of individual soldiers" and "Neither" responses were assigned a value of
0, and all other responses including "don't know/no opinion" were labeled as "missing."
For the results section, question nine is labeled "Officers." For question eight, "Do you
think the soldiers involved should or should not be charged with a crime?," the response
"should" retained the value of 1 but was relabeled as "charged," "should not" was
reassigned the value of 0 and relabeled as "no charge," and all other responses including
"don't know/no opinion" were labeled as "system missing." For the results section,
question eight is labeled "Crime." The only alteration made for the responses to question
thirteen was that "don't know/no opinion" and all other responses were labeled as
"system missing." Therefore, all other responses (Not concerned=l, Concerned but not
upset=2, Upset but not angry=3, and Angry=4) all retained their original values. For the
results section, question thirteen is labeled "Concern/Anger." Responses to question
fourteen was recorded so that "Not a big deal, happens in war" took on a value of 0 and
"Big deal, abuse is unacceptable" took on the value of 1. Again, all other responses
including "don't know/no opinion" were recorded as "system missing." For the results
section, question fourteen is labeled "Big Deal."
The independent variables for this thesis will include feelings of illegitimacyy of
state actors and feelings about whether the Bush Administration is recreant, and exposure
to media. A few questions were isolated as indicators of feelings about legitimacy and
recreancy: question one; "All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the
benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?
and question six; "Do you think Bush should or should not apologize to the Iraqi people
for these incidents?" Later in the analysis, "Bush apologize" will be used as a dependent
variable when measuring the effect, if any, exposure to media will have on feelings of
recreancy and legitimacy. Exposure to media will be operationalized by the question
number four from the questionnaire; "How closely have you been following news reports
about the apparent abuse of some Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers in Iraq very
closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, not too closely, or not closely at all?"
The independent variables have also been recorded for analysis. For question one,
"Yes worth fighting for" responses retained their original value of 1, while "No, not
worth fighting" responses were assigned the value of 0. Other responses including "don't
know/no opinion" responses were labeled as "system missing." For the results section,
question one is labeled "War Worth Fighting." For question six, response "should
apologize" retained the value of 1 and was relabeled as "yes," "should not apologize"
was reassigned the value of 0 and were relabeled as "no," and all other responses
including "don't know/no opinion" were labeled as "system missing." For the results
section, question six is labeled "Bush Apologize." Question four, "How closely have you
been following the news reports about the apparent abuse of some Iraqi prisoners by
American soldiers in Iraq very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not
closely at all?," was not recorded into a "dummy variable" like questions one, six, and
eight. The original dataset had "very closely" labeled as one, "somewhat closely" labeled
as two, "not too closely" labeled as three, and "not closely at all" labeled as four. This
coding was reversed to indicate "very closely" labeled as four, "somewhat closely"
labeled as three, "not too closely" labeled as two, and "not closely at all" labeled as 1.
The last alteration made to this response was the re-labeling of the "don't know/no
opinion" responses to "system missing." For the results section, question four is labeled
"Exposure to Media."
Other factors that may influence such opinions and must be controlled for due to
expected influences. In order to minimize spurious relationships, race, age, sex,
education, and political affiliation have been designated as control variables. For
political affiliation, 37.8% were Democrats, 30.9% were Republicans, and 31.3% were
independents. In the dataset, race was originally broken down into categories: Black,
White, Black-Hispanic, White-Hispanic, Hispanic (no race given), Asian, and Other. For
the purposes of this thesis, race was transformed into a dichotomous variable, White and
non-White, in which all categories other than white were grouped together. For this
variable, 27.7% of the respondents were non-White and 72.3% were White. For sex,
48.3% of the respondents identified themselves as male while 51.7% identified
themselves as female. The raw age of the respondents ranged from 18-94 with a mean of
45.23 and a standard deviation of 17.021. For this thesis age was placed in five
categories and were coded as follows; 1=18-29 (21.7%), 2=30-39 (19.1%), 3=40-49
(20.6%),4=50-64 (23.1%), and 5=65+ (16.1%). Education was broken down into three
categories: less than high school, graduated high school, and some college +. Overall,
16% had less than a high school education, 32% graduated high school, and 52% had
some college or more. Again, the hypothesis is that women, Blacks, Democrats, and
better-educated Americans will be more likely to be angry about the Iraqi prisoner abuse
than the men, Whites, Republicans, and less-educated Americans because the former
demographic group is usually more liberal than the latter. Also, better-educated people
are more likely to keep up with current events and be exposed to varied media sources.
As for age, while it is an important control factor, its trend is less predictable.
First, legitimacy and recreancy will be used to predict who the American public
thinks is responsible for the Iraqi prisoner abuse. Legitimacy and recreancy will be the
independent variables, while the dependent variable will be public opinion. Next, this
thesis will explore the effects of media on negative feelings toward both prisoner abuse
and the Bush Administration, and whether or not the prisoner abuse was widespread or
isolated. For this analysis, exposure to media will be the independent variable while
feelings toward prisoner abuse, whether Bush should or should not apologize, and
feelings about and whether or not the prisoner abuse was widespread or isolated will be
the dependent variables. In both cases, the control variables will be race, age, sex,
education, and political affiliation.
The first table, Frequencies for Control Variables, displays the percent within each
category for the control variables. The second table, Descriptive Statistics, displays the
mean and standard deviations for the dependent and independent variables.
The major findings for Table 3 are that the responses to question six are
significantly related to the responses to question thirteen. Respondents who think Bush
should apologize to the Iraqi people for these incidents also have stronger feelings of
anger about the apparent abuse of Iraqi prisoners. This model also illustrates that women
are more concerned than men, Whites are more concerned then non-Whites, better-
educated people are more concerned then the less educated people, and older people are
more concerned then younger people. Whether or not respondents thought the war with
Iraq was worth fighting for did not significantly affect levels of concern as predicted.
One explanation for the variance between men and women is that women tend to
internalize incidences more so than men. Overall, this model explains 23.9% of the
variance in Concern/Anger.
Table 4 also somewhat illustrates an expected outcome. Respondents who think
Bush should apologize to the Iraqi people for these incidents and the War is worth
fighting also think that these incidents are a big deal and that abuse is unacceptable. Sex,
race, party id, and age did not significantly predict the outcome variable; only education
showed a significant effect. The education effect is as expected; the more educated the
individual, the more likely they will think that the incidents are a bid deal and that abuse
is unacceptable. The Nagelkerke R-square for this model is .258.
Table 5 illustrates some unexpected results. According to the model, media does
not significantly influence whether the respondent thinks that the abuse represents a few
isolated incidents or if they think it is more widespread. These conclusions may be a
result of the type of media the respondents were exposed to. Race, age, and education
did have significant effects in this model. White, better-educated, and older respondents
were more likely to think these were more isolated incidents then their non-White, the
less educated, younger counterparts. The Nagelkerke R-square for this model is .173.
Table 6 illustrates the association that whether or not a respondent thinks Bush
should apologize to the Iraqi people is significantly related to whether or not the
respondent thought the soldiers involved should be charged with a crime. In other words,
respondents who think Bush should apologize to the Iraqi people for these incidents are
more likely to think that soldiers involved should be charged with a crime. In this model,
the "War Worth Fighting" is not a significant variable and the only control variable that
was statistically significant was race; White respondents are more likely to think that
soldiers involved should be charged with a crime. The Nagelkerke R-square is .163 for
Yet again, Table 7 illustrates expected results; responses to "War Worth Fighting"
and "Bush Apologize" are significantly related to responses to "Officers". Respondents
who indicated that they thought Bush should apologize to the Iraqi people for these
incidents were more likely to indicate that officers should be punished for the breakdown.
Respondents who indicated that the Iraq war was not worth fighting were also more
likely to indicate that officers should be punished for the breakdown. This finding
supports the recreancy literature and ties the legitimacy argument to recreancy. The table
also indicates that age and education are statistically significant in the model; older and
better-educated respondents are more likely to indicate that officers should be punished
for the breakdown. The Nagelkerke R-square for this model is .150.
For the proceeding two models, "Officer" is used as an independent variable rather
than a dependent variable in order to predict feelings of concern/anger and whether the
respondent thinks the abuse is a big deal or not. Table 8 indicates that respondents who
indicated that the breakdown in training and discipline on the officers' part allowed the
abuse to occur have stronger feelings of concern and anger. Better-educated and non-
White respondents were also more likely to indicate stronger feelings of concern/anger
about the apparent abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The R-square for this model is .143.
Table 9 has similar results; respondents that think higher-level military officers
should be punished for allowing a breakdown in training and discipline that let the abuse
occur also indicated that they felt the incidents were a "big deal" and that abuse is
unacceptable. This model did not indicate any statistical significance among the control
variables previously seen in other models.
While the media did not have an effect on whether or not Americans felt that the
incidents were isolated or widespread, as indicated in Table 5, Table 10 shows that the
media does have an effect on Americans' personal reaction. Respondents with higher
levels of exposure to the media were more likely to have stronger feelings of concern and
anger. This table also indicates that both sex and education of the respondent had an
effect as well. For this model, women had stronger feelings of concern and anger than
men, and higher education correlated with higher levels of concern and anger as well.
Table 11 illustrates that media did not have a statistically significant effect on
whether the Bush Administration should apologize to the Iraqi people for these incidents.
These findings are contrary to the expected findings.
Table 1: Frequencies for Control Variables
Variable Valid Percents
Age 18-29=21.1, 30-39=19.1, 40-49=20.6, 50-64=23.1,
Sex F=51.7, M=48.3
Race W=72.3, Non=27.7
Table 2: Descriptive Statistics
Variable Mean Standard Deviation
War Worth Fighting .510 .500
Exposure to Media 1.974 .926
Bush Apologize .642 .480
Widespread/Isolated .671 .470
Crime .724 .448
Officers .577 .494
Concern/Anger 2.704 .924
Big Deal .715 .452
Table 3: Multiple Regression: War Worth Fighting & Bush
Apologize Associated with
Variable B SE Beta
Sex -.290 .066* -.155
Race .175 .076* .083
Age .007 .024* .108
Education .175 .045* .108
Party ID .002 .041 .020
War Worth Fighting -.125 .069 -.067
Bush Apologize .763 .070* .392
R-Squared: .239, N=631
Table 4: Logistic Regression: War Worth Fighting & Bush Apologize Associated with
Variable B SE EXP (B)
Sex -.135 .201 .503
Party ID -.143 .127 .867
Race -.011 .237 .989
Age -.083 .074 .920
Education .347 .135 1.415
Bush Apologize 1.883 .202* 6.571
War Worth Fighting -.480 .211* .619
Nagelkerke R-Squared: .264, N=635
Table 5: Logistic Regression: Exposure to Media Associated with Widespread/Isolated
Variable B SE EXP (B)
Sex .096 .179 1.100
Party ID .194 .109 .075
Race .747 .196* 2.110
Age .297 .069* 1.346
Education .814 .121* 2.257
Exposure to Media .165 .098 1.179
Nagelkerke R-Squared= .173, N=673
Table 6: Logistic Regression: War Worth Fighting & Bush
Apologize Associated with
Variable B SE EXP (B)
Sex .051 .199 1.234
Party ID .011 .123 1.052
Race .663 .221* 1.940
Age .046 .073 1.047
Education .130 .137 1.138
Bush Apologize 1.593 .211* 4.918
War Worth Fighting .210 .214 1.234
Nagelkerke R-Squared= .161, N=608
Table 7: Logistic Regression: War Worth Fighting & Bush Apologize Associated with
Variable B SE Exp (B)
Race -.165 .202 .848
Age .228 .065* 1.256
Sex .015 .177 1.015
Education .449 .121* 1.567
Party ID -.149 .109 .862
War Worth Fighting -.373 .183* .689
Bush Apologize 1.019 .185* 2.770
Nagelkerke R-Squared= .150, N=639
Table 8: Multiple Regression: Officers Associated with Concern/Anger
Variable B SE Beta
Race .009 .077 .045
Age .005 .025 .072
Sex -.314 .068* -.168
Education .146 .046* .116
Party ID .003 .041 .032
Officers .517 .069* .273
R-Squared: .143, N=676
Table 9: Logistic Regression: Officers Associated with Big Deal
Variable B SE EXP (B)
Race -.155 .210 .857
Age -.086 .068 .918
Sex -.285 -.182 .752
Education .188 .119 1.206
Political ID -.155 .111 .857
Officers 1.019 .183* 2.771
Nagelkerke R-Squared: .092, N=674
Table 10: Multiple Regression: Exposure to Media Associated with Concern/Anger
Variable B SE Beta
Exposure to Media -.169 .038* -.165
Sex -.323 .068* -.174
Education .190 .046* .151
Party ID .001 .041 .010
Race .143 .078 .068
Age .004 .026 .064
R-squared: .097, N=707
Table 11: Logistic Regression: Exposure to Media Associated with Bush Apologize
Variable B SE EXP (B)
Exposure to Media -.177 .095 .838
Sex -.230 .165 .795
Education .138 .112 1.148
Party ID -.080 .100 .923
Race -.418 .195* .658
Age -.065 .062 .937
Nagelkerke R-squared: .029, N=677
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
The purpose of this study is to explore possible explanations of American public
opinion on who is responsible for the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. More specifically,
this thesis examines whether the legitimacy and recreancy theoretical frameworks
reviewed are supported. For this thesis, legitimacy was examined in the context of
whether individuals would respond to illegitimate acts or actors with concern or anger.
Furthermore, the more that these abusive acts are recurrent, the greater the reactions these
An analysis of the data revealed several key findings regarding media effects, the
empirical test of the legitimacy and recreancy theoretical framework, and whether these
frameworks have explanatory power when examining American public opinion on the
abuse of Iraqi prisoners. One conclusion that can be drawn from this thesis is that the
amount of exposure to media does not affect whether the respondent felt that the
incidents were isolated or widespread, nor did it affect whether or not they thought
President Bush should apologize to the Iraqi people. In other words, this thesis did not
find support for the idea that media plays a role in the public's opinion about whether the
government is recreant. What was correlated with media was the level of concern or
anger the respondent felt about the abuse.
Overall, this thesis shows support for both the legitimacy and recreancy theoretical
frameworks. Furthermore, this study found that these frameworks helped explain the
American public opinion on both levels of concern and who is responsible for the
incidents. In other words, recreant institutions and illegitimate acts and actors do explain
some variance in feelings of concern/anger and whether or not the respondent felt the
abuse was a big deal. This statement is supported by the results illustrated in Tables 4, 6,
and 7. The questions from the survey operationalized as legitimacy and recreancy were
significantly related to the questions operationalized as public opinion in most cases. In
tables 3 and 6, "War Worth Fighting" was not significant. These results indicate that
"Bush Apologize" was a better indicator for recreancy and legitimacy. Furthermore,
these findings indicate support the recreancy and legitimacy literatures.
The results and conclusions from this thesis will contribute to the field by adding to
the already existing support for legitimacy and coupling it with the relatively new term
recreancy, which has been limited in previous research. These conclusions also add to
the narrow body of knowledge related to war crimes, specifically related to social and
legal reactions. This thesis explores people's perceptions of events as opposed to the
abuse itself and/or why it occurred. This analysis sheds some light on the reactions of the
American people and may promote further research and/or encourage future theoretical
additions related to this topic.
As with any other study, this thesis is not without limitations. When exploring
media effects, it is difficult to discern whether an increase in media exposure influenced
levels of concern or whether more media exposure was not a result from concern; as to
say the respondent followed the story more closely due to concern and anger about the
abuse. Another limitation on the analysis of media effects is the fact that the survey did
not include a question about the type of media to which the respondents were exposed.
As indicated previously by Maisel, media is more influential when all sources make the
same argument. Different forms and sources of media may have had differing biases on
the Iraqi prisoner abuse. Therefore, while the media may have played a role, it may be
unclear as to the nature of the effects if different sources had portrayed varying views.
Another limitation of this study is that it used secondary data. While this survey
asked legitimacy and recreancy related questions, it did not ask the respondents about
legitimacy and recreancy directly. In a study where direct questions were asked about
legitimacy and recreancy, weaker variables such as "War Worth Fighting" could be
substituted. Also, this survey gives the respondent the option to reply to the questions
with a "don't know or no opinion." These response options create problems with missing
data. These responses may have influenced the results.
As with the media effects, the time order issue with regard to the rest of the
analysis may be another concern. In other words, one might argue that it is not certain
that media exposure and acts of legitimacy and recreancy occurred before the feelings of
concern and anger. The rebuttal to this position is the argument that the fact that all of
the questions were asked at the same time is actually a strength of this study. Asking the
respondents all of the survey questions at the same time further ensures that this thesis is
examining the effects of legitimacy and recreancy because the respondent has a reference
point. Noted above, the survey did not address the terms legitimacy and recreancy
directly. Therefore this argument may somewhat subside previous limitations.
Possible future research on this topic should be directed at other samples. For
example, do individuals from military families have different points of view than the
general American public? Also, military personnel reactions may differ as well; they
may afford more legitimacy to the government and/or may be more likely to excuse
similar incidences in a given situation. Through this analysis, sex and race differences
were in many cases statistically significant. In past research, men have tended to be more
punishment oriented than women and blacks tend to be more liberal than whites. Future
researchers should direct their attention at further exploring these differences.
Also, the Iraqi abuse was current during the time this study was being conducted.
As time progresses, opinions about the Iraqi prisoner abuse and the government's actions
with respect to the war may change. As noted with respect to the internment of Japanese
Americans during WWII, the American public opinion about these actions was dynamic
for several decades after the war was over. While the Iraq war and WWII differ in many
ways, the public reaction to the treatment of the "enemy" may be similar in that it may
also be dynamic. As the media portrayal of the abuse dies down, public concern may
also die down. On the contrary, public concern/anger may build as the war stretches on.
Furthermore, years after the conflict in Iraq is over American public opinion may be
completely different. Therefore future researchers should reanalyze this at a later date.
Lastly, future analysis of this topic should include a survey in which direct
questions are assigned to the terms legitimacy and recreancy. While war crimes have
occurred for thousands of years, the study of this type of criminal is relatively recent.
Present-day war waging presents both the public and the government with new non-
traditional technologies, state actors, and war tactics, thus constantly challenging
researchers and policy makers alike to examine its many different effects.
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Rachel Taylor was born on January 11th, 1982, in North Bergen, New Jersey. After
growing up in Mahwah, New Jersey, she attended the University of Maryland, College
Park, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and
criminology/criminal justice in 2004. She moved to Gainesville to enter the graduate
program in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society and the University of
Florida in the fall of 2004 where she earned her Master of Arts degree in criminology in