"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Abu Ghraib, the American Gulag, and Bush Policies

Several months ago, a Reserve sergeant was sentenced to eight years in prison for his part in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. No one of higher rank has been charged; however, a Guard brigadier general was demoted on an old shoplifting charge and the inference that she should have had better control of Abu Ghraib. In truth, she had been ordered to turn over control to Military Intelligence, and she later made the mistake of going public with this information and practically predicting that she would be made a scapegoat. In late May, 2005, moderate columnist reported that over 100 detainees have died while in US custody, but this report caused only a few ripples in the US media. CBS, still in the dog house after it aired questionable documents about George Bush, ignored the matter entirely.

Although the Bush administration’s inflammatory pronouncements and “they hit us–we hit them” rhetoric was partly responsible, few make this connection. There has been little interest in tracing the scandal to its roots high up in the Bush government. Most Americans seem to hope the wrong-doing was confined to twenty or so low ranking personnel. Of course, the Bush administration is working hard to sell that illusion. If an officer is reprimanded in connection with the scandal, there is a caveat that says it will be removed from the personnel file in 6 months if the person is involved in no additional abuses.

In April, 2004, it was revealed that Iraqi detainees were being abused in Iraq by U.S. military police who were encouraged to do so by Military Intelligence and by civilian employees of private intelligence contractors, of which there were sixty in Iraq. In mid May, photographs surfaced of two soldiers posing with the dead body of a detainee who had apparently been beaten to death by CIA or private intelligence contractor operatives. The body was there because the CIA and military interrogators could not agree on who should dispose of it. When photographs of the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison became available in late April. 2004 , the Bush administration denied it had been hiding anything from the public and denied the extent of the abuse. Indeed it claimed that it had discovered the abuses and had been working to find the culprits. The Red Cross had been complaining about the abuses since October, 2003 and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had also expressed deep concern about the abuses. It later developed that there were numerous "ghost prisoners" who were hidden during Red Cross visits.

Human Rights First claims that Rumsefle order4ed the military to hide some detainees from the Red Cross. If this claim is true, the US is in violation of international law. It is claimed that some were held at another prison near Baghdad, at Kohat, Pakistan, LJ Jafr, Jordan and on Diego Garcia. It is strongly suspected that other detainees are held aboard warships, particularly the Navail Consolidated Brig in Charleston harbor.

The administration claimed abuses were isolated to a handful of wayward National Guard personnel. Yet some of the photographs revealed torture techniques known only skilled professionals. Questions were quickly raised about whether higher authorities were involved or, at the least, whether there was an outlook in the officer corps that made these abuses possible.

Soon after 9/11, President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed to a system of secretly detaining prisoners so that as much information could be extracted from them as possible. Rumsfeld even authorized "interrogation techniques" that involved nudity and use of dogs because the would challenge the religious sensibilities of detainees. After some months of interrogating prisoners, the Pentagon concluded that not enough information was being garnered. A study was ordered to explore the possibility of using torture. It concluded that the president could override laws forbidding torture and that those acting on his orders could not be prosecuted.

By April 16, 2003, General James Hill, who commanded overseas prisons, received guidance on new interrogation techniques. There were four that required the direct approval of the Secretary of Defense, and they were only employed on two prisoners. An August , 2002 Justice Department memo stated that torturing Al Qaeda prisoners might be justified and that the commander in chief’s full control of war policy could make international law provisions on torture unconstitutional. The memo from the Office of Legal Counsel was addressed to White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and said that torturing Al Qaeda captives abroad “may be justified” and that international law on this subject “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogation” of suspected terrorists. If questioning techniques brought on "organ failure" it could be considered torture. In June, 2004, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Bush approved guidelines for interrogating prisoners but never endorsed specific techniques.

Meanwhile, a Defense Department task force, headed by Air Force Counsel Mary Walker under orders from Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes, III, was defining down what torture meant. Leaked memos from the Justice Department advised the task force that cruel psychological techniques might not constitute torture even if they went on for months or years. Likewise, physical abuse would equal torture only if it was “equivalent in intensity to pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.”

Even though members of Congress could read parts of the memos in the newspapers, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to turn his department’s correspondence on this over to the Senate. Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee also wrote a memorandum outlining what torture techniques could be used on senior al Qaeda members. After the Defense Department memo was issued, The Attorney General ruled that prisoners arrested in Afghanistan were “illegal enemy combatants,” who were not covered by the Geneva Conventions. Apparently Iraqi detainees were to technically enjoy coverage of the Geneva Convention. Perhaps the permissive attitudes about torture in the officer corps began here, even though the secret detention and interrogation program was originally designed to apply to only a relatively small number of people.

The Bush administration attempted to limit the damage by moving quickly to court-martial seven non-commissioned Guardsmen. Eventually the number of scape goats would expand to about two dozen low ranking soldiers. The administration drew a distinction between “abuse” and “torture.” Six officers were reprimanded, which immunized them from prosecution. Rumsfeld refused to use the word “torture” and would not go beyond saying that this sort of thing can happen when a system is not perfect. The government knew of the abuses much earlier and President Bush had been briefed during the winter holidays. By February, the Pentagon had a 53 page report written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, but it had not been read by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by the time the story broke. Taguba discovered “systematic” abuse, but when he testified before Congress he moved toward the official story.

Yet, three weeks before the story broke Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers had asked Dan Rather to delay releasing the story. Secretary Rumsfeld said he had read only a summary and had not been briefed on its contents.. The report indicated that one private security contracting company called CACI was clearly instructing MPs to abuse prisoners. Republican pundit Bill O ’Reilly expressed anger that the photographs of the humiliated Iraqis was shown on television, claiming this could cost American lives. Before Taguba was sent to study the situation, Major General Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the Guantanamo detention center, was sent in September, 2003, to study the situation a Abu Ghraib. If fact, his mission was to bring Gitmo techniques to Iraq and to place most of Abu Gharib under the jurisdiction of Military Intelligence.

Since April, 2003 interrogation techniques at Guantanamo had been toughened on the orders of the Pentagon. He "recommended" that the Military Intelligence be placed in charge of the prison and that prisoners could be placed in stress positions, deprived of sleep, and exposed to extremes of heat and cold. He wanted to “Gitmoize” the prison. The prison was placed under the control of military intelligence and civilian intelligence operatives on November 19.

Whether Miller recommended more severe measures is not known. At some time, most probably later, he was briefed –“read in”- about an operation called “Copper Green” which Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice had approved after 9/11. This was most probably the program Bush and Ashcroft admit to having endorsed. It was designed to extract information from “high value” prisoners. It was a “black” special-access program (SAP) that authorized elite personnel from the CIA, Seals, and other agencies to “Grab whom you must. Do what you want.” These high value terrorists could be moved across borders and kept in various locations in a vast US interrogation network. This secret gulag or network of prisons was linked largely by CIA operated Gulfstream and other executive jets . Prisoners were also turned over to other regimes in Egypt, Syria, and Pakistan for torture and interrogation. One Canadian citizen was held in Syria for three months, a matter that caused great consternation in Canada.

In the mid- 1990s, the Clinton administration began sanction the transportation of terrorist detainees to foreign countries for questioning. This policy of “rendition” was limited to people who had already been found guilty in our courts. The Bush administration broadened this policy to include mere suspects, and about one hundred and fifty have been subjected to rendition since 2001. The new policy was part of what Alberto Gonzales called the New Paradigm, the administration’s new approach to detention and interrogation. Rendition also changed in that it often meant more than just sending detainees to foreign countries, they were often held and questioned by Americans in safehouses in those countries. Detainees were sent to other countries known for the use of brutal torture techniques. Some have estimated that as many as 9,000 people were held in facilities that very from small rooms to very large encampments. However, it is doubtful that anything approaching that number are subjected to treatment that completely exceed international conventions. The New York Bar Association's estimation of 150 probably is about right for the people handed over to foreign governments for intense questioning.

It is now known that the abuse of prisoners at Bagram, Gardez, and Kandahar in Afghanistan was extensive. In May, 2005, the New York Times published a story based on a 2000 page report on systematic abuse of prisoners at Afghanistan's Bagram Collection Point. The most herart-breaking story was about a shy, illiterate young cab driver who was bound by wire to the ceiling of his cell for days while captors repeatedly struck and mocked him. He repeatedly called "Allah," which provoked laughter and jeers. Eventually the flesh around the bottom of his legs had, according to the coroner, been "pulpified." By the time he died, most of his American interrogators had decided he was innocent.

A minimum of eight detainees in Afghanistan died in US captivity, but the military claims that only two were homocides. Afghan investigators reported that prisoners were given electric shocks, beaten, hung upside down, had their toenails ripped out, and immersed in cold water. Hussain Youssouf Mustafa, a Pakistani sent to Bagram for questioning, said soldiers forced him to bend down so a one of them could ram a stick up his rectum. Another detainee, Abdurahaim Khadr, told a Canadian court that US soldiers "got me naked and they were taking pictures of my face and my private parts--just constantly taking pictures of my private parts." The commandos operating under this program seized people in Afghanistan and placed them in “the Pit” and other detention centers, where they were subjected to various forms of abuse, including sexual. They had learned that sex, especially homosexual sex, was especially taboo among Muslims. It was thought that sexual degradation and photographing people in compromising sexual situations would produce information and even recruit prisoners to become informers.

Vice President Cheney personally managed the administration’s successful Abu Ghraib damage control program. It was also Cheney who spearheaded the effort to conflate the Iraq operation with the war on terror by suggesting that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. For many, this cloaked the torture in the prisons with the mantle of righteous retribution.

Few voters would learn very much about how extensive the torture was or that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was involved in a secret program to allow torture and circumvent the Geneva Conventions. When the Sacramento Bee first ran stories about the prison abuse, there seemed to be hardly a ripple of public concern. As soon as it published a photograph, there were many complaints about “pornography,” “Sensationalism,” and “ bush-bashing” Only a handful of readers commended the paper for printing the photograph. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma spoke for many Americans when he admitted he was “more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.” It was likely that conservative voters in the Midwest were more outraged by the sexual debauchery than the torture of Iraqis and that there was a widespread sentiment that such mistreatment was to be expected in wartime. The Pentagon refused to release more photographs, claiming they were evidence in a continuing investigation.

Some noted that the torture was “a direct consequence of the with-us-or-against-us doctrines of world struggle “ of the Bush administration, but appeared that most of the press wanted to move on to other subjects. Concern was voiced that following the story showed “bad taste” or was “political,” meaning it would reflect badly on the Bush administration. The torture story soon was cycled to the back pages in most places and the press did not show a great deal of interest in getting far beyond the cover story that the mistreatment was the work of seven guardsmen. However, a few of the nation’s best papers continued to follow the story, track memos that suggested a shift in policy about torture began at the highest reaches of government.

last revised- July 6, 2005


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About Me

Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!