Sunday, February 20, 2005

Widespread and routine

The ACLU has released another treasure trove of documents as part of its investigation into torture and abuse of detainees by US forces. The documents - mostly reports from the US Army's Criminal Investigation Division - show torture and abuse are widespread and routine across US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one case, a prisoner

claimed that Americans in civilian clothing beat him in the head and stomach, dislocated his arms, "stepped on [his] nose until it [broke]," stuck an unloaded pistol in his mouth and fired the trigger, choked him with a rope and beat his leg with a baseball bat. Medical reports corroborated the detainee’s account, stating that the detainee had a broken nose, fractured leg, and scars on his stomach. In addition, soldiers confirmed that Task Force 20 interrogators wearing civilian clothing had interrogated the detainee. However, after initially reporting the abuse, the detainee said that he was forced by an American soldier to sign a statement denouncing the claims or else be kept in detention indefinitely. He agreed.

An investigator who reviewed the signed statement concluded that "[t]his statement, alone, is a prima facie indication of threats." However, despite the medical report and testimony from other soldiers, the criminal file was ultimately closed on the grounds that the investigation had "failed to prove or disprove" the offenses.

That phrase - "failed to prove or disprove" - or variations on it crop up again and again in the ACLU's documents. Investigations into allegations that Iraqis were taken in the middle of the night and beaten in the back of a Humvee, into Iraqis who suffered permanant nerve damage as a result of beatings while handcuffed, and into indiscriminate assaults by Special Forces on villagers in Afghanistan which were witnessed by "senior Psyops officers" were all terminated due to "insufficient evidence", despite medical reports and witness statements. Even in cases where the abusers had been videotaped beating and kicking detainees, they were not prosecuted or punished in any way. Given this, you really have to question the commitment of the US army to enforcing its own rules against the abuse of prisoners...

And that's not the half of it. In another incident revealed by the Associated Press, a "ghost" detainee was tortured to death by being suspended by his wrists with his arms behind his back (a variation on strapado known as "Palestinian hanging") and beaten. According to one witness,

the prisoner's arms were stretched behind him in a way he had never before seen. Frost told investigators he was surprised al-Jamadi's arms "didn't pop out of their sockets," according to a summary of his interview.

Frost and other guards had been summoned to reposition al-Jamadi, who an interrogator said was not cooperating. As the guards released the shackles and lowered al-Jamadi, blood gushed from his mouth "as if a faucet had been turned on," according to the interview summary.

The military pathologist who ruled the case a homicide found several broken ribs and concluded al-Jamadi died from pressure to the chest and difficulty breathing.

Two navy officers are currently facing charges over the murder - the other eight navy SEALs who initially kicked him and beat him with rifle butts having recived "nonjudicial punishment" - meaning "sweet fuck all" - for their actions. Meanwhile, the CIA interrogators who actually killed him have not been charged, and are nowhere to be found. It seems that serious torture is just business as usual as far as they are concerned.


I'm disgusted by their actions, but also not surprised. War and its actions dehumanise those who participate in it. How else could you mentally manage killing people, unless you reduce them to just a thing to destroy?

The individual soldiers are the least responsible for their actions, given the psychological environment they are in. It's the higher chain of command that needs to be put under intense scrutiny here.

Posted by Muerk : 2/20/2005 05:24:00 PM

Absolutely. One question that was asked in the AP report (and rightly so) was whether "Palestinian hanging" was a technique authorised by Rumsfeld. The US media really needs to (metaphorically) hold the administration's feet to the fire here - are they authorising torture, and if not, why the hell aren't those CIA interrogators being charged?

But I suspect if put on the spot over this, Rummy may very well invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, because if it comes out that he did allow this sort of technique to be used on specific prisoners, then its an open-and-shut case for conspiracy to torture under US law.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/20/2005 10:42:00 PM

If there is one thing I feel as though I have learned over time, is that all countries are capable of the worst sort of human rights abuses that we would associate with the "unenlightened" countries.

We collectively wring our hands over the horrors of history, but are unable to drag enough outrage up to really put a stop to the horrors that are happening right now.

Of course Rumsfeld knows what's going on, it's a political gamble for him. The Bush administration need to be seen getting results, and if a few eggs have to be broken to make the omlette, then so be it.

The point is, the administration isn't going to back off doing this sort of thing, they might become more discreet, but I doubt it very much.

Home of the brave... land of the free...

Posted by Muerk : 2/20/2005 11:10:00 PM