Sunday, March 19, 2006

"If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it"

Today's New York Times has the story of yet more torture and abuse in Iraq, this time by a special forces unit at a temporary detention camp at Baghdad International Airport called Camp Nama. The unit, Task Force 6-26, was assigned to hunt down both Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. As part of that, they conducted particularly brutal interrogations, in which prisoners were stripped, beaten, "had cold water thrown on them to cause the sensation of drowning", frozen, electrocuted with stun-guns, and shot with paintball guns. Here's one example:

In January 2004, the task force captured the son of one of Mr. Hussein's bodyguards in Tikrit. The man told Army investigators that he was forced to strip and that he was punched in the spine until he fainted, put in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured on him and kicked in the stomach until he vomited. Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost.

The general rule was "no blood, no foul", or "if you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it". The treatment was so brutal that both the Defence Intelligence Agency and the CIA withdrew their personnel, and Defence Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone (who people might remember as responsible for establishing Copper Green, a secret program which authorised special forces to torture and abuse "high value" prisoners) ordered an investigation to

[g]et to the bottom of this immediately. This is not acceptable.

The investigation was of course a whitewash, and reported "no pattern of misconduct with the task force". Which is exactly what you'd expect when the special forces investigate their own. Meanwhile, another report into abuse by US special forces remains classified, despite a promise by Donald Rumsfeld that it would be released.

Five soldiers have since been court martialed for beating a detainee, and 29 disciplined by non-judicial processes. That's an awful lot of "bad apples" for a small unit - but its only the tip of the iceberg; conveniently "lost" files and a conspiracy of silence among the troops stymied 80% of investigations, and the vast majority of the abuse (including the most serious charges) has gone completely unpunished. But what's most telling is that the abuses were reportedly "well known throughout the camp" - something which makes it simply unbelievable that they were not tacitly condoned by the chain of command.

There's a section in Jared Diamond's Collapse where he talks about the reluctance of anthropologists to admit incidents of human cannibalism - even when confronted with archaeological evidence such as human bones that had been boiled in pots and cracked open so as to consume the marrow, the pots they had been boiled in, still containing residues of human muscle protein, and dried human feces containing similar residues which could only have come from the consumption of human flesh. Those who deny that US torture is both systematic and condoned at the highest levels are in a similar position. We have widespread reports of torture and abuse, documented in photographs, videos, and statements from both victims, US personnel, and official interrogation records; we have memos from those at the top (notably Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld [PDF] and Lt General Ricardo Sanchez [PDF]) authorising such techniques to be used; testimony from commanding officers that in at least some cases such treatment was authorised (however erroneously) on the basis of those memos; arguments from Justice Department lawyers that its all perfectly legal [PDF] (despite clear statements in both international and US domestic law to the contrary); attempts by senior members of the executive to prevent it from being banned or even seriously investigated; and a stunning lack of prosecutions unless there are photographs which make the news (which implies that the crime isn't so much torture as getting caught). While we do not yet have a document from Rumsfeld or Sanchez ordering the torture of any particular detainee (though their memos suggest that such could exist, and we do have evidence that they ordered detainees to be kept "off the books" so their condition could not be monitored by the Red Cross), the abuses reported from the lowest levels match those authorised by the highest; while clearly some of what has gone on was unauthorised, it is also equally clear that there is a concrete policy that torture is acceptable in at least some cases, and that some of what has been reported was fully consistent with that policy. How much clearer can it be? And if this does not convince the apologists for US torture, what further evidence would possibly convince them?


The answer to your question about what more evidence do the US apologists need is simple. The supporters of the United States on this matter are impervious to the rational presentation of of evidence. In my discussions of them, its clear a massive act of cognitive denial is taking place. They know in their deep conciousness that torture is taking place, but to admit to it would cause an implosion of their faith based belief system.

When your world view is a grab bag of rigid ideologies made up of greater or lesser amounts of fundamentalist christianity, neo-conservative world views, neo-classical economics and authoritarianism the intrusion of facts comes a very poor second to denial.

Posted by Sanctuary : 3/20/2006 01:06:00 PM