Thursday, March 16, 2006

Must read

Salon has an extensive feature on The Abu Ghraib Files, a detailed chronology and photoarchive of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, based on the US Army CID's files, which were leaked to them last month. It also has information on the nine prosecutions that have taken place to date (all of them of low-ranking mooks; despite the principle of command responsibility, no officers have been charged). One thing it makes crystal clear is that there was a lot more going on than is depicted in the photographs, and for which no-one has been held to account. For example, this bit from chapter 3, "Sexual exploitation":

Military investigations of Abu Ghraib turned up other incidents of abusive treatment of female detainees that were not shown in photographs. According to the Fay report, one of the most horrific incidents occurred on Oct. 7, when three military intelligence soldiers allegedly assaulted a female detainee. The unnamed detainee told investigators that she was taken to an empty cell, where a soldier held her hands behind her back while another soldier forcibly kissed her. She was then taken to another cell, where she was shown a naked male detainee and told that she would be stripped if she did not cooperate. Finally, she was returned to her cell, and forced to kneel and raise her arms while one of the soldiers removed her shirt. She said she began to cry, and her shirt was returned to her, with a warning that the soldiers would return each night if she did not cooperate. The Fay report found that there was no record of an authorized interrogation of this detainee on that night.

When CID investigators questioned the three military intelligence soldiers, they refused to provide statements. According to the Fay report, the three soldiers, who have never been named publicly, received nonjudicial punishment for failing to get authorization to interrogate the female detainee. They were also removed from future interrogation duty.

So, the US Army uses threats of rape as an interrogation tool. Given the location and the stated aims of the invasion of Iraq, it would be ironic if it wasn't so disgusting. And then the people involved escape real punishment. So much for "holding people to account"...

There's a lot more there, and I suggest reading the entire thing, if you can stomach it.


It may be true that no officers have been charged, but it is not true to imply that none have been punished. Abu Ghraib Commandant Janis Karpinski received a punitive letter of reprimand and was demoted.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/16/2006 09:46:00 AM

You will of course note that even the 'command responsibility' page on wikipedia to which you link notes that it only applies in cases of actual knowledge...

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/16/2006 09:55:00 AM

One. One! Responsibility goes far wider than that.

The US Army Field Manual on The Law of Land Warfare (s501 "Responsibility for Acts of Subordinates") uses a negilgence standard:

The commander is also responsible if he has actual knowledge, or should have knowledge, through reports received by him or through other means, that troops or other persons subject to his control are about to commit or have committed a war crime and he fails to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war or to punish violators thereof

If a commander fails to exercise basic supervision, they should be held responsible. And where a commander orders abuse (as Sanchez, Rumsfeld and Miller did), their criminal liability is unquestionable.

Its also interesting that no-one from military intelligence has been held responsible. Torture is just hunky-dory where they're concerned...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/16/2006 10:10:00 AM

Yeah - I'm also pissed off that no-one higher up (or in MI) has been charged.

I was however basing my assertion surrounding actual knowledge to this from the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949:

"the fact that a breach of the Conventions or of this Protocol was committed by a subordinate does not absolve his superiors from responsibility if they knew, or had information which should have enabled them to conclude in the circumstances at the time, that he was committing or about to commit such a breach and if they did not take all feasible measures within their power to prevent or repress the breach."

In relation to the US Army Field Manual I'd argue the negligence standard only kicks in when the commander has some knowledge (through reports or other means) that mean they should have knowledge of the breach (i.e. the same standard as the Geneva Convention)

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/16/2006 10:40:00 AM

Those "other means" can include ordinary direct supervision of troops under their command.

In the case of Abu Ghraib, the sustained nature of the abuse makes it practically unbelievable that commanders would not have known about it. And if they did not know about it, they were so grossly derelict in their duty as to be culpable.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/16/2006 10:52:00 AM

culpable of deriliction of duty, not of torture or the various crimes of cruelty

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/16/2006 11:20:00 AM

Why do the right in this country feel so compelled to defend torture? Is it part of the right wing mindset that they feel so secure in their belief they are somehow connected to the power elite that they are capable of del;uding themselves that arbitrary arrest and torture is something that only happend to the "enemy?"

Or is it, to use the words of professor Alfred McCoy in his book "A Question of Torture : CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror" because it "salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment?"

Posted by Sanctuary : 3/16/2006 01:45:00 PM