Thursday, May 20, 2004

How long can the prison abuse cover-up hold? A military intelligence officer speaks out. And the Washington Post reports gruesome details of beatings, sexual humiliation and the alleged rape of a boy by a U.S. interrogator/translator. On Thursday night, NBC News reported that the Army's Delta Force had a secret prison near Baghdad's airport where soldiers routinely drug prisoners, hold them under water until they fear drowning or smother them almost to the point of suffocation. The abuses -- some worse than Abu Gharib -- are now being investigated by the Pentagon's inspector general. The NBC report claims that Rumsfeld ordered the approach used at the secret prison to be adopted in Abu Gharib:

"Several top U.S. military and intelligence sources say...that he, through other top Pentagon officials, directed the U.S. head of intelligence in Iraq, Gen. Barbara Fast, and others to bring some of the methods used at the BIF [battlefield interrogation prison] to prisons like Abu Ghraib, in hopes of getting better intelligence from Iraqi detainees."

Meanwhile, Maj. General Miller offers the latest self-serving spin:

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp who is now in charge of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq (news - web sites), denied Thursday that the military condoned prisoner abuse. "I can tell you with absolute certainty that there was no official policy nor any sanction of any of the abuses of this type," he said on CBS television. "Your Army does not do things like this."

This is the same Miller who was brought in to "Gitmoize" the Iraqi prison system, using the rough methods he developed at the Guantanamo Bay prison. As Seymour Hersh reports about Miller in this week's New Yorker:

The success of the war was at risk; something had to be done to change the dynamic.

The solution, endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents. A key player was Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the detention and interrogation center at Guantánamo, who had been summoned to Baghdad in late August to review prison interrogation procedures. The internal Army report on the abuse charges, written by Major General Antonio Taguba in February, revealed that Miller urged that the commanders in Baghdad change policy and place military intelligence in charge of the prison. The report quoted Miller as recommending that “detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogation.”

Miller’s concept, as it emerged in recent Senate hearings, was to “Gitmoize” the prison system in Iraq—to make it more focussed on interrogation. He also briefed military commanders in Iraq on the interrogation methods used in Cuba—methods that could, with special approval, include sleep deprivation, exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing prisoners in “stress positions” for agonizing lengths of time. (The Bush Administration had unilaterally declared Al Qaeda and other captured members of international terrorist networks to be illegal combatants, and not eligible for the protection of the Geneva Conventions.)

So it's not surprising that Sgt. Samuel Provance told the AP that abuse was widespread at the prison:

Interrogators at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison viewed sleep deprivation, stripping inmates naked and threatening them with dogs as normal ways of dealing with "the enemy," a soldier attached to military intelligence at the prison said Thursday.

But while military police are now facing charges — and with one already convicted — it was clear that U.S. Army military intelligence ran the prison, Sgt. Samuel Provance told the Associated Press.
Yahoo! News - Soldier: Abu Ghraib Prison Abuse Normal

Essentially, the broad template for the abuses was approved by Secretary Rumsfeld for dealing with Al Qaeda terrorists, who didn't have Geneva Convention protection, then it spread for use with Iraqi prionsers and insurgents, who were supposed to be protected by the Geneva Convention -- but, in fact, were not.

Sy Hersh tells all in this week's New Yorker, while Newsweek paints the big legal picture that allowed torture to go on, armed with confidential memos from the President's counsel telling him directly that he could skate around the Geneva Conventions and avoid war crimes prosecution. Here's the article's main point:

A NEWSWEEK investigation shows that, as a means of pre-empting a repeat of 9/11, Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods. It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war. In doing so, they overrode the objections of Secretary of State Colin Powell and America's top military lawyers—and they left underlings to sweat the details of what actually happened to prisoners in these lawless places. While no one deliberately authorized outright torture, these techniques entailed a systematic softening up of prisoners through isolation, privations, insults, threats and humiliation—methods that the Red Cross concluded were "tantamount to torture."

Bush okayed the new legal direction that laid the groundwork for torture and beatings in Iraq:

By Jan. 25, 2002, according to a memo obtained by NEWSWEEK, it was clear that Bush had already decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply at all, either to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. In the memo, which was written to Bush by Gonzales, the White House legal counsel told the president that Powell had "requested that you reconsider that decision." Gonzales then laid out startlingly broad arguments that anticipated any objections to the conduct of U.S. soldiers or CIA interrogators in the future. "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Gonzales wrote to Bush. "The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." Gonzales concluded in stark terms: "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

Keep all this in mind while hearing and reading the evasions of military leaders and the White House as they try to dance away from the unfolding scandal.

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