1 May 2004

Some follow-up about ’s stories about abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The story to read is Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article. Excerpts:

A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in . Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to Karpinski’s brigade headquarters.) Taguba’s report listed some of the wrongdoing:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

…The 372nd’s abuse of prisoners seemed almost routine — a fact of Army life that the soldiers felt no need to hide. On , at an Article 32 hearing (the military equivalent of a grand jury) in the case against Sergeant Frederick, at Camp Victory, near Baghdad, one of the witnesses, Specialist Matthew Wisdom, an M.P., told the courtroom what happened when he and other soldiers delivered seven prisoners, hooded and bound, to the so-called “hard site” at Abu Ghraib — seven tiers of cells where the inmates who were considered the most dangerous were housed. The men had been accused of starting a riot in another section of the prison. Wisdom said:

SFC Snider grabbed my prisoner and threw him into a pile… I do not think it was right to put them in a pile. I saw SSG Frederic, SGT Davis and CPL Graner walking around the pile hitting the prisoners. I remember SSG Frederick hitting one prisoner in the side of its [sic] ribcage. The prisoner was no danger to SSG Frederick… I left after that.

When he returned later, Wisdom testified:

I saw two naked detainees, one masturbating to another kneeling with its mouth open. I thought I should just get out of there. I didn’t think it was right… I saw SSG Frederick walking towards me, and he said, “Look what these animals do when you leave them alone for two seconds.” I heard PFC England shout out, “He’s getting hard.”

…In letters and e-mails to family members, Frederick repeatedly noted that the military-intelligence teams, which included C.I.A. officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors, were the dominant force inside Abu Ghraib. In a letter written in , he said:

I questioned some of the things that I saw… such things as leaving inmates in their cell with no clothes or in female underpants, handcuffing them to the door of their cell — and the answer I got was, “This is how military intelligence (MI) wants it done.”… MI has also instructed us to place a prisoner in an isolation cell with little or no clothes, no toilet or running water, no ventilation or window, for as much as three days.

The military-intelligence officers have “encouraged and told us, ‘Great job,’ they were now getting positive results and information,” Frederick wrote. “CID has been present when the military working dogs were used to intimidate prisoners at MI’s request.”…

In , Frederick wrote, an Iraqi prisoner under the control of what the Abu Ghraib guards called “O.G.A.,” or other government agencies — that is, the C.I.A. and its paramilitary employees — was brought to his unit for questioning. “They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice for approximately twenty-four hours in the shower… The next day the medics came and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away.” The dead Iraqi was never entered into the prison’s inmate-control system, Frederick recounted, “and therefore never had a number.”

An encouraging number of bloggers and commenters are making the good point that the American domestic prison system is also one in which torture and extrajudicial execution is, if not commonplace, certainly practiced and with near-impunity. Hersh notes in his article:

[Sergeant] Frederick, at thirty-seven, was far older than his colleagues, and was a natural leader; he had also worked for six years as a guard for the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A lot of people are noticing the allegations that some of the interrogations were carried out by “private contractors,” one of whom, as was mentioned in yesterday’s Picket Line, is accused of having raped an Iraqi boy in custody — but is not being prosecuted because nobody seems to have or want jurisdiction.

Phil Carter of Intel Dump shows how this could happen. Apparently “[t]he Coalition Provisional Authority has decreed that contractors and other foreign personnel will not be subject to Iraqi criminal processes.” The military doesn’t have jurisdiction over these contractors either. And while the U.S. Justice Department could decide to step in, in practice it doesn’t. Gee, hasn’t anybody thought of declaring them “unlawful combatants?”

“Armed Liberal” over at Winds of Change leads the pack of liberal hawks putting on rose-colored glasses over the credulous doe-eyes that got ’em this far. United States troops caught on film abusing Iraqi prisoners? What’s not to love?:

[T]o me, the news is good news. The news isn’t that people were abused. I’m sorry, but that happens everywhere and has happened throughout human history. As a species, we’re pretty cruel. In many societies, though, cruelty is the norm. It is not only expected, but those who practice it well are rewarded. In our society, they are shamed, and fired, and arrested.

As others point out, though, the allegations of torture against the United States in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq keep piling up — and the United States is blocking the sort of transparency, oversight or even training that might help prevent abuses from happening (if the abuse were not in fact sanctioned by policy).

The “Armed Liberal” camp will allow themselves to believe that abuse is going on only up to the point where the photographic evidence doesn’t allow them to deny it. And so long as what cannot be denied is appropriately punished, or at least some of it is, or is investigated, sternly, well then, doesn’t that prove to our own satisfaction that we’re good? Why should we condemn or stop what we can effectively prevent ourselves from learning about in the first place?

If Frederick and these other soldiers are punished, they will know very well that their crime was in being stupid enough to let the photos leak and that if they’d stuck to abusing and humiliating prisoners they’d still be able to expect to come home to a hero’s welcome from folks like “Armed Liberal.”