Thursday, September 23, 2004

Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story

Just a few bad apples.

Some with very familiar names.

Lindh's interrogators stripped the young American, who had been shot in the foot, taped him to a stretcher, propped it up against a shipping container in the cold open air of Afghanistan, and proceeded to interrogate him in marathon sessions that went on for days. According to documents that were leaked to a Los Angeles Times reporter, Lindh's responses during these interrogation sessions were cabled back to the Defense Department as often as every hour. During the coming months and years, as the United States gradually built a network of secret and semisecret prisons in Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan; Guantánamo, Cuba; Qatar and Diego Garcia, as well as Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper, Iraq, this direct attention from senior officials in Washington has remained constant. As Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the head of the Joint Intelligence and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib, told General Taguba in December 2003, "Sir, I was told a couple times...that some of the reporting was getting read by Rumsfeld, folks out of Langley [CIA headquarters], some very senior folks." For Jordan, that meant a lot of pressure to produce. It also meant that what went on at Abu Ghraib and other interrogation centers was very much the focus of the most senior officials in Washington.

In this week's New York Review of Books, Mark Danner details our government's extensive -- and mostly secret -- network of prisons and the kinds of interrogation tactics being used in them. Harrowing stuff. And it details the elaborate "Kabuki dance" investigators went through to avoid blaming Military Intelligence for prisoner abuse. In some cases, the reports on the abuse at Abu Ghraib (and there are now, I think, 12 investigations already conducted, being conducted now, or planned) have an absurdity about them that would be unintentionally hilarious if what they're describing not so enraging. Like this passage from General Fay's report:

Sleep adjustment was brought with 519 [Military Intelligence Battalion] from Afghanistan. It is also a method used at GTMO [Guantánamo].... At Abu Ghraib, however, the MPs were not trained, nor informed as to how they actually should do the sleep adjustment. The MPs were just told to keep a detainee awake for a time specified by the interrogator. The MPs used their own judgment as to how to keep them awake. Those techniques included taking the detainees out of their cells, stripping them and giving them cold showers. CPT Wood stated she did not know this was going on and thought the detainees were being kept awake by the MPs banging on the cell doors, yelling, and playing loud music.

"I see nussing!" The purpose of all of these reports about detainee abuse, the 12 or so mentioned above, have had the curious purpose (and effect) of keeping the full horrors of our interrogation system trickling out, lessening the public reaction, and making sure that no one very high up the food chain in the Pentagon or White House is indicted. Take this opening passage from the Schlessinger report:

The events of October through December 2003 on the night shift of Tier 1 at Abu Ghraib prison were acts of brutality and purposeless sadism. We now know these abuses occurred at the hands of both military police and military intelligence personnel. The pictured abuses, unacceptable even in wartime, were not part of authorized interrogations nor were they even directed at intelligence targets. They represent deviant behavior and a failure of military leadership and discipline. However, we do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur during interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere.

As Danner points out, the paragraph is an amazing tangle of self-contradiction. The first sentence points to events "on the night shift" that were "purposeless sadism." But the second sentence implies perhaps not so purposeless, after all, since they "occurred at the hands of both MPs and MI personnel. But the third sentence says, despite that, they were not authorized and represent deviant behavior. But, we know that a lot of really bad stuff that wasn't photographed occurred at Abu Ghraib and "during interrogation sessions...elsewhere."

Got it? It was a few bad, sadistic apples, some from the MP and others from MI, who were acting deviantly during interrogation sessions happening all over the place.

Glad we cleared that up.

The White House, Pentagon, and Republican-controled Senate have done a remarkable job of keeping the U.S. public's eyes on the photographs from Abu Ghraib, not the policy that led to the "softening up" of "high value detainees," not the White House's decision to withold Geneva Conventions from "terrorists" and "enemy combatants" of their choosing.

Meanwhile, Military Intellligence and the CIA are continuing to win friends and influence enemies throughout the Islamic world.


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