Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Few Hundred Bad Apples?

In his speech on Monday night, President Bush sought to downplay the abuse, torture and murder of detainees by U.S. military personnel, intelligence personnel and civilian contractors claiming that the actions were limited to the Abu Ghraib prison and were conducted "by a few American troops who disregarded our country and disregarded our values." In addition, he proposed razing the Abu Ghraib prison, as if the prison itself were the problem and that its destruction would wash away the sins of the abusers.

Unfortunately, the "few bad apples" theory and the one prison gone wild theory, have become increasingly discredited. The latest blow to this combination of wishful thinking and willful ignorance comes in the form of a survey prepared by the U.S. Army which is reported in today's New York Times. The survey, dated May 5, "is a synopsis prepared by the Criminal Investigation Command at the request of Army officials."

According to this survey, the abuse, torture and homicides of detainees involved many more military units than previously reported (certainly more than 7 MPs from one unit), occurred at more locations than Abu Ghraib (both inside Iraq and in Afghanistan), and occurred over a much larger time frame than claimed by Bush administration officials.

In terms of time frame, the report concludes that, "The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003, a few days after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in a Baghdad square, and they extend up to last month, when a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on 'blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia.'"

The types of abuse described in the report range from physical assaults and a sexual assault by three male military personnel on a female detainee, to homicide. Also of note, the report indicates an increase in the number of deaths in custody than previously reported. "At a Pentagon briefing on Friday, a senior military official and a senior Pentagon medical official said the Army was investigating the deaths of 37 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, an increase from at least 25 deaths that a senior Army general described on May 4."

The investigations into the deaths have been hampered by decisions made by the Army early on in the process. "Among the 37 prisoners who have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army did not conduct autopsies and says it cannot determine the causes of the deaths."

Among the various locales that are mentioned in the report are two incidents "from Afghanistan in December 2002, where two prisoners died in one week at what was known as the Bagram Collection Point, where interrogations were overseen by a platoon from Company A, 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, from Fort Bragg. On March 4, 2003, The New York Times reported on the two deaths, noting that the cause given on one of the death certificates was 'homicide,' a result of 'blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.' It was signed by an Army pathologist."

Another problem area was the detention center in center in Samarra, north of Baghdad. "In what appeared to be a serious case of abuse over a prolonged period of time, unidentified enlisted members of the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, part of the California National Guard, were accused of abusing Iraqi detainees" at this detention center.

As the picture of widespread, cross-border, systematic and intentional abuse and torture becomes clearer, I wonder how much longer pundits and politicians can cling to the spin driven claim that a few bad apples misrepresented official policy? Especially when the reports describing the abuse are emerging from within the ranks of the U.S. Army, not "do-gooder" human rights groups. When will this administration take responsibility for the reckless policies by senior civilian officials in the Pentagon that led to these horrific conditions that have so compromised our efforts in the war in Iraq and the separate war against radical Islamist terrorists?

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