Thursday, May 06, 2004

Setting the Tone

Today's Editorial page for the Washington Post contains an illuminating piece on the policies that fostered the environment for prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example:

"The horrific abuses by American interrogators and guards at the Abu Ghraib prison and at other facilities maintained by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan can be traced, in part, to policy decisions and public statements of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Beginning more than two years ago, Mr. Rumsfeld decided to overturn decades of previous practice by the U.S. military in its handling of detainees in foreign countries. His Pentagon ruled that the United States would no longer be bound by the Geneva Conventions; that Army regulations on the interrogation of prisoners would not be observed; and that many detainees would be held incommunicado and without any independent mechanism of review. Abuses will take place in any prison system. But Mr. Rumsfeld's decisions helped create a lawless regime in which prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been humiliated, beaten, tortured and murdered -- and in which, until recently, no one has been held accountable.

The Taguba report and others by human rights groups reveal that the detention system Mr. Rumsfeld oversees has become so grossly distorted that military police have abused or tortured prisoners under the direction of civilian contractors and intelligence officers outside the military chain of command -- not in "exceptional" cases, as Mr. Rumsfeld said Tuesday, but systematically. Army guards have held "ghost" prisoners detained by the CIA and even hidden these prisoners from the International Red Cross. Meanwhile, Mr. Rumsfeld's contempt for the Geneva Conventions has trickled down: The Taguba report says that guards at Abu Ghraib had not been instructed on them and that no copies were posted in the facility."

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