Monday, July 26, 2004


With the celluloid images of terrified prisoners, some dead, some naked, some clad in only an opaque hood, fading from the collective short attention span of our country, Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, the Army's inspector general has released his findings from an investigation into the prisoner torture scandal. Apparently the Army is banking on the fact that our penchant to be easily distracted will also be accompanied by a bout of mass amnesia. Despite the overwhelming weight of evidence amassed from various sources, including the earlier report prepared by the Army's own Major General Antonio Taguba and other internal Army reports, the inspector general's report clings to the preposterous, all but debunked, "few bad apples theory."

Contradicting Taguba and
other Army reports, Mikolashek's report found no systematic abuse, but instead came to the conclusion that the abuse, torture and homicides were the result of "unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals, coupled with the failure of a few leaders to provide adequate monitoring, supervision and leadership over those soldiers." Despite the fact that there were 94 documented incidences of abuse, torture and death, occurring at multiple locations in Iraq and in a separate country, Afghanistan, the report insisted that the abuse was perpetrated by a seemingly ubiquitous handful of soldiers.

Mikolashek's conclusion that these acts were the sole purview of a small clique of bad soldiers is also at odds with the
report prepared by the notoriously non-partisan and meticulously impartial International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC report cites abuses, some "tantamount to torture," including physical violence, hooding, humiliation and threats of "imminent execution."

According to the ICRC, these methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information and other forms of cooperation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an "intelligence value."

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, ICRC director of operations, said the report had been given to U.S. officials in February 2004, but it only summarized what the agency had been telling U.S. officials in detail between March and November 2003 "either in direct face-to-face conversations or in written interventions."

Kraehenbuehl said the abuse of prisoners represents more than isolated acts, and that the problems were not limited to Abu Ghraib.

"We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts. There was a pattern and a system," he said. [emphasis added]

Mikolashek's stubborn insistence on reserving all blame for a handful of low level enlisted soldiers also flies in the face of the evolving narrative of
legal justifications for torture that were promulgated by White House attorneys and Ashcroft's Department of Justice, and their use to initiate the infamous "Copper Green" tactics implemented at the behest of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It is worth noting that Mikolashek made no attempt to find out who had authorized threatening prisoners with dogs and sexually humiliating hooded men, despite the fact that there is evidence that these tactics were specifically green-lighted by General Ricardo Sanchez.

In an
article by Seymour Hersh, the details of the Copper Green program were laid out in detail. Here is an excerpt:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focused on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.
If any conclusion can be drawn from the Mikolashek report, it is that the Pentagon should not be left to investigate itself. As is obvious, the conflict of interest is too often insurmountable. Instead, there should be a bipartisan commission established with broad subpoena powers so that the full extent of this scandal can be known, up and down the chain of command, with the blame being leveled where it belongs, and not solely with a handful of scapegoats, albeit blameworthy in their own right.

As additional background information, there is an editorial from the Military Times with an interesting perspective on the scandal that I posted

Here is a summary of the causes of deaths for detainees as catalogued by
this Army survey.

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