Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ring Around The Story

The circumnavigation of the truth at the heart of the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, is proceeding in concentric circles, ever approaching the center in a meandering progression. As the procession of various investigations march around the story like pilgrims on a haj circling the Ka'abah in Mecca, more and more of the picture is revealed. The release of two reports in the last two days has further brought the truth into focus.

The first report was authored by a four-member panel hand selected by Donald Rumsfeld headed by former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger includes another former secretaries of defense, a retired four-star general and a former Republican member of Congress. The Schlesinger report shows progress in the sense that it marks a departure from the highly implausible "few bad apples" narrative, that a handful of soldiers operating solely out of the venue of Abu Ghraib prison were responsible for all that went on. This is the theory that has been echoed repeatedly by Bush administration officials and their apologists. The Schlesinger report also takes the long overdue step of pointing the finger of blame up the chain of command, even if they stop prematurely at the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. As reported in the
Washington Post:

"The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline," the report said. "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels."

Underscoring the broad scope of mistreatment, the panel said 300 abuse cases have come under investigation -- a number about three times greater than previous U.S. military statements.

Of 155 completed investigations, the report added, 66 have resulted in determinations of abuse -- 55 of them in Iraq, three in Afghanistan and eight at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "Dozens of non-judicial punishments have already been awarded," the report said without detailing them.
The second report, an internal investigation by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, further discredits the "few bad apples" theory, and breaks new ground in its open indictment of the role played by the intelligence apparatus involved in the interrogation process.

But the findings yesterday of another Army investigation offered a more critical appraisal of what led to the mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. It implicated 27 military intelligence soldiers in abuse, providing some support for assertions by some of the seven military guards previously charged that they were not acting alone. Counting other intelligence, medical and civilian contract personnel cited for failing to report the abuse, and three more military police officers alleged to have engaged in abuse, the report appeared to raise to nearly 50 the number of people who may face charges or disciplinary action for misconduct at Abu Ghraib.

Yesterday's findings by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay also helped to substantiate a major pillar of the defense offered by the military guards already facing charges. They have asserted that their actions came at the direction of military intelligence personnel.

"Although self-serving, these claims do have some basis in fact," Fay said in his portion of the report.
The Fay/Jones report also delves into some details that have been glossed over by the mainstream media, which seems to have limited its reporting to the horrific, yet partial, record provided by the photographic evidence obtained by the press.

In sometimes agonizing detail, the generals detailed acts of sodomy, beatings, nudity, lengthy isolation, and the use of unmuzzled dogs in a sadistic game of making detainees urinate and defecate in fear.

"The abuses spanned from direct physical assault, such as delivering head blows rendering detainees unconscious, to sexual posing and forced participation in group masturbation," the Army report says. "At the extremes were the death of a detainee . . . an alleged rape committed by a US translator and observed by a female Soldier, and the alleged sexual assault of an unknown female."
Do you suppose those were the kinds of things Rush Limbaugh was talking about when he stated that the quality of the abuse detainees were subjected to at Abu Ghraib was nothing more than what college students endure in the fraternity rush?

It is encouraging to see that these reports are breaking new ground, and bringing the attention of the public closer to the responsible parties and policies. But for as much as these reports accomplish, there is that much more they leave undone. Of course this should come as no surprise since the Pentagon is essentially investigating itself with its own personnel, the one exception being an "independent" investigation conducted by two former Secretaries of Defense, a retired four-star general and a former Republican member of Congress, all personally selected by Donald Rumsfeld himself. Not exactly what would be described as disinterested parties. Furthermore, the scope and reach of each investigation has been in each case deliberately truncated so as to prevent any one investigation from being able to connect the dots in the whole picture, instead encouraging the logic-defying compartmentalizing of the findings. This deliberate myopia can be found in the following paragraph and quote from the Schlesinger report:

In discussing Rumsfeld's role, the report said changes he made between December 2002 and April 2003 in interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay "migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded." The report said Rumsfeld might have avoided the policy confusion if he had a wider range of legal opinions and a more robust internal debate over detainee policies and operations in 2002, before the war started. [emphasis added]
The interrogation policies migrated? That is an interesting choice of words, implying some sort of passive transferrance of instructions and orders, much like a natural occurence undertaken by birds and butterflies. As Spencer Ackerman of the New Republic, via Laura Rozen, notes:

But, of course, no policy "migrates." Officials actively provide instructions to other officials...What his preferred euphemism glosses over are the questions of who told what to whom, with whose approval.
The "who told what to whom, with whose approval" is really the crux of the story, and the uncovering of that chain of events will be the moment of epiphany. The inability of these reports to probe those questions more thoroughly are their biggest failings, but perhaps they were designed with that result in mind.

One area only lightly touched upon by the reports is the extensive
record of legal memos and opinions justifyiing torture that were sought by Rumsfeld and furnished by the Department of Justice and the White House counsel. These were the legal foundation for the expansion of what Seymour Hersh describes as a black-op used by the CIA and other intelligence entities in the apprehension and interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects. Rumsfeld, eager to quell the insurgency in Iraq, implemented the same controversial techniques in Iraq which had previously been reserved for use against al-Qaeda suspects. This angered many within the intelligence community who wanted to maintain the secrecy and sparing use of these tactics so as to insure their continued access to them free from public outrage. As Hersh notes:

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.
It is unclear whether the current administration will be compelled to uncover this unseemly history, or whether the media will accept the partial narrative of these reports and move on to something of more intrigue. The riveting story of Scott and Laci Peterson is good for ratings after all. Only a truly independent investigative body, endowed with full subpoena powers, and the mandate to follow the story no matter where it leads, will have the ability to connect the lines and form the circle. One could assume that Congress would authorize such an investigation concerning a matter of such monumental import as this, which has so badly tarnished our image and undermined our moral authority worldwide for decades to come. But I suppose there are priorities, and at the end of the day, where's the blue dress?

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