Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Neverending Story

For the third time this week I find myself drawn to yet another aspect of the prisoner abuse and torture story. Maybe that is because I have been on the sidelines for so long, waiting (in vain) for some type of positive resolution from some of this nation's leaders. All I have to show for my patience is seven courts martial, and a series of promotions and votes of confidence for the commanding officers, policy makers, and legal minds who, in one way or another, contributed to the conditions that led to the abuse in the first place. So now that I have been aroused from my slumber, I will be a little more tenacious in my coverage.

Today I want to focus on the revelations in an article in Tuesday's
Washington Post (via Laura Rozen). The article's findings could probably be filed under the header It Was Only Seven Soldiers, And They Are Being Court Martialed as used in a prior post. The article is based on reports recently released from the Army which tell of detainee abuse and other illegal activities.

Army personnel have admitted to beating or threatening to kill Iraqi detainees and stealing money from Iraqi civilians but have not been charged with criminal conduct, according to newly released Army documents.

Only a handful of the 54 investigations of alleged detainee abuse and other illicit activities detailed in the documents led to recommended penalties as severe as a court-martial or discharge from military service. Most led to administrative fines or simply withered because investigators could not find victims or evidence.

The documents, which date from mid-2003 to mid-2004 and were obtained by five nongovernmental organizations through a joint lawsuit, suggest that the pursuit of military justice in Iraq has been hampered by the investigators' closure of many cases without reaching a determination of likely innocence or guilt...

The newly released reports detail allegations similar to those that surrounded the documented abuse at Abu Ghraib -- such as beatings with rifle butts, prolonged hooding, sodomy, electric shocks, stressful shackling, and the repeated withholding of clothing and food -- but they also encompass alleged offenses at military prisons and checkpoints elsewhere in Iraq.
Obviously, some of the investigations rightly exonerated the subjects of the inquiries, but others were dealt with in ways other than court martial. Some allegations were merely dismissed due to lack of evidence or other shortcomings such as incomplete record keeping, or what was termed insufficient "evidence to prove or disprove the allegations."

In the case of Hadi Abdul Hasson, an Iraqi who died in U.S. custody at a prison near the southern port of Umm Qasr, Army criminal investigators were unable to locate meaningful prison or military records on his capture or fate.

"Due to inadequate recordkeeping, this office could only estimate that Mr. Hasson possibly died between April-September 2003," and so the case was closed, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command said in October. Hasson's death was evidently not noticed until mid-2004, when disclosures of detainee abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad prompted a review of records and sparked many new abuse allegations by Iraqis.
There was also, according to the article, a perceptible delineation in terms of the punishments meted out depending on the nature of the infraction - whether or not it was a criminal act such as a robbery, or just mistreatment of detainees.

Many of the participants in such crimes were referred for courts-martial, while those who participated in beatings or abuse generally received lesser punishments, according to the documents.
For example:

An officer in the 20th Field Artillery Battalion deployed in Taji, for example, was given an unspecified nonjudicial punishment and fined $2,500 after he admitted to threatening to kill an Iraqi, firing a pistol next to the man's head, placing the man's head in a barrel, and watching as members of his unit pummeled the man's chest and face.

One of those who administered the beating told investigators that the officer "had given us a talk about how some circumstances bring about extra force." Another said the officer told them after it was over: "This night stays within" the unit. "We all gave a hooah" before parting, the soldier said. The document indicates that four soldiers received suspended nonjudicial punishments and small fines, while a decision on a fifth soldier was pending.
My point in drawing attention to these recently released reports is to further debunk the increasingly outlandish theory that all the prisoner abuse and torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay was the result of the seven soldiers making up the Graner and Frederick groups - and the related argument that everyone involved is being court martialed.

[Army spokesman] Dov Schwartz said that more than 300 criminal investigations so far have resulted in some type of action against more than 100 military personnel.
So, the number is more like 100 than 7, so far, and even then there is no way to be certain how many were ultimately involved because, as the article suggests, many of the investigations were concluded without an ultimate disposition of the allegations one way or the other. Furthermore, some of the findings remain classified, such as this particularly disturbing account:

Another case involved a 73-year-old Iraqi woman who was captured by members of the Delta Force special unit and alleged that she was robbed of money and jewels before being confined for days without food or water -- all in an effort to force her to disclose the location of her husband and son. Delta Force's Task Force 20 was assigned to capture senior Iraqi officials.

She said she was also stripped and humiliated by a man who "straddled her . . . and attempted to ride her like a horse" before hitting her with a stick and placing it in her anus. The case, which attracted the attention of senior Iraqi officials and led to an inquiry by an unnamed member of the White House staff, was closed without a conclusion.

The military eventually released her and reimbursed her "for all property and damage" after her complaints, the report said; details of the Delta Force investigation remain classified.
I am not trying to disparage the reputation of our men and women in uniform by focusing on these aspects of the story. Nor am I suggesting that these incidents were the result of direct orders given from up high - although some of the confusion as to the rules of treatment could be traced back to uncertainty created by the conflicting guidlines emanating from above. Nevertheless, if we do not attempt to make an unvarnished appraisal of the parameters of this problem, it is unlikely that we will come up with effective solutions going forward. Part of that reckoning means refuting the impossible storyline that this widespread pattern of behavior was really just seven soldiers behaving badly, and that all responsible parties are being court martialed.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?