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Friday, March 11, 2005

Pentagon clears itself of responsibility for abuse

Today, an inquiry headed by Vice Admiral Albert T Church will find (exec summary) that neither government policy nor faulty leadership lead to prisoner abuses Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, dismissed the document as a whitewash. I will provide highlights of the unclassified Executive Summary below. I will leave quotations as is, however links will be provided within them in appropriate places so that readers may do their own research into the content of the report.

With regards to GTMO, the summary states that the harshest technique permitted in Guantanamo Bay was "mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with a finger, and light pushing". It makes no references to allegations to the contrary, nor to internal memos generated prior which explicitly contradict this statement. Thus the summary concludes that "[in] GTMO, we found that from the beginning of the interrogation operations to the present, interrogation policies were effectively disseminated and interrogators closely adhered to the policies, with minor exceptions".

With regards to Afghanistan, the summary provides a time-line of events to explain some of the incidents that have come to light.

  • January 24, 2003: A "memorandum tacitly confirmed that "migration" of interrogation techniques [used in Afghanistan] had occurred separately" to the official development of interrogation procedures. It revealed that techniques approved for GTMO only were being used. The sender received no word from CENTCOM or the Joint Staff in response to the memo "and interpreted this silence to mean that the techniques then in use ... were unobjectionable to higher headquarters and therefore could be considered approved policy.
  • 27 February 2003: In light of two detainee deaths at Bagram, a "Commander modified or eliminated" tactics "as a precaution, out of general concern for detainee treatment".
  • March 2004: new interrogation guidance was created, which "was not drafted as carefully as it could have or should have been". The summary claims that the techniques were based upon an unsigned draft memo from Donald Rumsfeld to CENTCOM, which "identical to the Secretary's April 16, 2003 interrogation policy for GTMO", however they "found no evidence that the Secretary was ever aware of this draft memorandum, which was never approved".
With regards to Iraq and Afghanistan, the summary states that although, there was "poor unit-level compliance with approved policy memoranda",
we found that they did not lead to the employment of illegal or abusive interrogation techniques. According to our investigation, interrogators clearly understood that abusive practices and techniques - such as physical assault, sexual humiliation, terrorizing detainees with unmuzzled dogs, or threats of torture or death - were at all times prohibited ... Thus, with limited exceptions [see below] ... interrogators did not employ such techniques, nor did they direct MPs to do so.
DoD investigators had substantiated 71 cases of detainee abuse, including six deaths, 20 were were considered related to interrogation, defined as during questioning or in the presence of military-intelligence interrogators, including six deaths. They included:
  • Two female interrogators touched and spoke to detainees at GTMO in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Numerous villagers in Afghanistan being kicked and punched (see 18 March 2004)
  • Two deaths at Bagram
  • Sixteen interrogation-related abuses in Iraq
For all of the above cases, the conclude that "there is no link between any authorized interrogation techniques and the actual abuses described", because "none of the approved policies ... would have permitted the abuse that occurred".
We found, without exception, that the DoD officials and senior military commanders responsible for the formulation of interrogation policy evidenced the intent to treat detainees humanely, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the notion that such officials or commanders ever accepted that detainee abuse would be permissible. Even in the absence of a precise definition of "humane" treatment, it is clear that none of the pictured abuses at Abu Ghraib bear any resemblance to approved policies at any level , in any theater.
They note that
our conclusion is consistent with the findings of the Independent Panel, which ... determined that "[n]o approved procedures called for or allowed the kinds of abuse that in fact occurred. There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities".

... Nevertheless, with the clarity of hindsight we consider it a missed opportunity that no specific guidance on interrogation techniques was provided to the commanders responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq, as it was ... for Guantanamo Bay.

So why did the abuse occur? According to the summary, the abuses were due to:
  • passions running high after battle
  • senior officials failed to respond to early warning signs in time. The report from the ICRC is used as an example.
  • discipline breakdown in some units


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