William Fisher: Abuse, What Abuse?
Abuse, What Abuse?
By William Fisher
The U.S. Army general widely considered the 'architect' of abusive prisoner interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and in Afghanistan used "creative" and "aggressive" tactics, but did not practice torture or violate law or Pentagon policy. Despite the recommendations of military investigators, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey C. Miller will not be reprimanded - thus bringing to a close what could be the last of 15 separate investigations into detainee abuse.
Members of the team that conducted the three-month investigation told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday that Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, had overruled their recommendation of a reprimand, and will instead refer the matter to the Army's inspector general (IG).
They said Gen. Craddock had concluded that Miller's techniques did not rise to the level of torture and did not violate any U.S. laws or policies. Their probe was looking into allegations by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who said they witnessed abusive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. The FBI allegations were contained in documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Barring future allegations of prisoner abuse, the Miller probe ends all outstanding inquiries into an issue that has inflamed Bush Administration critics for several years. In the dozen previous investigations - all carried out by military or Pentagon-appointed panels - only one high-level officer has faced disciplinary action. Army Reserve General Janice Karpinsky received an administrative reprimand for failing to properly supervise detainee treatment at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A number of lower-level officers and enlisted personnel have been reprimanded or court martialled, and other low level cases are still pending.
There have been only two congressional hearings into prisoner abuse, one in the Senate, the other in the House of Representatives. Increasingly frustrating calls for an investigation by an independent 9/11-type commission have been resisted by most Republicans, who control both bodies.
The conclusions of the Miller inquiry appear to strongly support the contention that Gen. Miller was the constant in the prisoner treatment equation, first at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later at military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, where similar interrogation techniques were employed.
General Miller was
deeply involved in the handling of detainees, first at
Guantánamo in 2002 and 2003, where he earned credit for improving interrogation techniques and for the treatment of prisoners, and later in Iraq, where he was sent in August 2003 to suggest ways to improve interrogations immediately before the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. In 2004, he was appointed to oversee all detainee operations in Iraq. Multiple investigations have cleared him of wrongdoing.
Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director, said, "It is irrefutable that the government violated the Geneva Conventions and the Army Field Manual. As before, low-ranking men and women will take the full blame while the higher ups get off scot-free. Once again, we have abuse without high-level accountability."
The chief investigator into Guantanamo practices, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, told the Senate panel of the interrogation techniques used on Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Al-Qahtani was thought to be involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Schmidt said interrogators told him his mother and sisters were whores, forced him to wear a bra and wear a thong on his head, told him he was a homosexual and said that other prisoners knew it. They also forced him to dance with a male interrogator and subjected him to strip searches with no security value, threatened him with dogs, forced him to stand naked in front of women, and to wear a leash and act like a dog.
These techniques were approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use on al-Qahtani -- the alleged "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- were used at Guantanamo in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking him down.
Investigators also described other interrogation practices used at Guantanamo, including:
A female interrogator smeared what she described as menstrual blood — it was fake — on a prisoner. The woman was disciplined, investigators said, but they recommended no further action on the allegation because it happened some time ago.
A Navy officer threatened one high-value prisoner by saying he would go after his family. This was in violation of U.S. military law, the investigation found.
A prisoner was bound on the head with duct tape, his mouth covered, because he was chanting verses from the Quran.
Interrogators used cold, heat, loud music and sleep deprivation on prisoners to break their will to resist interrogation. These techniques were approved at certain times at Guantanamo.
Detainees were chained to the floor in fetal positions. The investigation said this was not authorized, but could not confirm an FBI agent's allegation that detainees were left in this position for long periods.
Female interrogators sought to persuade male prisoners to talk, using forms of "gender coercion." These techniques were approved at the time as non-injurious, but the Schmidt investigation found that they were inappropriate. In one case, a detainee was doused with perfume.
In addition, detainees were subjected to
excessive cold and heat, as well as
loud music and sleep deprivation, techniques that were approved at certain times at Guantánamo.
There have also been repeated accusations that American personnel at Guantanamo have mishandled the Quran, the Muslim holy book. A separate Pentagon investigation found five such instances
The Guantanamo investigators described the techniques they found as degrading and abusive, Gen. Schmidt said, but did not constitute torture.
"It is clear from the report that detainee mistreatment was not simply the product of a few rogue military police in a night shift," said Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee.
And Sen. Edward Kennedy, the powerful Democrat committee member from Massachusetts, said, "I am deeply concerned about the failure — indeed, outright refusal — of our military and civilian leaders to hold higher ups accountable for the repeated and reports of abuse and torture of the prisoners at Guantanamo."
Bush administration officials have said the excesses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were the work of "a few bad apples". The Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, said investigators had found only three instances, out of thousands of interrogations, where military personnel violated Army policy.
Investigators also determined that interrogators violated the Geneva Conventions and Army regulations three times.
Edward S. Herman, professor emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, told IPS, "Internal investigations by an institution whose lies would fill an encyclopedia are hardly credible and would be laughed out of court by an honest media. They are even more laughable when we consider that the top leadership has indicated that international law is not applicable to us, that the concept of torture is infinitely flexible, and that the folks we are holding in Guantanamo are being treated like Caribbean vacationers."
The report said the military should review how it determines the legal status of prisoners at Guantanamo, and decide what forms of treatment and interrogation techniques will be allowed.
Guantanamo holds 520 prisoners, while more than 230 others have been released or transferred to the custody of their home governments. Most were captured during the U.S. war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; only a few have been charged with any crime.
The report also recommended discipline for several low-level interrogators.
It is unclear whether General Miller could face disciplinary proceedings as a result of the Inspector General inquiry recommended by General Craddock.
After a dozen investigations, it seems clear that the U.S. military is unable to investigate itself. It seems equally clear that it will take some kind of political tsunami - or moral epiphany -- to persuade President Bush and his supporters in Congress to convene the kind of genuinely independent commission that finally brought Americans the facts about 9/11.
Which leaves us to heed the advice my mother used to give me: "Get over it!"
Except it isn't over.