Tuesday, October 18, 2005

FRONTLINE: The Torture Question

Very late notice here, but tonight at 10 PM ET PBS is airing "The Torture Question", in which:

FRONTLINE traces the history of how decisions made in Washington in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 -- including an internal administration battle over the Geneva Conventions -- led to a robust interrogation policy that laid the groundwork for prisoner abuse in Afghanistan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Iraq.
For those that miss the show, it will be available for online viewing starting at 12 pm Wed at the PBS website - itself an excellent resource - that is linked to above.

UPDATE - I watched the show. It casts serious doubt on the claim that the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib was an aberration that was committed by "only the nightshift." In it, you are able to see how interrogation methods that were approved for use at GITMO where George Bush and his administration had determined the Geneva conventions did not apply to detainees made there way to Abu Ghraib when Major General Geoffrey Miller, who had been in charge at Guantanamo, was sent there to take charge of the prison. Miller expressed his intent to "GITMOize" Abu Ghraib. This is a show that needs to be watched, because it reminds us that this issue is not resolved, that what happened at Abu Ghraib is not just the result of "a few bad apples."

For example, recall that Tim Golden's New York Times article about the death of two Afghan inmates at Bagram (another place where Geneva conventions were determined to not apply), revealed that interrogators who were already under investigation for harsh treatment of detainees were transfered to Abu Ghraib where similar abuses later took place

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.
Then, more recently, there was Captain Ian Fishback's letter to John McCain asking for help in delineating clear standards of conduct after Fishback is unable to get a satsifactory answer from his chain of command, and the Human Rights Watch report on the persistance of torture even after the Abu Ghraib scandal (with firsthand accounts from Captain Ian Fishback and his 82nd Airborne Division.) Here is some of their testimony:

-- The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay. They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine. It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy goes before he passes out or just collapses on you. From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever.

Deprive them of food water, whatever. To “Fuck a PUC” means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day

To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.
-- If a PUC cooperated Intel would tell us that he was allowed to sleep or got extra food. If he felt the PUC was lying he told us he doesn’t get any fucking sleep and gets no food except maybe crackers. And he tells us to smoke him. [Intel] would tell the Lieutenant that he had to smoke the prisoners and that is what we were told to do. No sleep, water, and just crackers. That’s it. The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation. [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.
-- It’s army doctrine that when you take a prisoner, one of the things you do is secure that prisoner and then you speed him to the rear. You get him out of the hands of the unit that took him. Well, we didn’t do that. We’d keep them at out holding facility for I think it was up to seventy-two hours. Then we would place him under the guard of soldiers he had just been trying to kill. The incident with the detainee hit with baseball bat; he was suspected of having killed one of our officers.
--I listened to the congressional hearings and when the Secretary of Defense testified that we followed the spirit of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan and the letter of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq… that went against everything that I [understood about US policy]. That’s when I had a problem.

The first concern when this originally happened was loyalty to the Constitution and separation of powers, and combined with that is the honor code: “I will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.” The fact that it was systematic, and that the chain of command knew about it was so obvious to me that [until that point] I didn’t even consider the fact that other factors might be at play, so that’s why I approached my chain of command about it right off the bat and said, “Hey, we’re lying right now. We need to be completely honest.”

On top of this, the ICRC reported, back in May 2004, that U.S. coalition intelligence "estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake." This is not surprising, considering that "collectively detaining all males in a given area or village for up to several weeks or months" was a common military practice in Iraq.

Our leader's actions and words regarding Abu Ghraib appear to be full of hypocrisy. Take, for instance, President Bush, who has publically stated that, "the United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example," who might use his first and only veto so far to kill legislation that would prohibit the use of torture, as noted in the Nat Hentoff Village Voice article about the conflict between Sen. McCain who has pushed for the humane treatment of detainees and the Bush administration which maintains that it needs "flexibility" in prosecuting the "war on terror." And so long as the henious nature of the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib (and potentially elsewhere) remains out of sight, full accountability for these actions will not be had.

And let's not forget the psychological toll that this takes on the troops themselves, The New York Times review of the The Torture Question writes

The images on "Frontline" that speak most eloquently to the sadism that took hold inside the prison at Abu Ghraib are not the snapshots of naked Iraqi prisoners stacked in human pyramids or cowering before German shepherds - photographs that shocked and baffled the world. What "Frontline" also shows are videos shot by American soldiers inside their barracks at Abu Ghraib in November 2003 - homemade movies of young soldiers dancing to hip-hop music that escalates into group attacks on a dummy of a prisoner, a primitive "Lord of the Flies" ritual of punching and stabbing that, if it took place in a bar, might prompt witnesses to call the police. In Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, these soldiers were the police.
It has been noted that our treatment of detainees is sure to radicalize much of the Muslim community, but what has been overlooked, tragically I think, is that it also radicalizes our own troops, who have unfairly received the blunt of criticism for the abuses that have taken place. (More on this later in the week when I post a book review of Inside the Wire.)

My previous entries on torture can be viewed here.

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster. And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you. -

I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them - Spinoza

No comments: