Saturday, March 22, 2008

Race to Hell: The Scapegoats

I received in the email a link to the following article: Exposure: The woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, March 24, 2008. Since this is a topic I have been meaning to address, I tip my hat to my email tipster and take the opportunity to begin quoting some excerpts from this article.

The 372nd M.P.s assumed they had been sent to Abu Ghraib because it was dangerous. They were combat M.P.s, trained to support the operations of front-line forces—to conduct route reconnaissance, escort convoys, run patrols, go on raids. They were abundantly armed and travelled with a fleet of heavy vehicles. "We thought we were going to go kick some behind around the prison and help them out," Sergeant Davis said. "But that's not what happened. Once we got there, they told our guys, no, we're going to be prison guards."

The new assignment—to run one of the overcrowded tented camps and the indoor prison complex known, on account of its concrete-bunker-like solidity, as the hard site—bewildered the company. Combat units don't run prisons. That is the province of another cadre of M.P.s, known as internment and resettlement M.P.s, who are trained according to the Army's extensive doctrine on handling all manner of wartime captives and displaced persons. The 372nd M.P.s had no such specialized experience. A couple of them worked as corrections officers back home, but that gave them no exposure to the Geneva Conventions, and the rest of them didn't know the first thing about prison work. Their company commander, Captain Donald Reese, was a window-blinds salesman in civilian life.

Although they did not know it at the time, the lack of experience and training in handling prisoners in wartime made the soldiers of the 372nd ideally suited to Abu Ghraib, where almost nothing was run according to military doctrine. Since May, 2003, America's war in Iraq had been waged as a chapter in the war on terror, and the military's long-standing rules for running prisons in wartime had largely been ignored. By midsummer, the great majority of prisoners of war who were seized during the invasion had been released. Those who remained in captivity—along with all new prisoners seized by the military—were designated "security detainees," a label that had gained currency in the war on terror, to describe "unlawful combatants" and other prisoners who had been denied P.O.W. status and could be held indefinitely, in isolation and secrecy, without judicial recourse. The great majority of the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib were designated security detainees, and placed under the authority of Military Intelligence officers, who instructed the M.P.s on how to treat them.

The use of a combat military police unit was deliberate.

To me, it seems that privatization and outsourcing of military functions began in earnest under then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney during the Bush-41 Administration. After leaving government service, Cheney then wound up running one of the companies that prospered the most from this policy, Halliburton.

Of course, once Cheney was Vice President and we were in the midst of a War on Terror, Halliburton and other private contractors prospered a great deal more.

One of the military functions that got outsourced was that of military intelligence -- specifically, interrogation and debriefing of captured enemy personnel and "detainees".

Many of these contractors had no idea how to effectively interrogate, so they relied on manuals from US military SERE schools.

We have all seen movies where a foreign officer, typically with a German accent, tells an American POW, "For you, the war is over." Well, especially in the wake of the Korean War, the US military realized that our nation's enemies did not hold to this standard, but rather brought the war into the prison camp.

SERE is an acronym -- it stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. Resistance is the most pertinent part here. Resistance training was provided to US military personnel so they could learn how to survive enemy captivity, providing minimal benefit to their captors. It was understood that their captors would try to brainwash them, derive useful information from them, and use them to make propaganda harmful to the United States, to our allies, and to our cause.

SERE training was based on what could be expected treatment in Communist bloc, especially Soviet, military prison facilities.

Consequently, these contractors -- "mercenaries" is another word for such military contractors -- began to use the methods of Communist torturers. To be sure, these methods were generally less unsophisticated than simple sadistic brutality, but abuse is abuse, and such programmatic abuse of detainees as a matter of policy is torture nonetheless.

This had more than just de facto sanction from the highest levels of the Bush Administration.

And a combat MP unit was used because its personnel would be less likely to understand and thus question or object to a policy that violated every norm of civilized conduct, a policy which cost America a great deal of its moral authority in the post-9/11 world -- and, combat MP personnel would thus serve as the perfect fall-guys should the scandal ever break.

Later, when the photographs of crimes committed against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were made public, the blame focussed overwhelmingly on the Military Police officers who were assigned to guard duty in the Military Intelligence cellblock -— Tiers 1A and 1B -— of the hard site. The low-ranking reservist soldiers who took and appeared in the infamous images were singled out for opprobrium and punishment; they were represented, in government reports, in the press, and before courts-martial, as rogues who acted out of depravity. Yet the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was de facto United States policy. The authorization of torture and the decriminalization of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of captives in wartime have been among the defining legacies of the current Administration; and the rules of interrogation that produced the abuses documented on the M.I. block in the fall of 2003 were the direct expression of the hostility toward international law and military doctrine that was found in the White House, the Vice-President's office, and at the highest levels of the Justice and Defense Departments.

Notice where this came from: "the White House, the Vice-President's office, and at the highest levels of the Justice and Defense Departments." Add in the State Department and Congress, and you have the same criminals responsible for the Sibel Edmonds case.

Remarkable coincidence!

The Abu Ghraib rules, promulgated by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, elaborated on the interrogation rules for Guantánamo Bay, which had been issued by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; they were designed to create far more license than restriction for interrogators who sought to break prisoners. The M.P.s at Abu Ghraib were enlisted as enforcers of such practices as sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, sensory disorientation, and the imposition of physical and psychological pain. They never received a standard operating procedure to define what was required and what was allowed, but were repeatedly instructed simply to follow the guidance of Military Intelligence officers. An orthodox standard operating procedure leaves nothing to the imagination, and as Megan Ambuhl settled into her job it occurred to her that the absence of a code was the code at Abu Ghraib. "They couldn't say that we broke the rules because there were no rules," she said. And by taking pictures of the prisoners on the M.I. block the M.P.s demonstrated two things: that they never fully accepted what was happening as normal, and that they assumed they had nothing to hide.

Their mistake was to do as they were expected to do and as they had been trained to do -- follow the orders of their superiors, which they assumed to be lawful, and to assume their superiors would then back them up, instead of knife them in the back.

Of course, many of their senior officers had obviously been neglecting their duty in the politicized environment where mercenaries called the shots at the behest of a rogue civilian leadership -- President Bush and Vice President Cheney -- whose military records speak for themselves.

From an interview with Amy Goodman from November 14, 2006 entitled Torture Suit Star Witness, Fmr. Abu Ghraib Head Janis Karpinski Points to Signed Rumsfeld Memo Listing Harsh Interrogation Techniques, we get some more of the story. Here are excerpts:

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us how it happened? When you were in Iraq, when you were in charge at Abu Ghraib, tell us how you learned about the torture that was taking place, and your jurisdiction, your authority over the area in the prison where these prisoners were tortured.

JANIS KARPINSKI: Well, I think it's a critical point and certainly important in the discussion, because I was responsible for 17 prison facilities in Iraq, and they were spread all over Iraq. And they were in various stages of disrepair. And our purpose was to assist the prisons experts under the Coalition Provisional Authority with the rebuilding of these and re-opening of these prisons. We never wanted to use, and we never planned to use Abu Ghraib for any long-term detention operation, because it was, number one, in one of the most dangerous locations in all of Iraq, in the middle of the Sunni Triangle, and it had a notorious history of abuse and torture under Saddam Hussein. So we were moving in the direction of transferring all of the Iraqi criminals being held at Abu Ghraib to other facilities, as they became open and operational. And our Iraqi criminal population was very limited at Abu Ghraib. Again, we were moving towards closing it completely.

And then, they—the Coalition Provisional—excuse me, the CJTF-7, the coalition forces, undertook these raids and roundups, as they would come to be called, in the different sectors, so that the combat divisions would put together plans to go out and apprehend targeted individuals. But with very little description of the individuals they were attempting to capture and apprehend, very often these operations would take place in a location where there would be 20, 30, 50, 100 people meeting for some reason. And when the operational force arrived there, they would see that there were, not two or three individuals, but 50 or more, so they would arrest everybody. And they started to turn these new security detainees over to Abu Ghraib, contrary to what our plans were of closing it completely. Now we have an enormous growing population.

But in November of 2003, the prison responsibility for Abu Ghraib was transferred from the Military Police Control, my control, to the Military Intelligence Control, making it an interrogation center for all of Iraq, as General Miller planned and directed during his visit in September of 2003. So, I had 16 other prison facilities to be concerned with and to focus on. In fact, in January of 2004, when I first heard about this ongoing investigation at Abu Ghraib, I couldn't find out from anybody any information or any details of what this investigation really encompassed.

And it wasn't until the 23rd of January, when I saw the pictures for the first time. And I asked—when I saw the pictures, I asked the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, "Where is the military intelligence in all of this?" And seeing one of the contract people in some of the photographs, I said, "Why are the translators in any of these photographs?" And I was told, "Ma'am, those aren't translators. Those are contract interrogators." So, it was first time not only seeing the pictures, but the first time I was receiving details of contract interrogators actually working out at Abu Ghraib.

When I tried to go to see some of the soldiers, to get access to some of the soldiers seen in some of those photographs, I was told by the JAG officer representing General Sanchez, those soldiers did not work for me, so I had no right to go and speak to any of them. In fact, they worked for the Military Intelligence commander. It was a different story in April of 2004, when the photographs were released for the world. But there were specific steps taken to keep me from speaking to the individuals, from having information, and from having any insight in terms of what was going on in interrogation operations.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of these people were yours. They were military police. They were the people that you were in charge of, right?

JANIS KARPINSKI: Correct. I had military police personnel working in every one of the prison facilities all over Iraq. But it is important to know that there were interrogation operations at only one facility: Abu Ghraib. And these abuses, or the photographs, the humiliation seen in those photographs, occurred when the prison was no longer under my control. The commander at Abu Ghraib—

With responsibility, but limited authority, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was a designated scapegoat -- but only one of many.

JANIS KARPINSKI: [snip] But General Miller did come to Iraq. He was sent specifically to work, not with the detention operations, he was sent specifically to work with the military intelligence personnel to teach them harsher interrogation techniques, to obtain more actionable intelligence from their efforts.

And in the course of his presentation, his initial briefing, he made the comment about—in response to an interrogator who raised the issue about what could we do immediately to enhance our interrogation efforts, because we think we're doing what we should be doing. And he said it was his impression that they were treating the prisoners too well. And he said, "You need to treat these prisoners like dogs, because if you treat them any differently, you have effectively lost control of your interrogation." And he went on to explain that at Guantanamo Bay, the prisoners there earned everything they had, to include a change of color of their prison jumpsuits.

Treating people who have been captured and are being detained by force "like dogs" is wrong -- regardless of what they have done. Furthermore, it is worth keeping in mind that these people had not been convicted of anything; indeed, the description of the circumstances indicate many of them had been rounded up somewhat indiscriminately.

To be sure, the harsher treatment was not given to everyone, and in any case it was not as bad as much of the treatment routinely given out by Saddam's people, nor was it as bad as what our people can expect if captured by terrorists.

But that is not the point, is it?

If we have to compare ourselves to Al Qaeda to demonstrate that they are worse, and that we are therefore relatively good guys, then we have ceased to be the good guys, and America is merely a few steps behind Al Qaeda in humanity's race to Hell.

To be continued in Race to Hell: Make Sure This Happens.

------March 23 Update------

Since my posts tend to be long, and I have more than one significant point still to make on this topic, this post is continued in Race to Hell: Principle, Not Politics and will be concluded in Race to Hell: Make Sure This Happens.


anticant said...

In his autobiography “Something of Myself” Rudyard Kipling - who, as you know, lived in your country for several years and married an American - comments:

“Every nation, like every individual, walks in a vain show - else it could not live with itself - but I never got over the wonder of a people who, having extirpated the aboriginals of their continent more completely than any modern race had ever done, honestly believed that they were a Godly little New England community, setting examples to brutal mankind.” Kipling used to point this out to his friend Theodore Roosevelt, to the latter's voluble indignation.

Today's problem is not merely a matter of national self-image or self-deception, but of lost moral compass.

What appalls me about the "New Yorker" piece is the moral EMPTINESS of everyone involved. Although what was going on at Abu Ghraib shocked them at first, and they found it 'weird', they were all quite soon stringing along, acquiescently if not happily, on the basis that if their superiors said it was OK, it must be. Not a hint that any of them found it a moral outrage, or a betrayal of the values they had been brought up to believe America stands for. [At the time the scandalous photographs were published, President Bush said "this isn't the America I know" - but then he wouldn't, would he?]

When during WW2 we in England learned of the Nazi atrocities and the concentration camps and people said "that could never happen here", I disagreed because even as a teenager I was pretty sure that there are thuggish and brutal people in every society who can be recruited into SS-style units, as well as others who aren't originally thuggish and brutal, but who will supinely go along with the flow.

What is the remedy?

Yankee Doodle said...

"Not a hint that any of them found it a moral outrage, or a betrayal of the values they had been brought up to believe America stands for."

There were some hints of moral outrage.

The problem is that they are trained to obey orders, and to rely on their superiors to give orders that are lawful. But, starting with Bush and going right on down -- just like it started with Clinton and went down a few years back -- they have a dishonest, dishonorable weasel at the top. Clinton was a little easier to spot; Bush tries to pass himself off as an upstanding leader dealing with a difficult and serious situation, the War on Terror, so he fools more people.

Again, these people were misled. The officer corps shares some significant blame here, too.

But even then, Bush was careful to wrap this in shrouds of legality by getting legal opinions and politicking back in Washington. The troops, in the absence of support from above, can refuse to go along with this and get sent to prison, in which case they will be easily replaced and the show goes on, or they can stay, and in some cases try to ease the situation a little by trying to deflect some of the worst of it.

The Bush Administration has done tremendous damage to our military forces, not just by beating them to hell in an endless war in Iraq, but by creating a situation where our troops now have to wonder about accountability and the lawfulness of orders they receive.

Bush is the criminal here -- Bush, Cheney and all of the staff members goose-stepping around in Washington covering for their dear leader.

anticant said...

Well, your nation was founded upon successful rebellion against lawful authority.... :)