A year ago, when the first photos appeared of U.S. soldiers beating and sexually humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, President George W. Bush expressed horror and disgust. Recognizing the damage that the abuses had done to the image of the U.S. abroad, he promised, in an interview broadcast to the Arab world via the Pentagon-funded TV station Al-Hurra, that the crimes would not go unpunished.
In the coming months, he affirmed, “those mistakes will be investigated, and people will be brought to justice.”
And, indeed, investigations have been conducted, court martials have been held, and a few perpetrators have been convicted. One soldier, army reservist Charles Graner, Jr., was sentenced to a ten-year term of imprisonment, the heaviest penalty to date.
But these results represent partial justice, at best. Notably, with the exception of one major personally implicated in abuse, only low-ranking soldiers — privates and sergeants — have been held to account.
Thanks to the Abu Ghraib photos, Graner became the smiling face of American brutality. Yet there is no ignoring the fact that while he and other underlings have faced prosecution, those beyond the camera’s frame — those who made policies, gave orders, and condoned or ignored abuses — have not.
If this is justice, in President Bush’s view of things, it comes awfully close to scapegoating. For the evidence shows that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were not isolated and aberrant acts and that, in fact, the worst perpetrators may not have been those whose faces were captured on camera.
As Human Rights Watch described yesterday, in an important new report, the abuses at Abu Ghraib are part of a broader picture. They fit a pattern of brutality and mistreatment, evident at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, and in dozens of U.S. detention facilities worldwide, that “did not result from the acts of individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside.”
Rumsfeld’s Possible Legal Responsibility
Human Rights Watch’s exhaustively-documented report names the top officials, both civilian and military, that it believes should be investigated for crimes against detainees. Its list starts with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and goes on to include George Tenet, the former CIA director; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, U.S. military commander in Iraq from June 2003 to July 2004; and Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the U.S. military commander at Guantanamo.
While the report does not reach any conclusions as to the ultimate guilt or innocence of these officials, it argues that abundant evidence exists to justify their investigation. Under both U.S. and international law, it explains, civilian officials and military commanders may be held criminally liable if they order, induce, instigate, aid, or abet in the commission of a crime. In addition, under the doctrine of “command responsibility,” individuals who are in positions of civilian or military authority may be criminally liable for the crimes of those under their command.
Secretary Rumsfeld, the report asserts, may well be liable under both of these theories. He may have directly instigated abuses when, on December 2, 2002, he approved a list of inhumane interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo.
These techniques — which include the use of hoods, stress positions, isolation, stripping, deprivation of light, removal of religious items, forced grooming, and dogs — violate not only the Geneva Conventions but also legal prohibitions on torture and other ill-treatment. The techniques later “migrated” to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they figured prominently in abuses against detainees there. In Iraq, moreover, Rumsfeld approved the hiding of detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a practice likely to facilitate abuse.
Journalist Seymour Hersh has alleged, in addition, that Secretary Rumsfeld approved a secret program that encouraged the physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners.
Rumsfeld may also bear command responsibility for abuses against detainees. To be liable under the doctrine of command responsibility, a superior must have known, or have had reason to know, that a subordinate was committing a crime, and the superior must have failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the crime or to punish the perpetrator.
Rumsfeld clearly had the necessary knowledge. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo, Secretary Rumsfeld had access to military briefings, ICRC reports, human rights reports, and press accounts that would have put him on notice that U.S. troops were committing war crimes, including torture. Yet, despite receiving abundant warning of abuses, there is no evidence that Rumsfeld ever exerted his authority to protect prisoners from mistreatment.
The Need for an Independent Counsel
Yet while soldiers like Charles Graner, Jr. and Lynndie England are put on trial, Rumsfeld is not. Indeed, if there were any doubts as whether legal liability for Abu Ghraib abuses might eventually be traced up the chain of command, a high-level Army investigation whose findings were announced last Friday probably put them to rest.
Conducted by the Army Inspector General, a subordinate to Secretary Rumsfeld, the new investigation exonerated four of the five top Army officers in charge of detention policies and operations in Iraq. To Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other groups that have documented military abuses, it provided further proof of the need for an independent counsel to look into allegations of abuse.
For when President Bush told the world that the perpetrators of crimes at Abu Ghraib would be brought to justice, he didn’t not qualify his claim. He didn’t say that a handful of low-level perpetrators would be brought to justice.
And we shouldn’t, in retrospect, have to say it for him.
Joanne Mariner is an attorney with Human Rights Watch in New York. Her piece is based on a just-released Human Rights Watch report, “Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees,” written by Human Rights Watch special counsel Reed Brody.
Since late April 2004, when the first photographs appeared
of U.S. military personnel
humiliating, torturing, and otherwise mistreating detainees at Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq, the United States
government has repeatedly sought to portray the abuse as an isolated incident,
the work of a few “bad apples” acting without orders. On May 4, U.S. Secretary
of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a formulation that would be used over and
over again by U.S. officials, described the abuses at Abu Ghraib as “an
exceptional, isolated” case. In a nationally televised address on May 24,
President George W. Bush spoke of “disgraceful conduct by a few American troops
who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.”
In fact, the only exceptional aspect of the abuse at Abu
Ghraib may have been that it was photographed. Detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan have testified that
they experienced treatment similar to what happened in Abu Ghraib — from
beatings to prolonged sleep and sensory deprivation to being held naked — as
early as 2002. Comparable — and, indeed, more extreme — cases of torture and
inhuman treatment have been extensively documented by the International
Committee of the Red Cross and by journalists at numerous locations in Iraq
outside Abu Ghraib.
This pattern of abuse did not result from the acts of
individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by the
Bush administration to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside. Administration
policies created the climate for Abu Ghraib in three fundamental ways.
First, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration seemingly
determined that winning the war on terror required that the United States circumvent
international law. Senior administration lawyers in a series of internal memos
argued over the objections of career military and State Department counsel that
the new war against terrorism rendered “obsolete” long-standing legal
restrictions on the treatment and interrogation of detainees.
The administration effectively sought to re-write the Geneva
Conventions of 1949 to eviscerate many of their most important protections.
These include the rights of all detainees in an armed conflict to be free from
humiliating and degrading treatment, as well as from torture and other forms of
coercive interrogation. The Pentagon and the Justice Department developed the
breathtaking legal argument that the president, as commander-in-chief of the
armed forces, was not bound by U.S.
or international laws prohibiting torture when acting to protect national
security, and that such laws might even be unconstitutional if they hampered
the war on terror.The United States began to create offshore,
off-limits, prisons such as Guantnamo
maintained other detainees in “undisclosed locations,” and sent terrorism
suspects without legal process to countries where information was beaten out of
White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, while suggesting
that the Geneva Conventions be circumvented, did convey to President Bush the
worries of military leaders that these policies might “undermine U.S.
military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct
in combat and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the status of
adversaries.”Those warnings were
ignored, but proved justified.In May
2004, a member of the 377th Military Police Company told the New York Times that the labeling of
prisoners in Afghanistan
as “enemy combatants” not subject to the Geneva Conventions contributed to
their abuse. “We were pretty much told that they were nobodies, that they were
just enemy combatants,” he said. “I think that giving them the distinction of
soldier would have changed our attitudes toward them.”
Second, the United
States began to employ coercive methods
designed to “soften up” detainees for interrogation. These methods included
holding detainees in painful stress positions, depriving them of sleep and
light for prolonged periods, exposing them to extremes of heat, cold, noise and
light, hooding, and depriving them of all clothing. News reports describe a
case where U.S.
personnel with official approval tortured a detainee held in an “undisclosed
location” by submerging him in water until he believed he would drown. These
techniques, familiar to victims of torture in many of the world’s most
repressive dictatorships, are forbidden by prohibitions against torture and
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment not only by the Geneva Conventions,
but by other international instruments to which the U.S. is a party and by the
U.S. military’s own long-standing regulations.
It is not yet clear which techniques of ill-treatment or
torture were formally approved at which levels of the U.S. government
and the degree of
severity allowed in their application, or whether they were informally
encouraged. What is clear is that they were used systematically both in
Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and that they were also used
on some scale at Guantnamo. It is also clear that the purpose of these
techniques is to inflict pain, suffering and severe humiliation on
Once that purpose was legitimized by military and intelligence
officials, it is
not surprising that ordinary soldiers came to believe that even more
forms of abuse were acceptable. The brazenness with which some soldiers
conducted themselves at Abu Ghraib, snapping photographs and flashing
“thumbs-up” sign as they abused prisoners, confirms that they felt they
nothing to hide from their superiors.
Third, until the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs
forced action, Bush administration officials took at best a “see no evil, hear
no evil” approach to all reports of detainee mistreatment. From the earliest
days of the war in Afghanistan
and the occupation of Iraq,
government has been aware of allegations of abuse. Yet high-level pledges of
humane treatment were never implemented with specific orders or guidelines to
forbid coercive methods of interrogation. Investigations of deaths in custody
languished; soldiers and intelligence personnel accused of abuse, including all
cases involving the killing of detainees, escaped judicial punishment. When, in
the midst of the worst abuses, the International Committee of the Red Cross
complained to Coalition forces, Army officials apparently responded by trying
to curtail the ICRC’s access.
Concern for the basic rights of persons taken into custody
in Afghanistan and Iraq
did not factor into the Bush administration’s agenda. The administration
largely dismissed expressions of concern for their treatment, from both within
the government and without. This, too, sent a message to those dealing with
detainees in the field about the priorities of those in command.
The severest abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred in the immediate
aftermath of a decision by Secretary Rumsfeld to step up the hunt for
“actionable intelligence” among Iraqi prisoners. The officer who oversaw
intelligence gathering at Guantnamo was brought in to overhaul interrogation
practices in Iraq,
and teams of interrogators from Guantnamo were sent to Abu Ghraib. The
commanding general in Iraq
issued orders to “manipulate an internee’s emotions and weaknesses.” Military
police were ordered by military intelligence to “set physical and mental
conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.” The captain who oversaw
interrogations at the Afghan detention center where two prisoners died in
detention posted “Interrogation Rules of Engagement” at Abu Ghraib, authorizing
coercive methods (with prior written approval of the military commander) such
as the use of military guard dogs to instill fear that violate the Geneva
Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
actions in the global campaign against terrorism, the armed conflict in Iraq
was justified in part on bringing democracy and respect for the rule of law to
an Iraqi population long-suffering under Saddam Hussein. Abusive treatment used
against terrorism suspects after September 11 came to be considered permissible
by the United States
in an armed conflict to suppress resistance to a military occupation.
The Bush administration apparently believed that the new
wars it was fighting could not be won if it was constrained by “old”
rules.The disturbing information coming
to light points to an official policy of torture and cruel, inhuman or
The Bush administration has denied having a policy to
torture or abuse detainees.Human Rights
Watch calls on the administration to demonstrate conclusively that its public
disavowal of torture and other mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody was in fact the policy of the U.S.
government, and to make public all relevant government documents.The administration should also detail the
steps being taken to ensure that these abusive practices do not continue, and
to prosecute vigorously all those responsible for ordering or condoning this
Ironically, the administration is now finding that it may be
losing the war for hearts and minds around the world precisely because it threw
those rules out. Rather than advance the war on terror, the widespread prisoner
abuse has damaged efforts to build global support for countering terrorism.
Indeed, each new photo of an American soldier humiliating an Iraqi could be
considered a recruiting poster for al-Qaeda. Policies adopted to make the United States more
secure from terrorism have in fact made it more vulnerable.
Brigadier General Jan Karpinski Set Up Over Abu Ghraib Prison
The radio interview below is an interview with Janis Karpinksi the former commander of Abu Ghraib detention facility near Baghdad, Iraq. The interview is with Freedom Radio.
There is a wise saying:
“It is for those who know to tell the blind horseman on the blind horse that he is heading for the abyss” (Lao Tzu)
“It is the truth that sets you free” (transparency, openness, honesty)
A quote from General Janis Karpinski:
“We were all taken in government took advantage of us in our reeling response to 911, at weakest moment we know who did this, we need to go get them. We all bought in to it, because we were afraid, kept reminding us that we needed to be afraid, be very afraid that was the justification to march forward with this ridiculous plan they reminded to be afraid”
Americans and others around the world when vigilant about what is done in their name, can ensure a free and open society. Secrecy and silence is the sign of repression and dictatorship. Ignorance may be convenient and soothing to ignore truths bravely revealed but eventually it comes home to roost. That is when people say its “not fair”.
Strangely I found this interview by chance as I looked at a documentary on Netflicks that showed a place called Abu Ghraib in Egypt. It was about pyramids. My curiosity about what this name meant lead me to Janis Karpinski, a female commanding officer who ran 17 detention centre in Iraq and was targeted as responsible (without trial) for Abu Ghraib torture and rendition. The interview reveals, she was indeed set up by those at the top. She was kept in the dark about the interrogations and kept busy as the real architects former US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, General Sanchez and others gave the green light to torture with the “gloves off”. They had outcomes they wanted to see. She reveals how power works and operates secretly and the insanity of sweeping for thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens, some of whom had violated curfew, others petty criminals to find themselves imprisoned and tortured for information they didn’t know. The objective in Iraq was to find Saddam Hussein, this was an agenda of those at the top and has Scott Ritter indicated was not about weapons of mass destruction (cover story). Andrew Wilkie here in Australia was a whistle-blower in respect of the Australian Government following the US in an illegal war of aggression. He was an Intelligence Officer with the Officer of National Assessment on the Iraqi desk and he indicated there was low threat to Australians. In truth there was no threat to Australians or Americans. The Australian Government was supportive of this war. This is very concerning. It appears unconditional support. I would ask why?
Brigadeir General Karpinksi said the majority of those incarcerated were ordinary Iraqi citizens, some well educated, swept up, inclusive of whole families, detained in these facilities without any idea of the charges or when they would be released. It had been made clear to her that because they were not “prisoners of war” they did not receive the rights and just treatment provided under the Geneva Conventions. She was told bluntly they had “no rights”. Note this is a departure from a democratic philosophy towards dictatorship.
Warning bells should go off at this point as this is illegal as they are detained without trial. I contemplated the refugees “detained” here in Australia as I listened to her. I contemplated protestors detained for 14 days without trial under the ASIO Act, I interviewed Scott Parkin a US citizen held for protesting and teaching nonviolent techniques to effectively protest Halliburton (key contractor in Iraq) in Sydney. I contemplated the cowardice (as she put it) of those in command who manipulated events to portray her as the one responsible for torture at Abu Ghraib. This is deception at the highest levels.
She also dropped a bomb shell so to speak when she stated the photos were deliberately done (as was the war). The interrogators apparently received the techniques from Guantanamo Bay.
It seems very clear from listening that the need “to win the war” is what drove these decisions from the top. A rationale of the ends justifies the means. When means is what creates the ends in truth. Following the rules of war, the military and Geneva Conventions. It is clear that civilians were treated like potential criminals and mixed in with those who were combatants. Ironically, combatants have protections under the Geneva Conventions but not the civilians do not, this is very disturbing, this means they can do anything to them. She reflected on the rights of US citizens, the right to go before a court, which the Iraqi’s requested (lawyers) and were denied as there were not enough lawyers they said (I doubt that is true). Human Rights Lawyers came to Guantanamo to determine test cases as here is a democracy violating its own principles and laws in another country, as it is not held to account. That is revealing as the mask of decency is off. So a key principle of a democratic system is to go before a judge was denied, to be provided with an attorney (equality before the law) and the right to a fair hearing (without bias). She stated the Iraqi judiciary, despite Saddam Hussein’s abuses, were extremely fair better than US courts.
She had extensive experience in the Middle East and often talked to local people to find out what they thought. She had respect for the Iraqi people and contrasted them with the US people. She said they were well educated. She said if Americans stood in the shoes of Iraqi’s how they might feel in the army came and shot their neighbours and they knew were next. What if your whole family is taken away. This is a General making this statement. Apparently the women and mothers would wait outside the prison in hope their fathers, brothers and uncles would be released. They went after men around 28 with beards (all men had beards). She was astounded at how easily American’s believe their leaders.
She also spoke of wanting to make a positive difference, she had trained women in the United Arab Emirites in the military. I am sure she would have offended those in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries given their attitudes to women. Clearly in the US she was pioneering women in the military and sought to be taken seriously by demanding leadership roles. That discrimination in my view is still very evident.
The fact she was blamed and selected given she is a woman, is not surprising to me, as this incensed the population more given how women are perceived. Her demonisation was a skilfull intelligence deflection from those responsible, whom she called cowards, and the truth of who actually ordered the interrogations. She was deceived and then made a scapegoat, this is a great travesty of justice and it happens when good people do nothing. I totally understand the humiliation of being targeted with allegations that are untrue. The stress of not being able to defend yourself or access justice but put in a position where she must defend herself and the many who won’t believe her. She didn’t even have a hearing nor did anyone speak to her face. She experienced no response, secrecy and orchestrated behind her back. She was encouraged to return to the US from Iraq assured her career was fine. It was not. She was vilified and this is a form of victimisation (bullying) that is noteworthy.
She makes a very powerful quote at the end of this radio program (see below). It is recommended listening given the times we are moving through, the changes to legislation restricting rights (here in Australia), the blind eye to human rights violations and the notion of democracy as just a word not a way of life. It is evident democracy is no longer real when leaders do not live the values their country states it believes in. It is clear in the case of Americans it is no longer life, liberty and happiness that is valued. Until citizens claim their democratic right to speak up, ask questions and actually investigate what is being done in their name, this will only worsen as people are not held to account. This appears the only way they learn or dissuades others from totalitarian objectives that ignore the rights of others. This is the era of human rights in my view.
Fear is a tactic used in the war on terror. It is noteworthy to reflect on demonisation in all its forms. However, the truth is coming out and this is a good thing. It is up to people to make up their own minds, as Janis advises.
All soldiers (no matter the country) need to reflect deeply on those at the top and if they are being placed in harms way, to ask is this in defence of freedoms or to protect the wealth of a few without any regard for the safety or rights of civilians (innocent people). Something to deeply ponder.
As a briefing prior to the audio click the link to an interview with George Negus, who is a highly respected journalist and foreign correspondent in Australia who has interviewed Brigadeir General Janis Karpinski, this will make her side clearer and provides a written transcript identifying names. Refer https://www.sbs.com.au/news/janis-karpinski-interview
We must teach children peace education, universal values, anti-discrimination training and questioning (critical thinking) in order to prevent future abuses or deception. Moreover, we need to train them in conflict resolution so they learn how to resolve conflict and not model on war games. I wish for the wars to be over as they do not work. They are utilised as is becoming clearer by vested interests who are in it for profit not peace. I note that the US and Israel pulled out of United Nations Education, Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) this was promoting peace education around the world. It is noteworthy that they are not interested in peace. Refer https://www.sbs.com.au/news/us-pulls-out-of-unesco-over-anti-israel-bias The israeli lobby comes to mind. The issue of one vote one value in a democracy comes to mind and the fact that no particular group should have disproportionate influence over government.
Conflict resolution should be mandatory for every soldier so they can be utilised as peace keepers to keep warring parties apart, to communicate effectively (raised in Janis audio) and help with environmental or climate disasters, ensure human rights and work as honorable peace keeping units to serve society and global peace. That is their foremost function not to serve corruption in any form. So they do not need to lose jobs but be deployed in service to humanity. They won’t be hated in this type of deployment. The New Earth Army was one example by Colonel Jim Channon. Violence cannot at any point teach peace, although it does strengthen the desire for peace. In that I see its purpose.
As for illegality and projection of power in the service of cruelty and business interests (contractors), it is imperative that kangaroo courts are not set up to make it appear that justice is done without evidence or a fair hearing. This is why the Justice system is important and the ethics and training of Judges must be impeccable. They must be incorruptible, neutral and imbued with fairness as this is what ensures real security, rights and freedoms which are the basis of a civil society. There have been calls for war crimes tribunals for George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld former CEO of Halliburton (Oil industry). The fact that the US military is aligned with the Energy Industry immediately leads to the conclusion as the reason for US warfare, this must be investigated as millions of people are being killed. Refer https://www.alternet.org/story/44213/the_war_crimes_case_against_donald_rumsfeld Amercian’s speak of being patriotic to their country, however it is the duty of citizens to say no to abuses in their names. There is an unquestioned allegiance to the military which has been a deliberate strategy to ensure no critiques, this is how power and control works. Moreover, countries like Australia have a duty as good friends to speak the truth to power if they know they are engaged in criminality. It matters not if it is civilians in other countries or in the home country. Leaders values influence their citizens.
The audio interview with General Janis Karpinsky is as follows: