Sunday, May 23, 2004

Wait--There's More Bad Apples

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports here:

While world attention was focused on the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, two Marines were court-martialed May 14 for abusing an Iraqi prisoner with electricity, it was disclosed yesterday.

Five more Marines have been implicated in the same early April incident at a Marine-run detention facility and might face charges, according to Marine officials in Iraq.

Andrew J. Sting and Jeremiah J. Trefney, both 19 and privates first class assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune, N.C., pleaded guilty to charges that included cruelty and maltreatment for shocking an unruly prisoner, according to a Marine statement in response to questions from The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The East Coast-based infantry battalion is attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which has headquarters in San Diego.

The prisoner had been detained at Al Mahmudiya prison.

Sting was sentenced to a year in jail and Trefney received eight months. Both were reduced in rank, will forfeit all pay and will leave the military with a bad conduct discharge.

Notice that the last two reports are NOT from Abu Ghraib.

A Few More Bad Apples

The LATimes reports here:

A military investigator has concluded that low-ranking Marines repeatedly struck two defenseless Iraqis at a makeshift prison camp last June, and one of the detainees died after he was left disabled and naked under a scorching sun.

In two reports obtained by The Times, Marine Col. William V. Gallo also criticized an investigation into the death, saying the deceased Iraqi's bodily fluids were mishandled by investigators and were destroyed on the way to a laboratory for analysis.

* * *

Although Gallo found no evidence of the type of abuse or sexual humiliation depicted in photographs from Abu Ghraib, he did report that testimony showed that the Marine guards at Camp Whitehorse used a stressing technique known as 50/10, in which detainees were required to stand for 50 minutes out of every hour. The tactic was used until the arrival of trained interrogators — members of a "Human Intelligence Exploitation Team" — sometimes as long as eight hours later.

Several guards testified at hearings late last year and early this year that they were directed by the interrogators to use the technique "as a means to soften up a detainee before the initial interview occurred," Gallo wrote. Two military intelligence interrogators denied this in testimony at the same hearings, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing in a criminal case. But Gallo concluded in his reports that someone from the intelligence unit "must have directed or strongly suggested" that guards use the tactic.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The Actions of a Few

I have been thinking some about the Bush administration's response that the whole Abu Ghraib affair should be brushed aside and focus placed on more pressing issues because it is simply "the actions of a few" and does not represent "the true nature and heart of America" according to Bush in his apology to Jordan's King Abdullah [AP](I never did figure out why Bush apologized to Jordan for the prison abuses). And it finally struck me that we are asking the Arab world to measure us not by the actions of those few derelict soldiers (assuming that is an accurate assessment of the situation), but rather by the conduct of all Americans. However, when it comes to the Global War on Terror, the Bush administration and many who support the war continue to condemn and oppress the Arab world based on the actions of a few.

For example, Senator Inhofe expressed "outrage at the outrage" at the Senate Hearing on May 11 (NYT) because the prisoners we are so concerned about are all (in Inhofe's mind) murderers, insurgents, and terrorists. And almost to prove his point, "those people" decapitated Nicholas Berg--one of "us"--that same day.

Contrary to Senator Inhofe's suggestions, the ICRC claims that most of the Abu Ghraib prisoners (up to 90%) are innocent. At the very least, we know that Abu Ghraib prisoners were not "high value"--the "high value" campers got extra-special treatment at a separate facility near the Baghdad Airport (that is now being investigated too [MSNBC]).

My point is that many of the problems that we face now and will continue to face in battling this Global War on Terror stems from separating "us" from "them," and holding "us" to a different standard than "them." How many Fallujans did we kill to avenge the deaths of four civilian contractors? Were they all murderers, insurgents, and terrorists too? Until we are willing to extend the same basic liberties that we consider inalienable for ourselves to all those who share this planet, there will be terrorism. Until we are willing to accept that the actions of a few others do not justify waging war on all others, we cannot hope to persuade the world that the actions of a few of "us" should not reflect poorly upon America.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

You Call Yourself a Patriot and a Republican?

From this article in today's NYT:

Today, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert was asked about Mr. McCain's view that Congress should not enact tax cuts during wartime because it keeps the public from developing the sense of shared sacrifice that war requires. Mr. Hastert, who was discussing tax cuts, the Republican budget and $50 billion for the war in Iraq, had had enough.

"Who?" asked Mr. Hastert as he heard Mr. McCain's name. "Where is he from? Is he a Republican?"

Then Mr. Hastert really unloaded on Mr. McCain, who sustained lifelong injuries as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

"John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda," Mr. Hastert said. "There is the sacrifice in this country. We are trying to make sure they have the ability to fight this war, that they have the wherewithal to do it. At the same time we have to react to keep this country strong not only militarily, but economically. We have to have the flexibility to do it. That is my answer to John McCain."

According to Noted Now [ABCNews], McCain responded thusly:

"I fondly remember a time when real Republicans stood for fiscal responsibility. Apparently those days are long gone for some in our party."

Monday, May 10, 2004

Could It Be?

President Bush has scheduled a press conference at 11:30 ET at the Pentagon...

Update: That press conference was worthless. And my prediction was wrong. I am constantly amazed at the depth of this administration's denial. But I am even more amazed that the people have lost all affect. Rape? Torture? Those are just things that happen during wartime, and anyone who thinks otherwise is hopelessly naive. International disgrace? Who cares, so long as things look good at home. Lies? Everyone's a liar. And anyone accusing this administration of doing bad things is obviously making those accusations for political purposes.

No, the Bush administration isn't giving Rumsfeld walking papers. They are giving him accolades. President Bush (according to the AP): Secretary Rumsfeld "is doing a superb job"--he's a strong secretary and the nation owes him a debt of gratitude. Vice President Cheney (according to Reuters): He's the best Secretary of Defense the United States has ever had. People ought to get off Rumsfeld's case and let him do his job.

God bless America.

Questioning Prisoners of War

Both the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and the U.S. Law of Land Warfare have this to say about the questioning of prisoners of war:

Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information. If he wilfully infringes this rule, he may render himself liable to a restriction of the privileges accorded to his rank or status.

Each Party to a conflict is required to furnish the persons under its jurisdiction who are liable to become prisoners of war, with an identity card showing the owner's surname, first names, rank, army, regimental, personal or serial number or equivalent information, and date of birth. The identity card may, furthermore, bear the signature or the fingerprints, or both, of the owner, and may bear, as well, any other information the Party to the conflict may wish to add concerning persons belonging to its armed forces. As far as possible the card shall measure 6.5 x 10 cm. and shall be issued in duplicate. The identity card shall be shown by the prisoner of war upon demand, but may in no case be taken away from him.

No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

Prisoners of war who, owing to their physical or mental condition, are unable to state their identity, shall be handed over to the medical service. The identity of such prisoners shall be established by all possible means, subject to the provisions of the preceding paragraph.

The questioning of prisoners of war shall be carried out in a language which they understand.

Section VI, which discusses quarters, food, and clothing, states that POWs "shall be quartered under conditions as favorable as those for the forces of the Detaining Power who are billeted in the same area. The said conditions shall make allowance for the habits and customs of the prisoners and shall in no case be prejudicial to their health."

I leave it to you to decide whether the Pentagon's approved tactics of "sensory assault" (as described in this WP story) constitute exposure "to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind," and whether the conditions in Abu Ghraib were the same as those provided to U.S. troops in Baghdad.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

The Taguba Report and "National Security"

My second concern regarding Rumsfeld's testimony is his explanation about how the investigation of prisoner abuse was handled within the military. As Rumsfeld repeatedly emphasized, the military began an investigation in January, and we now know that Major General Taguba released his report in February. It was classified. Why? When that question was posed to Rumsfeld in a press conference on May 4th, this is what he and General Pace had to say:

Q: General, a quick follow-up on that, please. Could you explain to us why the Taguba report was classified secret, no foreign distribution? Those of us who have read the report, there's clearly nothing in there that's inherently secret, such as intelligence sources and methods or troop movements. Was this kept secret because it would be embarrassing to the world, particularly the Arab world?

GEN. PACE: First of all, I do not know specifically why it was labeled secret. Potentially there are parts of the hundreds and hundreds of pages of documentation that are classified. I do not know that to be a fact, but normally we will classify a document at the highest level of anything that's in that document.

But as the secretary pointed out, immediately we told the world that we thought we had a problem. So there has been no attempt to hide this. What we've been trying to do is find out the truth of the matter so we can get on about correcting; finding out who did what, and then taking a proper action.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you say why it was classified secret? Do you know?

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, you'd have to ask the classifier.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: Mr. Secretary? Taking into account –

SEC. RUMSFELD: You can ask General Casey, who's going to be down here discussing that later.

I don't know whether General Casey indeed discussed that later. As far as I have been able to find, there has been no explanation for why the Taguba report was classified.

On March 25, 2003, President Bush issued Executive Order 13292 that sets forth the policies and procedures for classifying information. It provides (in section 1.1) that "information may be originally classified under the terms of this order only if all of the following conditions are met:"

(1) an original classification authority is classifying the information;
(2) the information is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States Government;
(3) the information falls within one or more of the categories of information listed in section 1.4 of this order; and
(4) the original classification authority determines that the unauthorized disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism, and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage.

The DOD is considered an "original classification authority," so requirement #1 is met. The report was produced by the US Government, so #2 is ok. What about #3? The categories of information that can be classified according to section 1.4 are as follows:

(a) military plans, weapons systems, or operations;
(b) foreign government information;
(c) intelligence activities (including special activities), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology;
(d) foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources;
(e) scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism;
(f) United States Government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities;
(g) vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism; or
(h) weapons of mass destruction.

For the life of me, I cannot see how the Taguba report fits within any of those categories. And more importantly, section 1.7(a)(1) provides: "In no case shall information be classified in order to:
(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error.

I am disappointed that no member of Congress asked Rumsfeld about this (as far as I know). There has also been very little press coverage. The Federation of American Scientists issued a press release stating "Torture Report May Have Broken Classification Rules," and according to this WP article the group sent a letter to J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office (the office responsible for overseeing classified material), seeking an explanation. CNet's also published a story on this, and Friday's Democracy Now broadcast also mentioned the issue. But this certainly deserves more coverage, and a better explanation from the government.

Command Influence

There are two lingering concerns that I have after Secretary Rumsfeld's testimony in front of Congress. First, Rumsfeld suggested that the "command influence" doctrine somehow prevented him and other high-level DOD officials from learning too much about the claims of torture because their knowledge could somehow influence military prosecutions. That is a preposterous interpretation of the command influence doctrine. The Judge Advocate General School for the Air Force has published an instruction book entitled The Military Commmander and the Law that it uses to instruct commanders on the law and "it also serves as a handy reference guide for commanders in the field, providing general guidance and helping commanders to clarify issues and identify potential problem areas." That publication has a section dedicated to "Unlawful Command Influence." It explains what the doctrine prohibits:

A superior commander must not direct a subordinate commander to impose a particular punishment or take a particular action. To do so would constitute unlawful command influence because the decision was not that of the commander taking action or imposing punishment, but rather that of the superior commander.

The key consideration is whether a commander is taking disciplinary action based upon that commander?s own personal belief that the disciplinary action is appropriate or whether the commander is merely acquiescing to direction from a superior to impose the particular discipline.

It also explains what the doctrine does not prohibit:

Superior commanders are not prohibited from establishing and communicating policies necessary to maintenance of good order and discipline. They are also free to pass on their experience and advise subordinate commanders regarding disciplinary matters. Having done so, however, the superior commander must then step back and allow the subordinates to exercise their discretion in the matter.

It is simply ridiculous to assert that the command influence doctrine prohibits Secretary Rumsfeld or General Myers (or any other commander below them) from obtaining information regarding the conduct of its troops, particularly where that information is necessary to evaluate whether troop conduct complies with the obligations imposed by the Geneva Convention. Rumsfeld and others in the chain of command should not make statements that subordinates could interpret as suggesting how a prosecution should be resolved, but of course that does not restrict the flow of information in any way. Along those lines, as the Baltimore Sun explains in this article, Rumsfeld and Bush should be more cautious when making statements like "the wrongdoers will be brought to justice" and labeling the soldiers' behavior as "un-American." But the command influence doctrine simply does not encourage a commander to stick his head in the sand and ignore reports that detail unlawful troop conduct.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Rumsfeld's Senate Performance

The Washington Post has the transcript of Donald Rumsfeld's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee today. Pretty entertaining. John McCain's session was by far the best. Here's an excerpt:

MCCAIN: Thank you.

I'd like to know who was in charge of the -- what agencies or private contractors were in charge of interrogations? Did they have authority over the guards? And what were their instructions to the guards?

RUMSFELD: First, with respect to the...

SMITH: We did not bring it.


SMITH: Yes, oh, my is right.

RUMSFELD: It was all prepared.

SMITH: Yes, it was, indeed.

RUMSFELD: Do you want to walk through it?

MCCAIN: Anyway, who was in charge? What agency or private contractor was in charge of the interrogations? Did they have authority over the guards? And what were the instructions that they gave to the guards?

SMITH: I'll walk through the chain of command and...

MCCAIN: No. Let's just -- you can submit the chain of command, please.

WARNER: General Smith, do you want to respond?

MCCAIN: No. Secretary Rumsfeld, in all due respect, you've got to answer this question. And it could be satisfied with a phone call. This is a pretty simple, straightforward question: Who was in charge of the interrogations? What agencies or private contractors were in charge of the interrogations? Did they have authority over the guards? And what were the instructions to the guards?

This goes to the heart of this matter.

RUMSFELD: It does indeed.

Re: Rummy's Rules

I've seen that before, and I'm pretty sure it's authentic. Although this one seems to be missing:

-When the weapons of mass destruction that you bet the farm on don't turn up, torture the prisoners for more information.

Rummy's Rules

I don't know if this is for real, but all the better if it is (from a Daily KOS discussion).

Talking Points Memo points out that the full PDF version may be found here.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

My Prediction

Either Rumsfeld or Myers will be looking for a new job by the time the weekend is over.

Re: Abu Ghraib

Just a brief follow-up on the previous post. I think there are three distinct and interesting threads to follow on this incident: a) How many troops/contractors had direct involvement in or knowledge of these events, and what will the consequences be for them, b) what sort of policy mistakes were made by higher ranking officers and officials that allowed this sort of conduct to take place and to go unnoticed long enough for it to get so out of hand, who will be held accountable, to what degree, and what procedural changes will be implemented, c) have there been any efforts at a cover-up, if so, who was involved and how far up the chain of command did it go. It may be some time before all of this becomes clear...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Dan Rather and CBS Sat On Abu Ghraib Story for Two Weeks...

... at the request of General Myers. So says the WP. That would not be too problematic in itself, except that General Myers claimed on ABCNews This Week (sorry, I couldn't find the transcript) that he hadn't yet read the Taguba memo (it apparently was working its way up the chain of command). And today, President Bush said during an interview on Al Hurra (an Arab television station):

Q When did you learn about the -- did you see the pictures on TV? When was the first time you heard about --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, the first time I saw or heard about pictures was on TV. However, as you might remember, in early January, General Kimmitt talked about a investigation that would be taking place about accused -- alleged improprieties in the prison. So our government has been in the process of investigating.

So let me get this straight--General Myers knew that CBS was going to break a story about prison abuses, but did not bother to get his hands on--and read--the Taguba report the two weeks during which he managed to stall the CBS story? Moreover, why didn't General Myers talk to the President about the CBS story that was bound to hit soon? Or are we supposed to understand President Bush's response as an equivocation--that he did not see or hear about pictures until the 60 Minutes II story? Give me a break. The Bush administration was keeping wraps on the Taguba report and other instances of abuse that they knew of (those murdered in Afghanistan, for instance), hoping that the stories would never see the light of day. And President Bush has the audacity to say, in that interview with the Arab TV station:

And secondly, there is investigations to determine how widespread abuse may be occurring. And we want to know the truth. I talked to the Secretary of Defense this morning, by the way. I said, find the truth, and then tell the Iraqi people and the world the truth. We have nothing to hide. We believe in transparency, because we're a free society. That's what free societies do. They -- if there's a problem, they address those problems in a forthright, up-front manner. And that's what's taking place.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Cut and Run

John MacArthur in this commentary [Common Dreams] makes the best case I have read so for encouraging the U.S. to abandon Iraq now. I don't agree (yet)--but he gets an "A" for effort. My favorite part:

We welcomed President Thieu and Marshal Ky; we should even find a place for Ahmad Chalabi and the pornographic wardens of Abu Ghraib prison.

The Taguba Report

Complements of MSNBC, here is the full U.S. Army report discussing the widespread abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (or so I've heard--I haven't gotten around to reading this monster yet). Thank you Josh Marshall for pointing to the link (Talking Points Memo has really made itself into a halfway decent blog. It would be all the way decent if they had a slogan like ours).

Yes, America Can

Yes, folks, this is an official Bush-Cheney campaign slogan: Yes, America Can. And with that I think we can safely state that the presidential race has devolved into the Special Olympics.

Just A Question

I was just reading CSM's wrap-up of Abu-Ghraib news, and I had this question: After Fallujah, after Bush's statements on Sharon's plan, after Abu Ghraib, what Muslim arab would dare to align themselves with the US? Of course, according to CSM "this latest incident may not have made all that much difference to many in the Arab world because their opinion of the US had already sunk as low as it could". Whew! Thank goodness for that. I thought this torture thing was really going to hurt us.

Abu Ghraib Prison--Where Democracy Goes to Die

Seymour Hersch once again presents enlightening coverage of the situation and its history in this month's New Yorker Magazine. Horrible atrocities were being reported as early as fall and should have been known to American leaders on all levels no later than February, but some officials maintain they did not learn of any problems with prisoners in our custody until the story was broadcast on 60 Minutes II. How the story will affect the teflon president and American sentiment on the war remains to be seen. But we can be sure that America has just lost its last few friends in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.