May 11, 2004
Will the Torture at Abu Ghraib (Finally) Open Americans' Eyes?
Why Iraq is Becoming More Like Vietnam Every Day
by Maureen Farrell
"The reports have been emerging only slowly, but they are chilling. American intelligence agents have been torturing terrorist suspects, or engaging in practices pretty close to torture." -- The Economist, Jan. 11, 2003
"The unreleased images show American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, and taping Iraqi guards raping young boys, according to NBC News." – The Boston Herald, May 8, 2004
"Because we acted, torture rooms are closed, rape rooms no longer exist, mass graves are no longer a possibility in Iraq." -- President Bush, at an event in Michigan, May 3, 2004
* * *
In December, 2002, the Washington Post ran back-to-back articles on America’s alleged use of torture to interrogate detainees at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Describing allegations that captives were often "softened up" by less than legal means, the Post explained: "The picture that emerges is of a brass-knuckled quest for information, often in concert with allies of dubious human rights reputation, in which the traditional lines between right and wrong, legal and inhumane, are evolving and blurred." Or, as one official bluntly put it: "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job." [Washington Post]
The next day, in an op-ed entitled "Torture Is Not An Option," the Post explained: "There are certain things democracies don't do, even under duress, and torture is high on the list . . . The critical first step is for the administration to clarify what [interrogation] tactics it is using and which are still off limits. If administration officials have decided that moderate physical pressure -- once an abuse -- is now to be the norm in terrorism cases, the American people ought to know. . .It shouldn't be the administration's unilateral call." [Washington Post]
Months later, in June, 2003, President Bush attempted to ease concerns. "I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture. And we are leading this fight by example," he said. Yet, as we all now know, the U.S. has not exactly been a role model. And, as the legendary journalist Seymour Hersh has said, the torture at Abu Ghraib was the result of a "decision made somewhere up high up in the line." "This is such a deep problem," Hersh said during a May 3, 2004 PBS interview. "The problems began in Afghanistan. . . what you're seeing is the result of a decision made somewhere up high up in the line that we're going to turn our prisons essentially into all of them into Guantanamos." [PBS]
In the meantime, according to a report by Joe Conason, senior officers in the military's legal division, the Judge Advocate General [JAG] Corps, sought out prominent New York attorney Scott Horton and expressed concerns over the military's detention and interrogation procedures. Specifically, they charged that Douglas J. Feith, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, had "significantly weakened the military's rules and regulations governing prisoners of war" and, along with Defense Department's general counsel, William J. Haynes II, was "creating ‘an atmosphere of legal ambiguity’ that would allow mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan." [Salon.com]
Whether or not all roads lead to the DOD, Hersh says that the CIA and private contractors were "directly and indirectly responsible for everything that happened inside that prison." Referring to the now famous 53 page report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, he told Hardball's Chris Matthews that the Taguba report "suggests that we have a systematic problem inside the military, that it's not just a question of a few kids doing one or two acts that were photographed. It suggests that this is widespread."
A Few Bad Apples?
"The one thing you can do to an Arab man [is] to shame him . . . It's all done to break down somebody before interrogation. Do you think those kids [in the Abu Ghraib photos] thought this up? It's inconceivable. The intelligence people had this done." – Seymour Hersh, CNN, May 2, 2004
"It is a common thing to abuse prisoners. I saw beatings all the time." – Army National Guard MP Sgt. Mike Sindar, New York Times, May 7, 2004
In addition to unearthing widespread abuse, Hersh has debunked the Pentagon’s early claim that the Abu Ghraib scandal merely involved a half a dozen sadistic kids indulging their baser instincts. "So you don‘t buy the bad apples defense?" Hardball's Chris Matthews asked. "It’s the first thing I would do if I were running the Army," Hersh responded. "I’d say there’s a couple bad apples. That’s what we heard from General Kimmitt and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.. . . [the bad apple defense is] not going to hold up. . . What we’re going to discover as Taguba basically almost says literally, but that’s the whole gist of his report, systemic throughout the system." [MSNBC]
Of course, given that the Army is conducting 20 criminal investigations in Iraq and Afghanistan [Unwire.org] it's amazing that the Pentagon would even try to peddle the easily disproven "bad seed" defense. "General Meyers [says], this was not -- there's no evidence of systematic abuse. This may have been a few soldiers simply going bad," Wolf Blitzer told Hersh on May 2. "Taguba says otherwise," Hersh responded. "He says this is across the board." [CNN]
The next day, on PBS, Hersh noted attempts to pass the buck. "It’s the notion that the high command, the president, the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Kimmitt in Iraq put out to the American people, 'bad seed, these are bad kids', that's what I find offensive," Hersh said.
Meanwhile, the Taguba report reveals that the "bad seeds" were doing exactly as they were told:
* "SPC Sabrina Harman, 372nd MP Company, stated in her sworn statement regarding the incident where a detainee was placed on a box with wires attached to his fingers, toes, and penis, "that her job was to keep detainees awake.". . . She stated: "MI [Military Intelligence] wanted to get them to talk."
* "When asked what MI said, he stated: "Loosen this guy up for us." Make sure he has a bad night." "Make sure he gets the treatment. . . ."-- SGT Javal S. Davis' sworn testimony
* They made them do strange exercises by sliding on their stomach, jump up and down, throw water on them and made them some wet, called them all kinds of names such as ‘gays’ do they like to make love to guys, then they handcuffed their hands together and their legs with shackles and started to stack them on top of each other by insuring that the bottom guys penis will touch the guy on tops butt." -- Adel L. Nakhla’s testimony
The Secret War
"The enormous gap between what US leaders do in the world and what Americans think their leaders are doing is one of the great propaganda accomplishments of the dominant political mythology." -- Michael Parenti
"Grisly photographs taken at Abu Ghraib prison of two dead men may indicate that the violence at the prison went far beyond degrading treatment of detainees. The Bush administration has provided only limited information about one of the men; the other remains a mystery." -- The New York Times, May 7, 2004
Sixteen years ago Bill Moyers addressed the Constitutional and ethical dilemmas posed by hiring shadowy entities to wage wars, stage coups and function without Congressional oversight. Now that private contractors and CIA interrogators are making headlines, Moyers’ revelations have proven prescient:
Eerily applicable to aforementioned JAG officers' concerns that Abu Ghraib has become a legal no-man's land, wherein civilian contractors are exempt from the Uniform Code of Military Justice (and therefore carry out interrogations without traditional restraints), Moyers' warning that "we are never really sure who, or what they’re doing" resonates.
If, as JAG officers reportedly contend, Feith and the Defense Department's general counsel were creating "an atmosphere of legal ambiguity" that "would allow mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan," who authorized this? And does any of this have anything to do with the U.S. "unsigning" the international criminal court treaty? [International Herald Tribune]
According to Conason, after meeting with JAG officials last fall, Horton and other members of the New York bar compiled a 110-page report which "leaves no doubt that the practices revealed at Abu Ghraib violated both U.S. and international law." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also says that he believes that the problem lies within the military's legal system. "Bells went off in my head when Senator McCain was asking questions of the Pentagon, 'What were the rules? Who set the terms of interrogation?', Graham said on Meet the Press. Saying that he's convinced "that there is system failure here," he says he's "very worried" that interrogation techniques were "in violation of military law and human decency." [MSNBC]
Fighting Terror With Terror
"The implication or latent threat of terror was sufficient to insure that the people would comply."-- William Colby, creator of the CIA's Phoenix Program in Vietnam
"They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice for approximately 24 hours in the shower in 1B. The next day the medics came in and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away. This O.G.A. was never processed and therefore never had a number." -- From the diary of Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick, as reported in the Guardian, New York Times and other publications
A couple weeks ago, Sen. John Kerry was dragged across the patriotic coals for asserting that he and his fellow soldiers might have "committed atrocities" in Vietnam. Though he might as well have said "ice is freezing," some, like Karen Hughes, feigned outrage. [CNN] But soldiers did commit atrocities, and those atrocities, like the ones we’re now seeing in Iraq, were not only systemic, but were also conducted under the guise of benevolence and Mom's apple pie.
And while many have evoked My Lai this past week (especially since Seymour Hersh was the journalist who uncovered that atrocity, too), many have also missed the larger point: My Lai, like Abu Ghraib, was the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
"Some psychological warfare [psywar] guy in Washington thought of a way to scare the hell out of villagers," CIA officer Pat McGarvey confided to Seymour Hersh. "When we killed the VC there, they wanted us to spread eagle the guy, put out his eye, cut a hole in the back [of his head] and put his eye in there. The idea was that fear was a good weapon" [CounterPunch.org] Meanwhile a July 3, 2003 obituary for two-time Purple Heart and CIA Star winner Anthony A. Poshepny (Tony Poe) shows the nature of a former U.S. attempt at liberation. "A decorated, former CIA official who collected enemy ears, dropped decapitated human heads from the air on to communists and stuck heads on spikes. . . [Tony Poe ] twice won a CIA Star -- the Central Intelligence Agency's highest award -- from directors Allen Dulles, in 1959, and William Colby, in 1975," the obituary reported.
'"I used to collect ears," a cheerful Poshepny was quoted as telling Roger Warner in his book, Shooting at the Moon. . . 'I had a big, green, reinforced cellophane bag as you walked up my steps. I'd tell my people to put them in, and then I'd staple them to this 5,000 kip [Lao currency] notice that this [ear] was paid for already, and put them in the bag and send them to [the Laos capital] Vientiane with the report." [Bangkok Post]
Deeming himself "a dedicated Cold Warrior who felt the agency was out there fighting for liberty, justice and democracy and religion around the world," former Notre Dame all-American and CIA agent Ralph McGeehee underscored what happens when one country tries to dominate another. "We were murdering these people, incinerating them. My efforts had resulted in the deaths of many people and I just – for me it was a period when guess I was – I considered myself nearly insane – I just couldn’t reconcile what I had been and what I was at the time becoming," McGeehee said.
Other "secret warriors," however, did not suffer such pangs. "Some of the team that later joined the Iran-Contra enterprise, helped to run the secret war in Laos," Moyers explained. "As General Richard Secord later put it, "Laos belonged to the CIA."
Meanwhile, Bush's more infamous appointees include Iran-Contra alumni Elliott Abrams, Otto Reich and American Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte. [FAIR]
The Ugly American
"This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?" – Rush Limbaugh, on the torture at Abu Ghraib
"The American public needs to understand, we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience; we're talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges." -- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on the torture at Abu Ghraib
After America’s triumph in the first Gulf War, George Bush the father said, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome." But it looks like George Bush the son might be the one to bring it back.
Because even before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, The National Review asserted that America needed to turn up the heat and spend "several decades" in Iraq [Antiwar.com]; the Christian Science Monitor reported on the post-occupation rise of "carefully planned assassinations" of Iraq's scientists, professors, and academics" [Christian Science Monitor]; and a USA Today poll reported that 71% of Iraqis (or 81% if you discount the Kurds) view America as an occupier, not a liberator. As a Baghdad blogger recently put it, "just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go." [RiverBendBlog]
Given everything we now know, how can anyone continue to cast America as a World War II-era benevolent giant? In the "W.W.II Vs Vietnam" debate, Vietnam is wearing the gold medal. No, it's time for blind self-congratulation [San Francisco Chronicle] to give way to humility and truth. Because, tragically, the myths that have been propagated have allowed the U.S. government to literally get away with murder. And if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that ignorance is not a very good substitute for "patriotism."
And though it's tempting to cling to the narratives that make us feel good, in the end, reality catches up with us any way. Right about the time William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan were promising that America would "demonstrate to all the compatibility of its interests and ideals" and make the world "a safer and more just place," for example, the Guardian's George Monibot was saying 'It will end in disaster.' "The United States, like Israel, will discover that occupation is bloody and, ultimately, unsustainable," he wrote. "Its troops will be harassed by snipers and suicide bombers, and its response to them will alienate even the people who were grateful for the overthrow of Saddam." [Guardian]
So at this juncture, believing in the Bush administration means embracing incompetence. And while the Taguba report reportedly went unread by the Pentagon brass, are we to believe that the Red Cross report on torture delivered to the Bush administration earlier this year did, too? And though Paul Bremer was reportedly told of the abuse in November [Guardian] are we expected to believe that CNN knew about the abuse at Abu Ghraib in January [CNN] while the president remained "out of the loop?" For God's sake, if the President had tuned into Wolf Blitzer's May 2, 2004 interview with Seymour Hersh, perhaps he would have learned about the abuse and not said, a mere one day later, "Because we acted, torture rooms are closed [and] rape rooms no longer exist. . . in Iraq." [WhiteHouse.gov]
But then, too, other government branches didn't help either. Fearful that his nephew and other underlings would end up as scapegoats, William Lawson (the uncle of Army reservist Staff Sgt. Ivan I. Frederick II) sent 17 letters to Congress about the situation at Abu Ghraib, to no avail. Finally, Lawson turned to retired Army Colonel David Hackworth's Web site and came in contact with a consultant for 60 Minutes II. "The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out, not to be on 60 Minutes," Lawson told the New York Times. "But the Army decided to prosecute those six G.I.'s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it.'"
But maybe now that the country's Lawsons and Tagubas and Hershes are revealing the truth, Americans' eyes will finally open. Let's hope so. After all, if "we the people" can’t see clearly, how will we ever see our way out of this mess?
* * *
The Taguba Report [MSNBC]
THE AMERICAN WAY OF TORTURE: 'If We're Not in the Room, Who Is to Say?' [Village Voice]
THE DARK ART OF INTERROGATION [The Atlantic]
TORTURE AT ABU GHRAIB: American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go? [The New Yorker]
OPERATION PHOENIX RISES FROM THE ASHES OF HISTORY: Death squads didn’t work in Vietnam, but the CIA is betting they’ll be great in Iraq [Orange County Weekly]
TORTURE: Ends, means and barbarity [The Economist]
RUEFUL RUMSFELD: `Cruel' truth hurts: Rape and murder feared in Iraq abuse [Boston Herald]
"SOMETIMES THEY PRETENDED TO KILL ME: An Al-Jazeera cameraman detained and tortured at Abu Ghraib recalls beatings, threats and photos of torture victims used as screen savers on military PCs" [Salon.com]
Torture in the news: http://www.buzzflash.com/contributors/04/05/con04198.html
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original