Friday, September 30, 2005

torture update

The Bush administration's ongoing efforts to sanction and cover up torture and inhumane treatment of detainees by US troops continues, with a couple of new developments this week. As ever, Andrew Sullivan is all over this story.

Capt. Ian Fishback, after trying to get from his superiors a firm definition of what treatment of military detainees US policy allows for 17 months, recently went to the Senate and Human Rights Watch with his concerns. In a letter to Senator John McCain earlier this month, he wrote:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The NYTimes quotes Fishback:
"We did not set the conditions for our soldiers to succeed," said Captain Fishback, who has served combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We failed to set clear standards, communicate those standards and enforce those standards. For us to get to that point now, however, we have to come to grips with whether it's acceptable to use coercion to obtain information from detainees."

By this summer, Captain Fishback had met with Human Rights Watch researchers several times. He gave the organization the names of other members of his unit who could support his allegations.
Now the Pentagon is paying attention. But they are not working to clarify US policy or punish those responsible for the failures that led to torture and deaths of detainees—rather, they are trying to silence Fishback.
An Army captain who reported new allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq said Tuesday that Army investigators seemed more concerned about tracking down young soldiers who reported misconduct than in following up the accusations and investigating whether higher-ranking officers knew of the abuses.

The officer, Capt. Ian Fishback, said investigators from the Criminal Investigation Command and the 18th Airborne Corps inspector general had pressed him to divulge the names of two sergeants from his former battalion who also gave accounts of abuse, which were made public in a report last Friday by the group Human Rights Watch.

Captain Fishback, speaking publicly on the matter for first time, said the investigators who have questioned him in the past 10 days seemed to be less interested in individuals he identified in his chain of command who allegedly committed the abuses.

"I'm convinced this is going in a direction that's not consistent with why we came forward," Captain Fishback said in a telephone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he is going through Army Special Forces training. "We came forward because of the larger issue that prisoner abuse is systemic in the Army. I'm concerned this will take a new twist, and they'll try to scapegoat some of the younger soldiers. This is a leadership problem."

Sullivan makes the case for why this story should be in the headlines:
The bottom line, as the NYT reports today, is that the military and the Bush administration are determined to stop any real investigation about how torture and abuse came to be so widespread in the U.S. military. The scapegoating of retarded underlings like Lynndie England is an attempt to deflect real responsibility for the new pro-torture policies that go all the way to the White House. It's a disgusting cover-up and it rests on breaking the will and resolve of decent servicemen and women brave enough to expose wrong-doing.

. . .

We have administration memos allowing for de facto torture of "enemy combatants" if "military necessity" demands it; we have new, Bush-approved legal definitions of torture that nevertheless allow all the kinds of horrors we have seen at Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Bagram, Guantanamo, Basra, Camp Mercury and dozens of other sites in the war arena. We have decorated captains testifying at great risk to themselves what has been happening - and we have a clear record of the administration's attempts to silence and intimidate them. I wonder what is required for this to become the national outrage it should be.

It would be nice if the American people cared that their government had implemented a policy that led to the torture and deaths of innocent detainees. But frankly, it's too much trouble getting into the details of who was guilty and who wasn't, or what level of force was used, in what circumstances, and whether it was used properly. These are complicated issues, and Iraq and Afghanistan are far away. "Those people are not Americans, they must have been doing something wrong to be in jail in the first place, and our troops have to defend themselves." This will be the standard reaction, if this story ever makes it into the national consciousness, which it probably won't.

Impugning the integrity of our soldiers goes against everything we are taught from kindergarten—it's not patriotic. If we don't care much what happens to prisoners within our own borders—and we don't—why would we care what happens to non-Americans in a place where we are at war, where our soldiers are being killed? Most Americans just don't care what happens to "those people," and that's why this story will probably never fully break.

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