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Dogging the torture story

ASK THIS | July 11, 2006

Reporters should demand that the two men most responsible for acts of torture by U.S. forces explain themselves, writes Colin Powell’s former chief of staff -- who says a paper trail clearly links the practice of prisoner abuse to the upper reaches of the Pentagon and Vice President Cheney's office.

By Larry Wilkerson

Ask Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

Q. Define torture.

Q. Do we do torture?

Q. There have been dozens of homicides and more than a hundred deaths in U.S. custody. Is killing someone not the ultimate torture?

Q. If those cases were just the work of bad apples, why were the investigations dragged out so long? Why, for instance, did it take the Army two years before filing charges related to the homicides at Bagram Air Force Base in December 2002?

Q. Why are the sentences for the “bad apples” so light? Isn’t it the case that in these military courts martial, their military peers recognize they were following orders?

Documents and memos that have already made their way into the public domain make it clear that the Office of the Vice President bears responsibility for creating an environment conducive to the acts of torture and murder committed by U.S. forces in the war on terror.

There is, in my view, insufficient evidence to walk into an American courtroom and win a legal case (though an international courtroom for war crimes might feel differently).  But there is enough evidence for a soldier of long service -- someone like me with 31 years in the Army -- to know that what started with John Yoo, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes at the Pentagon, and several others, all under the watchful and willing eye of the Vice President, went down through the Secretary of Defense to the commanders in the field, and created two separate pressures that resulted in the violation of longstanding practice and law.

These two pressures were, on the one hand, the understandable pressure to produce intelligence as rapidly as possible, and on the other hand, the creation of an environment best described as "the gloves coming off" -- or better, the gloves ARE off.  The Bybee memorandum's description of torture as organ failure or beyond gave officials an out when answering questions about "Did we do torture?"

When an official said “no”, he or she meant that we did not do organ failure.  Of course, with 136 deaths in detention and counting--and with 25 or more now confirmed as homicides--even that admission by that standard is now false.

One Report Undone

The following excerpt is from the Executive Summary of the March 2005 report to Secretary Rumsfeld prepared, at the Secretary's direction, by the Navy Inspector General, Vice Admiral Albert Church. It was written to explain the "why" of detainee abuse as much as these investigators understood that "why". The report flatly concludes: “We found no link between approved interrogation techniques and detainee abuse.” (This report was rendered when the totals for abuse were much lower as well).

(U) Underlying Reasons for Abuse

(U) If approved interrogation policy did not cause detainee abuse, the question remains: what did? While we cannot offer a definitive answer, we studied the DoD investigation reports for all 70 cases of closed, substantiated detainee abuse to see if we could detect any patterns or underlying explanations. Our analysis of these 70 cases showed that they involved abuses perpetrated by a variety of active duty, reserve and national guard personnel from three services on different dates and in different locations throughout Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a small number of cases at GTMO. While this diversity argues against a single, overarching reason for abuse, we did identify several factors that may help explain why the abuse occurred.

Then, having declared policy as a non-reason, the authors go on to describe what they believe are the reasons. They describe possible reasons such as “passions [running] high” and failures of leadership. However, if one reads the above statement carefully, then the findings described therein leave the reader asking: If all these details are accurate, then what else other than policy could have been responsible? A variety of people in a variety of units, in different locations at different times with different groups of detainees (a majority of whom, in every place, indisputably were innocent of being terrorists), handled by soldiers, Marines, CIA, and contractors (though the reports looks principally at the military), abused and even murdered detainees. Why did they do it? Can the behavior of such disparate groups, across all areas and all three Services, be explained by any other theory other than that they all thought they were doing what they were supposed to do – and had a plausible reason to think so? Add to this that, since Church's report, we have discovered more deaths, more homicides, and more cases of abuse, and one must ask even more strongly, if there is no apparent explanation that fits them all, isn't it highly plausible that the cause that does fit is policy, official or otherwise? And the reason we only have hundreds of cases and not thousands is the basic decency of the American fighting man and woman -- and their leaders -- most of whom refused to follow this policy?

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President / Nutrico lp
Posted by gary kaposta
05/22/2009, 05:56 PM

Col. Wilkerson displays the most courageous form of behavior there is...he comes clean to the fact that he made a mistake. I have utmost respect for this man and his willingness to confront the misinformation that was used to get Colin Powell to sell the Bush/Cheeney WMD/Sadam link in order to get control of Iraqi oil.He and Dick Cheeney represent the two opposite ends of the spectrum. Tough talking, 5 deferments Cheeney versus a highly lauded career military officer who can put aside petty, partisan politics in order to do what is right for not only America, but also for humanity.

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