Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Few Bad Apples, part 2

War Crimes (
THE HORRIFIC abuses by American interrogators and guards at the Abu Ghraib prison and at other facilities maintained by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan can be traced, in part, to policy decisions and public statements of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

An inadequate response
SECRETARY OF Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld read a statement yesterday to Congress taking responsibility for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, and he was right to do so. But Mr. Rumsfeld did not accept the fundamental nature of the problem..

Closer to the truth
TWO NEW OFFICIAL reports on the treatment of foreign prisoners have dragged the Bush administration and Pentagon brass a couple of steps closer to facing the truth..

A failure of accountability
... Though there is strong evidence of faulty and even criminal behavior by senior military commanders and members of President Bush's cabinet in the handling of foreign detainees, neither Congress nor the justice system is taking adequate steps to hold those officials accountable...

Don't blame me!
(Donald Rumsfield) "I don't think anyone would say that the intelligence left anyone with the impression that you'd be in the degree of insurgency you're in today."


Blogger Management said...

THE HORRIFIC abuses by American interrogators and guards at the Abu Ghraib prison and at other facilities maintained by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan can be traced, in part, to policy decisions and public statements of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Beginning more than two years ago, Mr. Rumsfeld decided to overturn decades of previous practice by the U.S. military in its handling of detainees in foreign countries. His Pentagon ruled that the United States would no longer be bound by the Geneva Conventions; that Army regulations on the interrogation of prisoners would not be observed; and that many detainees would be held incommunicado and without any independent mechanism of review. Abuses will take place in any prison system. But Mr. Rumsfeld's decisions helped create a lawless regime in which prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been humiliated, beaten, tortured and murdered -- and in which, until recently, no one has been held accountable.

The lawlessness began in January 2002 when Mr. Rumsfeld publicly declared that hundreds of people detained by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan "do not have any rights" under the Geneva Conventions. That was not the case: At a minimum, all those arrested in the war zone were entitled under the conventions to a formal hearing to determine whether they were prisoners of war or unlawful combatants. No such hearings were held, but then Mr. Rumsfeld made clear that U.S. observance of the convention was now optional. Prisoners, he said, would be treated "for the most part" in "a manner that is reasonably consistent" with the conventions -- which, the secretary breezily suggested, was outdated.
In one important respect, Mr. Rumsfeld was correct: Not only could captured al Qaeda members be legitimately deprived of Geneva Convention guarantees (once the required hearing was held) but such treatment was in many cases necessary to obtain vital intelligence and prevent terrorists from communicating with confederates abroad. But if the United States was to resort to that exceptional practice, Mr. Rumsfeld should have established procedures to ensure that it did so without violating international conventions against torture and that only suspects who truly needed such extraordinary handling were treated that way. Outside controls or independent reviews could have provided such safeguards. Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld allowed detainees to be indiscriminately designated as beyond the law -- and made humane treatment dependent on the goodwill of U.S. personnel.

Much of what has happened at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay is shrouded in secrecy. But according to an official Army report, a system was established at the camp under which military guards were expected to "set the conditions" for intelligence investigations. The report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba says the system was later introduced at military facilities at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, even though it violates Army regulations forbidding guards to participate in interrogations.

The Taguba report and others by human rights groups reveal that the detention system Mr. Rumsfeld oversees has become so grossly distorted that military police have abused or tortured prisoners under the direction of civilian contractors and intelligence officers outside the military chain of command -- not in "exceptional" cases, as Mr. Rumsfeld said Tuesday, but systematically. Army guards have held "ghost" prisoners detained by the CIA and even hidden these prisoners from the International Red Cross. Meanwhile, Mr. Rumsfeld's contempt for the Geneva Conventions has trickled down: The Taguba report says that guards at Abu Ghraib had not been instructed on them and that no copies were posted in the facility.

The abuses that have done so much harm to the U.S. mission in Iraq might have been prevented had Mr. Rumsfeld been responsive to earlier reports of violations. Instead, he publicly dismissed or minimized such accounts. He and his staff ignored detailed reports by respected human rights groups about criminal activity at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, and they refused to provide access to facilities or respond to most questions. In December 2002, two Afghan detainees died in events that were ruled homicides by medical officials; only when the New York Times obtained the story did the Pentagon confirm that an investigation was underway, and no results have yet been announced. Not until other media obtained the photos from Abu Ghraib did Mr. Rumsfeld fully acknowledge what had happened, and not until Tuesday did his department disclose that 25 prisoners have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accountability for those deaths has been virtually nonexistent: One soldier was punished with a dishonorable discharge.

On Monday Mr. Rumsfeld's spokesman said that the secretary had not read Mr. Taguba's report, which was completed in early March. Yesterday Mr. Rumsfeld told a television interviewer that he still hadn't finished reading it, and he repeated his view that the Geneva Conventions "did not precisely apply" but were only "basic rules" for handling prisoners. His message remains the same: that the United States need not be bound by international law and that the crimes Mr. Taguba reported are not, for him, a priority. That attitude has undermined the American military's observance of basic human rights and damaged this country's ability to prevail in the war on terrorism.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Management said...

SECRETARY OF Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld read a statement yesterday to Congress taking responsibility for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, and he was right to do so. But Mr. Rumsfeld did not accept the fundamental nature of the problem, much less commit himself to correcting it. In testimony before Senate and House committees, the defense secretary and his deputies continued to portray the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison as isolated acts by individuals. They defended, or refused to acknowledge, the policy decisions that made the abuses more likely. They pledged that those connected to the repugnant acts documented in published photographs -- and others yet to be released -- would be punished. But they offered no assurance that their unacceptable system of detention in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere would be fixed.

Much congressional questioning focused on process: on the timing of the Pentagon's response to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, on Mr. Rumsfeld's failure to adequately inform Congress or the president. There was discussion of whether the secretary should resign; he and President Bush clearly intend to avoid that. We believe that Mr. Rumsfeld bears much of the responsibility for creating the legal and political climate in which the prison abuses occurred and that his failure to respond to previous reports of abuses or appeals for reforms made possible the catastrophe of Abu Ghraib. But whether or not he remains in office, the most important task before the administration and Congress should be to reform the system of prisoner detention so that it fully conforms to the Geneva Conventions and other international standards of human rights. That will require changes in procedures, the formulation of clear standards and rigorous outside oversight.
Mr. Rumsfeld's testimony yesterday offered no support for such basic change. He repeatedly defended the procedures created two years ago to extract intelligence from prisoners even though these have led to documented abuses in several overseas prison facilities. At one point he suggested that he was not aware of the decision that laid the foundation for the Abu Ghraib crimes -- a determination that military prison guards should "set the conditions" for intelligence interrogations, in violation of Army regulations -- even though that policy was developed by a major general and previously implemented at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld dodged questions about whether guards had been told by intelligence officers and civilian contractors how to treat prisoners, even though an official investigation has already determined that that is what occurred.
Mr. Rumsfeld claimed that guards at Abu Ghraib had been instructed to follow the Geneva Conventions, but the investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba has documented that no such instructions were given. The Third Geneva Convention says that prisoners of war "may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind" as a way to make them answer questions. That rule has been systematically violated at U.S. detention facilities abroad -- in part because the Pentagon has designated many prisoners as illegal combatants not eligible for Geneva protections. In fact, the interrogation system developed at Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon cannot be legally applied to anyone considered a prisoner of war.

The Pentagon leadership would like to limit the scandal, and the scrutiny, to a handful of soldiers at one prison during two months of last year. But investigations by the International Committee of the Red Cross and independent human rights groups have demonstrated that abuses occurred elsewhere. The Army now has admitted that at least 25 prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan have died in U.S. custody. These are the signs not of isolated acts but of a broken system, one that is leading to criminal abuses. If Mr. Rumsfeld and President Bush are unwilling to fix it, Congress must step in.

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Blogger Management said...

Closer to the Truth

Thursday, August 26, 2004; Page A22

TWO NEW OFFICIAL reports on the treatment of foreign prisoners have dragged the Bush administration and Pentagon brass a couple of steps closer to facing the truth about how and why U.S. soldiers and interrogators committed scores of acts of torture and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. An Army investigation released yesterday showed that culpability for the criminal mistreatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison lay not just with a handful of reserve soldiers but with more than two dozen military intelligence officers and civilian contractors. On Tuesday a panel appointed by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld demolished the fiction, clung to until now by President Bush, Mr. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's whitewashers, that prisoner abuse in Iraq was an aberration for which no senior officials were responsible. "The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline," said the report of the panel chaired by former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger. "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels."

As the Schlesinger report persuasively details, the malfeasance of Mr. Rumsfeld and senior commanders in Iraq includes their failure to anticipate chaotic postwar conditions and slowness to respond to the insurgency that began to emerge soon after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. These mistakes -- in addition to contributing to the deep troubles U.S. forces now face -- led to a situation in which thousands of Iraqi detainees, most innocent of any offense, were guarded by far too few U.S. soldiers in squalid and dangerous conditions.

These errors point to a fundamental lack of competence on the part of Mr. Rumsfeld and senior commanders in conducting the war. But even more important, in our view, is the panel's support for the truth most fiercely resisted by the administration and its allies: that the crimes at Abu Ghraib were, in part, the result of the 2002 decision by the president and his top aides to set aside the Geneva Conventions as well as standard U.S. doctrines for the treatment of prisoners. Mr. Bush's political appointees in the Justice and Defense departments redefined the meaning of torture and pressed for interrogation techniques regarded by the Pentagon's own lawyers as excessive. Those techniques, the report says, "migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded." In Iraq, commanding Lt. Gen Ricardo S. Sanchez, "using reasoning from the President's memorandum" of 2002, approved some practices that had been outlawed at the Guantanamo Bay prison -- even though detainees in Iraq, unlike those at Guantanamo, were covered by the Geneva Conventions.

The new reports leave many questions still unanswered, questions that would best be addressed by a broader and more independent investigation. The role played by the CIA has been largely unexamined, even though its operatives are complicit in several homicides and may have had much to do with the "migration" of abusive practices. The illegal concealment of some "ghost" detainees from the International Red Cross in Iraq, and Mr. Rumsfeld's admitted role in it, has yet to be clarified or adequately investigated. Though it recommended reforms, the Schlesinger panel shrank from suggesting that senior officials be held accountable for their conduct; its members, who include three longstanding members of the defense establishment and a former Republican congresswoman, have declared that they do not wish to see Mr. Rumsfeld resign. Similarly, the latest Army investigation, like others before it, excused all officers above the rank of colonel -- to its own discredit. It should be unacceptable that low-ranking reservists are criminally prosecuted for the abuses at Abu Ghraib while the senior officials who created the conditions for that abuse, and did nothing to stop it, escape all sanction. As the truth about this damaging affair slowly emerges, it must be matched with consequences for all those responsible.

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Blogger Management said...

A Failure of Accountability

Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page B06

ONLY A FEW years ago, it seemed the slightest suggestion of malfea- sance by a presidential administration -- allegations of tampering with a minor administrative office, say, or indications that a cabinet secretary might have understated the amount of money given to a former girlfriend -- could trigger a formidable response from the other two branches of government: grand juries, special prosecutors, endless congressional hearings, even impeachment proceedings. Some of that auditing, especially during the Clinton administration, went too far. Yet now the country faces a frightening inversion of the problem. Though there is strong evidence of faulty and even criminal behavior by senior military commanders and members of President Bush's cabinet in the handling of foreign detainees, neither Congress nor the justice system is taking adequate steps to hold those officials accountable.

Investigations by the Army, including one completed last week, could result in prosecution or disciplinary action for up to 50 persons involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. But almost all are low-ranking soldiers; the most senior officer to be targeted is a female reserve brigadier general, who plausibly argues she has been scapegoated by higher-ranking officers. The military investigations and a separate probe by a panel picked by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have issued reports making it clear that senior commanders in Iraq and the civilian leadership at the Pentagon also bear specific responsibility for an affair that has gravely damaged the U.S. mission in Iraq and American prestige around the world. But no court, prosecutor or disciplinary panel is even considering action against these top officials. Only one more congressional hearing, by the Senate Armed Services Committee, is planned.

What's particularly troubling about this breakdown of checks and balances is that some of the most disturbing behavior by senior officials has yet to be thoroughly investigated. For example, Mr. Rumsfeld is now known to have approved, in December 2002, the use of dogs to frighten detainees under interrogation. That technique, which was immediately adopted in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, was described by Army Maj. Gen. George R. Fay as "a clear violation of applicable laws and regulations." Mr. Rumsfeld has also publicly acknowledged that he ordered that some prisoners in Iraq not be registered with the International Red Cross, an unambiguous violation of Army regulations and the Geneva Conventions. Yet Mr. Rumsfeld has never been called upon to explain these actions to legal investigators or to Congress.

The former commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, also issued an interrogation policy allowing the illegal use of dogs. Subsequently, he testified under oath to Congress that he had never approved this or other illegal measures listed above his signature. No formal criminal or administrative action against him is under consideration. Former CIA director George J. Tenet, according to Mr. Rumsfeld, requested that detainees in Iraq be concealed from the Red Cross. According to Gen. Fay's investigation, CIA operatives abused detainees, introduced improper interrogation methods to the theater and contributed substantially to the breakdown of discipline at Abu Ghraib. Yet the only investigation of the agency and its leaders is being conducted by its own inspector general.

When the prisoner abuse allegations first became public in May, many members of Congress, including several senior Republicans, vowed to pursue the evidence up the chain of command and not to allow low-ranking reservists to be prosecuted while more senior officials escaped sanction. Yet, as matters now stand, Mr. Rumsfeld, Gen. Sanchez and other senior officials are poised to execute just such an escape. When the scandal began, these leaders told Congress they were prepared to accept responsibility for the wrongdoing. As it turns out, they didn't mean that in any substantive respect. Their dodge shames not only them but the legal and legislative bodies charged with enforcing accountability.

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Blogger Management said...

Don't Blame Me

Friday, December 10, 2004; Page A36

WITH PRESIDENT Bush's choices for a second-term Cabinet complete, a striking feature is the continuity of the national security and foreign policy lineup. The secretary of state leaves, but the national security adviser moves over to take his place, her deputy moves up to take hers, and the defense secretary stays put: No new blood there. It's understandable that a president might not want to change teams while war rages, but such continuity can have pitfalls. One is an absence of fresh thinking. Another is that Mr. Bush's principals will be so intent on proving their first-term decisions correct, or so intent on blaming others for what hasn't gone right, that they won't be open to the wisdom that might be on offer outside government or farther down their chains of command.

It's in that context that we were listening to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's comments this week. The one that got the most attention was his response Wednesday to a soldier in Kuwait who wanted to know why troops were being sent into Iraq without properly armored vehicles. "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have," Mr. Rumsfeld replied. "They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." A true statement, no doubt; and Mr. Rumsfeld went on to assure the soldier that the Army was sending better-protected vehicles to Iraq as quickly as it could. But the remark seemed to suggest that Mr. Rumsfeld himself bore no responsibility for how the Army had been equipped before the 2003 invasion; nor for the timing of that invasion; nor for the failure to predict the ferocious insurgency that has made the absence of armor so relevant.

That same combination of breeziness and blame-passing was on display even more when Mr. Rumsfeld spoke to reporters while en route to Kuwait Monday. (Transcripts of both sessions are available at Asked about first-term mistakes, Mr. Rumsfeld reflected on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the failure to predict the insurgency, but even in the latter case, which might be thought to fall under the broad category of strategic thinking, the defense secretary seemed to pass the buck. "I don't think anyone would say that the intelligence left anyone with the impression that you'd be in the degree of insurgency you're in today," he said.

Even more remarkably, he shifted all blame for what many believe to have been a woefully inadequate troop commitment. "The big debate about the number of troops is one of those things that's really out of my control," he said. Out of the defense secretary's control? "I mean, everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person and I guess that's fine," Mr. Rumsfeld explained. "But the number of troops we had for the invasion was the number of troops that General Franks and General Abizaid wanted." But reporting by Bob Woodward and others shows Mr. Rumsfeld ordering Gen. Tommy R. Franks to rewrite plans for Iraq to reduce the number of troops; the one general who said he thought more would be needed for postwar control, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, found himself unwanted in Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon.

On one level, Mr. Rumsfeld's distinctive reading of recent history may matter less than his commitment, restated eloquently during his trip this week, to help Iraqis and Afghans live in freedom. But in the past Mr. Rumsfeld's breeziness has masked serious errors. The postwar looting wasn't just a matter of the untidiness of freedom; it struck a grievous blow at the U.S. occupation. Carelessness toward the Geneva Conventions precipitated a hugely damaging scandal. The insufficient troop levels allowed the insurgency to gain traction.

Now Mr. Rumsfeld says: "It's a violent country. It has been in the past. It very likely will be in the future." Insouciant, charming, worldly-wise. But if someone else is always to blame -- or if no one is -- how much confidence can the country have in decisions going forward?

4:51 PM  

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