4 May 2004

blogging Abu Ghraib

Today's SMH reported:

The head of the US military has admitted he was unaware of a damning military report written two months ago that outlined the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers and intelligence officers at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

The report detailed evidence of sexual humiliation, including the sodomising of a prisoner, and beatings that may have led to the murder of at least two detainees.

In a round of US television interviews designed to contain the deepening scandal which has inflamed Arab public opinion, General Richard Myers, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that only 'a handful' of US officers had taken part in the abuse, and they were facing legal action.

General Myers insisted that an army investigation had not found wide abuse. 'There is no, no evidence of systematic abuse in this system at all. We want intelligence information but we have to stay inside international norms and international law. We do that.'

But he admitted he had not read the report by General Antonio Taguba that points to the systematic abuse of prisoners after US Army intelligence officers, CIA agents and private contractors had asked soldier guards to help set up conditions for interrogations.

Abu Ghraib itself is almost impossible to blog. The Fafblog quote I posted probably comes closest. The bureaucratic manoeuvres to try evade responsibility are easier to analyse.

Part of the Bush administrations governing style is to argue that the president can do anything. I am not exaggerating. Appearing before the US Supreme Court, they've argued that neither the US Congress nor the courts can restrain presidential action in the War on Terror. Abu Ghraib is the end result.

The US army has a months old report detailing what happened at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. This is the Taguba report that Myers tells us he has not read. Among other things General Taguba reported:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee

Now General Myers might not have read this report immediately, but CBS delayed broadcasting the photos by 2 weeks at the Pentagon's own request. Did no-one think, during that delay, to dig out the Taguba report? Did no-one ask why the hell are we doing this and try to stop it?

Bush has created a culture, evidently, where anything goes, and where no-one is responsible as they long they don't read the memo. Traditional checks and balances were invented for a reason. One of them is to ensure that stunning incompetence does not lead to abuses like Abu Ghraib.


Christopher Hitchens has hit the press, or least the web, with the following:

This is only the rehearsal for one's revulsion. One of two things must necessarily be true. Either these goons were acting on someone's authority, in which case there is a layer of mid- to high-level people who think that they are not bound by the laws and codes and standing orders. Or they were acting on their own authority, in which case they are the equivalent of mutineers, deserters, or traitors in the field. This is why one asks wistfully if there is no provision in the procedures of military justice for them to be taken out and shot."

For once I agree with his analysis. As far as his shock at the 'mid- to high-level people', I suggest he read the government submissions in some WoT court cases.

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