30 May 2004

torturing the truth about Abu Ghraib

According to the SMH timeline

  • OCTOBER 2003 International Committee of the Red Cross conducts visits to Abu Ghraib jail and Camp Cropper, a detention facility at Baghdad airport. Major O'Kane helps facilitate visits.
  • Red Cross delivers a report on October 30 on abuses at Camp Cropper, citing multiple breaches of Geneva convention, including keeping detainees in cells with no light for 23 hours a day.
  • NOVEMBER O'Kane sees Red Cross letter, dated November 12, 2003, to US commanders, complaining about prison abuses, enclosing the confidential work papers relating to visits to Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib. Report says Red Cross delegates saw prisoners who were made to walk the corridors, handcuffed and naked, some with women's underwear on their head.
  • DECEMBER O'Kane helps draft US military response to Red Cross complaints. Letter sent to Red Cross on December 24, 2003. It says some prisoners protected by Geneva Convention.
  • JANUARY 2004 Photographic evidence of abuses inside Abu Ghraib begin circulating within US military. Authorities announce they are beginning investigation. O'Kane aware of photos but has not viewed them.

Major O'Kane is an ADF legal officer working for the CPA, as part of our non-participation in the occupation.

In question time on 27 May, the parliament heard

Mr RUDD (2.08 p.m.) �My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, when were Australian personnel in Iraq, either civilian or military, first made aware of allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq?

Mr HOWARD, Prime Minister:

[...]I just want to say that that is a pretty contemptible and pathetic attempt by the Sydney Morning Herald to imply some kind of guilt by association. That is what that story is into, and can I say that some of the member for Griffith's questions go dangerously close to doing the same thing. Can I specifically go to the substance of this issue: that I am advised that a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross in October of last year covered general concerns about detainee conditions and treatment. Major O'Kane, as part of his work in the coalition headquarters in Iraq, prepared a draft response to that report. A separate report by the Red Cross, in February of this year - and once again this answer is based on the current advice of the defence department - raised allegations of ill treatment of detainees.[...]

The October report has not yet been released and probably will not be. The February report has been leaked and is available online. However, the February report states:

27. In mid October 2003, the ICRC visited persons deprived of their liberty undergoing interrogation by military intelligence officers in Unit 1A, the "Isolation section" of "Abu Ghraib" Correctional Facility. Most of these persons deprived of their liberty had been arrested in early October. During the visit, ICRC delegates directly witnessed and documented a variety of methods used to secure the cooperation of the persons deprived of their liberty with their interrogator. In particular they witnessed the practice of keeping persons deprived of their liberty completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness, allegedly for several consecutive days. Upon witnessing such cases, the ICRC interrupted its visits and requested an explanation from the authorities. The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was "part of the process". The process appeared to be a give-and-take policy whereby persons deprived of their liberty were "drip-fed" with new items (clothing, bedding, hygiene articles, lit cell, etc) in exchange for their "cooperation". The ICRC also visited other persons deprived of their liberty held in total darkness, others in dimly lit cells who had been allowed to dress following periods during which they had been held naked. Several had been given women's underwear to wear under their jumpsuit (men's underwear was not distributed), which they felt to be humiliating.

The ICRC documented other forms of ill-treatment, usually combined with those described above, including threats, insults, verbal violence, sleep deprivation caused by the playing of loud music or constant light in cells devoid of windows, tight handcuffing with flexi-cuffs causing lesions and wounds around the wrists. Punishment included being made to walk in the corridors handcuffed and naked, or with women's underwear on the head, or being handcuffed either dressed or naked to the bed bars or the cell door. Some persons deprived of their liberty presented physical marks and psychological symptoms, which were compatible with these allegations. The ICRC medical delegate examined persons deprived of their liberty presenting signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behaviour and suicidal tendencies. These symptoms appeared to have been caused by the methods and duration of interrogation. One person held in isolation that the ICRC examined, was unresponsive to verbal and painful stimuli. His heart rate was 120 beats per minute and his respiratory rate 18 per minute. He was diagnosed as suffering from somatoform (mental) disorder, specifically a conversion disorder, most likely due to the ill-treatment he was subjected to during interrogation.

Taguba also documents (although the government cannot have known about this before the Taguba report was published) the illegal efforts of the Abu Ghraib authorities to conceal the worst abuses from the Red Cross delegation that wrote the October report. The October report is available to the government. The prime minister's answer is certainly inconsistent with those parts of the October report which are referred to in the February report. The prime minister has misled the parliament.

For a prime minister to mislead parliament or deny responsibility, especially this prime minister, is nothing new. For me the most disturbing part of the whole incident is that O'Kane participated in drafting a response to the October report

The Prime Minister, John Howard, confirmed on Thursday that Major O'Kane had 'prepared a draft response' to the complaints by the ICRC.

That letter of response said the US Government had decided a certain category of prisoner would not get the protections of the Geneva convention.

In making that decision, the US was relying on a new interpretation of one article in the conventions.

The letter reads in part, 'while the armed conflict continues and where 'absolute military security so requires', security internees will not obtain full GC [Geneva convention] protection as recognised in GCIV/5, although such protection will be afforded as soon as the security situation in Iraq allow it'.

GCIV/5 refers to article 5 of the fourth Geneva convention, a narrow loophole that qualifies the protection of individuals considered an imminent security threat in their own country.

New York human rights lawyer Scott Horton, who analysed the letter, said its interpretation of the Geneva convention was 'completely outrageous'.

It is really quite hard to believe that O'Kane would not have made the government aware that the occupation was taking a view of the Geneva Conventions radically different to anything Australia has ever adopted. I guess it's a small footnote that Rumsfeld testified on 7 May that:

The Geneva Conventions apply to all of the individuals there in one way or another.�They apply to the prisoners of war, and they are written out and they're instructed and the people in the Army train them to that and the people in the Central Command have the responsibility of seeing that, in fact, their conduct is consistent with the Geneva Conventions.�

Evidently he knew as little of CENTCOM's operations as our prime minister.

Newsweek reports:

But military sources acknowledge that an increasing body of evidence indicates his command has not been forthright about when it learned of the abuses or what it did�and failed to do�about them. The Red Cross first warned Joint Task Force-7 of the kind of abuses seen in the prison photos last November, fully two months before Sanchez launched an investigation. The general says he didn't find out about the abuses until January. But two military sources say his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wodjakowski, was present at a meeting in late November to discuss a response to the Red Cross. Also at the meeting was Col. Mark Warren, Sanchez's top legal adviser. In mid-May Warren denied in reply to a NEWSWEEK question that his office had drafted the command's response, which brushed off the Red Cross allegations. But Warren later acknowledged under oath to the Senate Armed Services Committee that his JAG team had drafted the command's response.

That also destroys the prime minister's 27 May claim that the October report contianed nothing about actual abuses.

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