Abu Ghraib: Interrogation Methods and Legal Issues

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The controversy and investigations into the Interrogation Methods and Legal Issues regarding the alleged acts of brutality, abuse, and torture at the Enemy Prisoner of War Camps in Iraq, and surrounding both the Iraqi detainee abuse scandal and the Afghanistan detainee abuse scandal, have dominated the international media well past U.S. presidential election, 2004.


From the headlines

"The issue is moot with respect to Iraq because all individuals detained there are explicitly covered by some aspect of the Geneva Conventions."
"Presented last fall with a detailed catalog of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, the American military responded on Dec. 24 with a confidential letter asserting that many Iraqi prisoners were not entitled to the full protections of the Geneva Conventions. .... [and] emphasized the 'military necessity' of isolating some inmates at the prison for interrogation because of their 'significant intelligence value,' and said that prisoners held as security risks could legally be treated differently from prisoners of war or ordinary criminals."
  • R. Jeffrey Smith reports in the May 21, 2004, Washington Post that, on October 12, 2003, "Shortly before the physical abuses of Iraqis were photographed in Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad last year," Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez "signed a classified memorandum explicitly calling for interrogators to assume control over the 'lighting, heating . . . food, clothing, and shelter' of those being questioned there ... [and] called for intelligence officials at the prison to work more closely with the military police guarding the detainees to 'manipulate an internee's emotions and weaknesses.'"
"This memo and the deliberations that preceded it were completely shrouded from public view at the time, but now lie at the heart of the scandal that erupted last month over the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Under congressional prodding, the administration has provided a fuller chronology of the events leading up to its approval."
  • May 1, 2003: President Bush "declared that major combat operations were over," which "had direct but unpublicized consequences for those detained in Iraq, military officials say":
  • detainees "were no longer to be treated as prisoners of war, but instead as civilians held by an occupying power."
  • detainees "would come under the protections of the fourth article of the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly allows long-term detentions of those considered to pose a threat to governing authorities."
  • Late summer 2003: Army Captain Carolyn A. Wood, "with 10 years experience in interrogation," "who was serving in Afghanistan, was dispatched" to Abu Ghraib "to improve the interrogation process there." Wood "posted her own list of 'interrogation rules of engagement,' which were inconsistent with those later issued for Iraq by the top American commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, according to Congressional officials." [2] [3]
  • "Abu Ghraib intelligence unit was soon overwhelmed by a flood of detainees rounded up during Operation Victory Bounty, specifically aimed at capturing members of Saddam Hussein's most loyal fighters, the Fedayeen. Army officers in the field were complaining in the summer of 2003 that they had received no useful intelligence back from the prison."
  • August 18, 2003: memo signed by "Pentagon's Joint Staff -- acting on a request from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top intelligence aide, Stephen A. Cambone -- ordered Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller to conduct an inspection" at Abu Ghraib and "left behind his own list of interrogation techniques."
  • "The military officials said the Army captain memorialized it in a wall posting that said the use of long-term isolation, 'working dogs,' sleep disruption, 'environmental manipulation' and the use of forced 'stress positions' were acceptable, but only if they were approved by Sanchez on a case-by-case basis."
  • "Sanchez signed a September memo codifying this policy and then sent it to his superiors at CENTCOM for review, the officials said. No one has explained precisely what their reaction was, but after what one official called '28 days of coordination,' the memo was revised to drop the detailed list of techniques that required special approval."
  • October 12, 2003: "Sanchez signed the new memo, which included a more general statement that 'anything not approved, you have to ask for,' said one of the officials who briefed reporters. Sanchez has said that after that date, he approved the use of only one harsh technique, long-term isolation, in 25 or so cases."
  • May 13, 2004: "after photos of the abuses had provoked a political firestorm, Sanchez signed another memo, which replaced the Oct. 12 policy and explicitly rules out any approval of 'stress positions,' as well as other, unspecified, aggressive techniques."
  • The Army Times reports on May 17, 2004:
"Red Cross inspectors who visited Abu Ghraib in early October 2003 and found many of the abuses that have since come to light spoke to an unnamed military intelligence officer before Pappas took command of the prison. Romig told members of Congress last week, 'Clearly ... we'd like to know who that was.' Red Cross reports are kept confidential to prevent publicity-averse governments from denying the organization access to prisons around the world. Key witnesses are often not named."
"In Afghanistan, the CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center in Kabul is known as 'The Pit,' named for its despairing conditions. In Iraq, the most important prisoners are kept in a huge hangar near the runway at Baghdad International Airport, say U.S. government officials, counterterrorism experts and others. In Qatar, U.S. forces have been ferrying some Iraqi prisoners to a remote jail on the gigantic U.S. air base in the desert.
"The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where a unit of U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, is just the largest and suddenly most notorious in a worldwide constellation of detention centers that the U.S. military and CIA have operated in the name of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
"These prisons and jails are sometimes as small as shipping containers and as large as the sprawling Guantánamo Bay complex in Cuba. They are part of an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safe-keeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States."
"Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But if the law is what the executive says it is, whatever is 'necessary and appropriate' in the executive's judgment, as the resolution you gave us that Congress passed, it leads you up to the executive, unchecked by the judiciary. So what is it that would be a check against torture?
A. Well, first of all, there are treaty obligations. But the primary check is that just as in every other war, if a U.S. military person commits a war crime by creating some atrocity on a harmless, you know, detained enemy combatant or a prisoner of war, that violates our own conception of what's a war crime. And we'll put that U.S. military officer on trial in a court martial. So I think there are plenty of internal reasons --
Q. Suppose the executive says, 'Mild torture, we think, will help get this information?' It's not a soldier who does something against the code of military justice, but it's an executive command. Some systems do that to get information.
A. Well, our executive doesn't, and I think - I mean.
"It turned out that people within the military had known for at least four months at that point that methods involving torture and humiliation had been practiced in Iraq," Muller says. "There was no clear reason, at that point, to suspect that the Justice Department knew of US government agents' use of (in Justice Ginsburg's words) 'mild torture.'
"Today, however, we learn that, in the cases of certain top al Qaeda detainees, the CIA has 'used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as 'water boarding,' in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown."

Women and Children

Compare This:

  • "Because America and our allies acted, one of the most evil, brutal regimes in history is gone forever. The dictator of Iraq committed many atrocities and he had many more in mind. This was a regime that tortured children in front of their parents." -- George W. Bush, Fort Campbell, KY, March 18, 2004.

To This:

"A military intelligence analyst who recently completed duty at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said Wednesday that the 16-year-old son of a detainee there was abused by U.S. soldiers to break his father's resistance to interrogators.
"The analyst said the teenager was stripped naked, thrown in the back of an open truck, driven around in the cold night air, splattered with mud and then presented to his father at Abu Ghraib, the prison at the center of the scandal over abuse of Iraqi detainees.
"Upon seeing his frail and frightened son, the prisoner broke down and cried and told interrogators he would tell them whatever they wanted, the analyst said."
  • On May 4, 2004, Political Animal Kevin Drum wrote that both Seymour Hersh and Dr. Bernard Haykel gave the impression that "we have only seen the tip of the iceberg and there is much more to come."
  • Hersh "indicated that there was one entire wing in Abu Ghraib devoted to women and another one for juveniles. He left the impression that the story involving these women and children prisoners would really go way beyond the story as we know it right now.
  • Haykel "revealed that the attack on the prison 10 days ago was triggerred by widespread rumor that women and children were being molested in there and death would be better than the humiliation for these prisoners."

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