Details about widespread abuse of detainees continues to slowly leak out as more documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act, are released to the ACLU. Terrorizing Afghan villagers, using detainees as props in souvenir photos, using detainees and villagers as punching bags, et al. And the most serious new information is in reference to Manadel Jamadi, the Iraqi who died while in the custody of Navy Seals and CIA interrogators. The latest report is that at the time of his death, he had his hands handcuffed behind him and was suspended by his wrists in an effort to coerce his cooperation. This is known as 'Palestinian hanging'. No-one is yet arguing that this was an approved interrogation practice. It's hard to argue that it's just a 'stress position'. It's torture. So what is the military command's response to this incident? Eight Navy workers have received nonjudicial punishments in the case, while one is awaiting court martial and another is awaiting a hearing. Note that the punishments are non-judicial. That means they were never charged with criminal behavior. Only one of those involved is being charged with criminal behavior in this case where a man was tortured and died.
Other new reports tell us about alleged abuse of detainees and villagers in the field. The latest reports tell us of Special Forces abusing villagers who offered no resistance and who didn't try to escape. Two Army psychological operations officers filed complaints citing soldiers who indiscriminately punched people, slapped them, threatened to shoot them, who took one man, whose hands and eyes were covered, behind a wall and beat him. (The soldier here claims the villager fell, that he had an explosive device. Perhaps that's why he told other villagers that he was going to kill him and then when he had the man behind the wall shot his gun into the air.) The investigation into the actions reported by the Army psyops officers was terminated before it was completed, since the village where it occurred is "a high-threat combat area" and the villagers are allegedly anti-U.S. combatants. (If they weren't so inclined before our Special Forces rampaged through their village, they certainly were after our guys were through.)
This decision implies three things. First, the eye witness accounts and complaints of psyops officers were insufficient to make a case. Second, that no conclusions will be drawn unless the Iraqi or Afghan citizens involved can be questioned - a standard which must make investigations quite difficult to complete. Third, by justifying the termination of the investigation by saying the villagers were allegedly anti-US combatants, the military is implying that the reported behavior isn't a problem if the villagers are enemy combatants (but that it would be if they were allies). In my opinion, that's the clearest statement I've read that underscores the permissive culture that has arisen under the leadership of this administration. The cited behavior violates the letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions. It certainly doesn't rise up the Bush's standard of "humane treatment". But hey, who cares, the abusers said they were enemies.
This almost casual response to abusive behavior is further seen in the Army's response to behavior depicted in a new batch of photos from Afghanistan. These pictures show masked US soldiers "standing with their weapons pointed at the heads of handcuffed and hooded or blindfolded detainees at a base in southern Afghanistan and, in one case, pressing a detainee's head against the wall of a "cage" where he was brought for interrogation." The photos are also said to depict mock executions. We don't know firsthand because the Army conducted a lengthy search to acquire all of the copies of these photos and none have been published. The Army says it has to protect the identity of the Afghan victims (um, right). The interesting thing here, beyond the fact that the Army thinks we'll buy their "protect the victims" explanation is the use of the word "victims". This implies one or more perpetrators. So what's happened to these perpetrators, the soldiers in the photos whose behavior violated Army regulations? Six of the soldiers received unknown administrative punishment for dereliction of duty, specifically for taking part in the photos - not for the treatment depicted in the photos. The Army found probable cause to charge the seventh soldier with with assault, but there's no indication that the charge was made or any punishment was handed down. Again, punishments are apparently non-judicial, meaning their behavior was not deemed to rise to the level of criminal behavior.
To those folks who sneer at my concern over the way our soldiers treat villagers and detainees, let me remind you that it was Army officers who reported this treatment and a Special Forces commander who said such behavior was counterproductive for his unit. Additionally, I'm fully aware that it's way too easy to sit in the comfort of my home and comment on the actions of soldiers in a war theater, that I can't and don't understand what it's like for them. I don't expect our military to be perfect, to be so careful in their treatment of villagers and detainees that they increase their own risks. But I do expect them to be held to the high standards they make a commitment to uphold, to be accountable for their actions. If they f**k up, they pay the price - that's the military way. Our military culture is one based on the principles of integrity and honor. I expect our soldiers to maintain that culture in war time as they do in peace time. Otherwise, it's all just airy talk. And I expect our military leaders, and the civilians at the top of the chain of command, to set the tone, raise the bar, and reinforce the culture of honor and integrity. I fear that this is where the problem started and that it won't end until there's a change in the attitudes and opinions of the civilians at the top. And yes, that's Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush. It's their job and they aren't doing it.
Washington Post, Army Files Cite Abuse of Afghans
Associated Press, Iraqi Died While Hung from Wrists
ACLU: Department of Defense Documents (released by DOD on1/3/05, published by ACLU 2/15/05)
ACLU: Gateway to Documents Released under FOIA