Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rumsfeld's war

Speaking of Rumsfeld, he made an appearance on ‘Dateline’ the other night, addressing the troops in Iraq shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

Obviously Rumsfeld isn’t a person after my own heart, but I’m going to try to stand back from all that to look at the claim, presented with surprising boldness by Dateline, that Rumsfeld was largely responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib because he encouraged the use of torture in Iraqi prisons. So how responsible is he, and how indictable is he?

Watching Dateline, I noticed that, when addressing the troops, and bringing up the subject of the Abu Ghraib revelations, Rumsfeld focused entirely, in his condemnation of events, on the ‘unAmericanness’ of such behaviour. No attempt to humanise the situation, or to speak of unnecessary suffering. That of course, isn’t a crime, even if it’s ethically smelly, but if it can be shown that Rumsfeld authorised the use of torture, then the speech can more accurately be seen as a deliberate distancing of himself from the consequences of his own directives – it’s their fault for not being able to tell the difference between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ torture.

On last night’s news, it was mentioned that the US, presumably the defence department, has only just banned torture, which might come as a surprise to those who believe torture’s illegal everywhere, or at least in open societies. Apparently Dick Cheney has moved to have the CIA exempted from this ban, which would seem to render the ban more or less useless, as it would simply mean handing over to the CIA those the authorities consider to be eminently in need of torture, or worthy of its benefits. As should be well known by now, the CIA has secret detention centres scattered around the world.

A great deal about Rumsfeld’s more or less covert attempts to increase powers of ‘interrogation’ and the like, in order to deal with Iraqi insurgents and Al-quaeda, has been researched and presented by the indefatigable Seymour Hersh here. It also deals comprehensively with the rationale behind Rumsfeld’s decisions.

What Hersh reveals, basically – and his article was published back in May 2004 – is that Rumsfeld, and more particularly Stephen Cambone (a Rumsfeld yes-man who was appointed under-secretary of defense in intelligence in March 2003, a position created by Rumsfeld), had presided over a gradual widening of powers of interrogation, initially carried out covertly under a ‘special-access program’ or SAP, and that this had created an ‘anything goes’ culture, percolating down to inexperienced military police and army reservists responsible for prison security. It seems that Abu Ghraib was crawling with military and intelligence people, some uniformed, some in civvies, some part of the special-access program, some not, and the officer then in charge of Abu Ghraib, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, was quite bewildered about these comings and goings. Karpinski, demoted after the scandal burst, has since written a book about her time at Abu Ghraib, and has laid the blame for the abuses squarely on Rumsfeld, via military intelligence practices. She has argued that military intelligence was de facto running the prison, or at least the interrogation side of things.

Jason Vest, in this article for The Nation, published online in May 2004, pointed out that Major General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib crimes, confirmed Karpinski’s view that military intelligence was essentially running the show, a finding that Cambone sought to contradict. An excerpt of Taguba’s report, dealing with the 800th Military Police Brigade (officially in charge of Abu Ghraib) is here.

Rumsfeld himself testified before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on May 7 2004. Naturally this is a more measured performance (though it’s full of that ‘last refuge of the scoundrel’ humbuggery, so peculiar to American politics), and one of it’s more startling admissions is that Iraqis are human beings too. In fact, one of the paragraphs may well be worth following up in the light of last night’s ‘Dateline’ program (in which two former detainees, who claimed to identify themselves in the infamous abuse photos, were interviewed). This is the paragraph:

… I am seeking a way to provide appropriate compensation to those detainees who
suffered grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty at the hands of a few members of
the U.S. military. It is the right thing to do. I’m told we have the ability to
do so. And so we will – one way or another.

I’ll try to follow up on whether anybody has in fact been compensated, or on any efforts made to locate them. Perhaps we can point them in the right direction.

As to torture and who's really responsible, it doesn't look as if charges are going to be laid very far up the chain of command, and the SAP stuff I mentioned has been highly successful apparently, in terms of combatting the insurgency (which as everyone can see, has been completely defeated), so there's a strong motive to protect certain 'practitioners', but i suspect that this latest directive against torture is due to the continuing reverberations from Abu Ghraib. Oh, by the way, Rumsfeld 'takes full responsibility' for these crimes. Isn't that nice?


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