Thursday, March 17, 2005

Torture in the gulag: The Church report and responsibility

"I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

"And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a foreign court that could -- where our people could be prosecuted." - George W. Bush 09/30/04

"Men without conscience are capable of any cruelty the human mind can imagine." - Dick Cheney 01/26/05

Conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby has just written a surprising column on the torture scandal: Where's the outrage on torture? by Jeff Jacoby Boston Globe 03/17/05.  It's labeled the first of two, so a second is presumably coming Sunday.

I came across it via Duncan "Atrios" Black, who said of this column: "If only more conservatives were as sensible as Jeff Jacoby..." in a post entitled A Sentence I Never Thought I'd Write (03/17/04).

In the 03/17/05 article, Jacoby writes:

The latest Pentagon report on the abuse of captives, delivered to Congress last week by Vice Admiral Albert Church III, doesn't point a finger of blame at Miller or any other high-ranking official. It concludes that while detainees in Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere were brutalized by military or CIA interrogators, there was no formal policy authorizing such abuse. (On occasion it was even condemned -- in December 2002, for example, some Navy officials denounced the Guantanamo techniques as ''unlawful and unworthy of the military services.")

But surely, Church was asked at a congressional hearing, someone should be held accountable for the scores of abuses that even the government admits to? ''Not in my charter," the admiral replied.

So the buck stops nowhere. And fresh revelations of horror keep seeping out.

Jacoby hasn't been the only one to object to the derogation of responsibility in the Church report: Report on prisoner abouse raises questions of accountability by Frank Davies, Knight-Ridder 03/10/05.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., noting that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had appointed Church last May, said the Defense Department "is not able to assess accountability at senior levels" and called for an independent investigation.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee chairman, said that issue also troubled him: "There has not been finality as to the assessment of accountability - more work has to be done by this committee."

Critics of the inquiries into prisoner abuse charge that the Bush administration and the Pentagon have sidestepped the issue of "command climate." They ask whether the push for better intelligence encouraged lower-ranking soldiers to regard prisoners as sub-human and treat them harshly. Many also ask why investigators have all but ignored the military principle that senior officers are always accountable for their subordinates' actions. ...

In the tensest exchange of the hearing, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was tortured while held prisoner by North Vietnam, chastised Church for the Bush administration's policy of classifying some enemy fighters, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, as ineligible for protections as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

"I worry very much that if we decide that a certain country's military personnel are not eligible for treatment under a convention we signed, then wouldn't it be logical to expect they would declare, as the North Vietnamese did, that American prisoners are not eligible for protection?" McCain said.

Phil Carter appears to be especially exasperated by the obvious evasion of responsibility in the report: Evaluating the Church Report Intel Dump blog 03/13/05.

When you read accounts of these detainee's treatment that are printed in the various habeas corpus litigation documents, or the various interviews printed thus far, a common narrative emerges. Certain interrogation tactics are described by these men in chilling, identical detail. They describe tactics like the "short shackle" — the use of chains and handcuffs to bind a detainee in a crouched fetal position, bent over sharply, resulting in pain and loss of circulation, among other things. This position is a direct manifestation of the officially sanctioned tactic of "stress position"; it's also a variant on the tactic of "sleep deprivation". These are the tactics specifically authorized by the SecDef and his subordinates, promulgated down the line through military orders, and implemented in the field by zealous spooks and soldiers. It's both dishonest and disingenuous to suggest that these abuses do not trace their lineage back to the Pentagon, and the policies hatched in the E-Ring which authorized these tactics. Suggesting this merely destroys any credibility the Church report might have, and suggests that we are still trying to hide something.

When are we going to come clean?

A very good question.  He continues:

Even a hard-bitten realist like me ought to see that our detention and interrogation policies are not serving our interests, and indeed, that such policies are undermining our strategy in the global war on terrorism. What will it take for them to change?

The Washington Post (which editorially supported Bush's invasion of Iraq) editorialized: More Excuses 03/13/05.

The Pentagon's investigations of its own abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have taken on a predictable pattern. Officials compile voluminous reports -- there have now been 10 -- detailing shocking mistreatment, widespread violations of laws and the Geneva Conventions, and failures by senior military commanders and civilian officials up to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. They then conclude there was "no policy of abuse" and duck the question of whether anyone above the low-ranking personnel now being prosecuted should be held accountable.

This standardized response is reminiscent of the stock response to the shooting of unarmed civilians at checkpoints in Iraq: we signaled and called to them to stop; we fired warning shots; they kept coming; we killed them; no one is to blame.

When asked who should be held responsible for this terrible record, Adm. Church first told a congressional hearing that it was "not in my charter" to determine that. Later, he revealingly told journalists, "I don't think you can hold anyone accountable for a situation that maybe if you had done something different, maybe something would have occurred differently." By that standard, no commander in the U.S. military would ever suffer any consequence for malfeasance, however damaging to the national interest. Judging from the record of investigating prisoner abuse, that is exactly the Pentagon's intent. ...

Congress could put a stop to this bureaucratic cover-up, but despite loud public protestations, its Republican leadership appears not to have the stomach to do so. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, once vowed to pursue the prisoner abuse investigation wherever it led, but Thursday's hearing was the first he had scheduled on the matter in more than six months. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has angrily warned against limiting punishment only to low-ranking personnel; he didn't participate in the latest hearing. Meanwhile, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) continues to refuse a request by Democratic senators for an investigation into credible reports of torture, abuse and homicide by the CIA in a clandestine network of overseas prisons, a scandal for which there has been no public accounting, much less accountability. Willingly or not, congressional Republicans are identifying themselves as a party ready to accept systematic American violations of human rights. (my emphasis)

Indeed they are.

Why was it again that Bush didn't want the US to join the International Criminal Court?


fdtate714 said...

That's been the story with this White House.  They've obviously misplaced Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" sign.  In fact, they reward the screwup's like Rice and Tenet with better jobs or medals.

bmiller224 said...

Yeah, there slogan seems to be "There Is No Buck, anything negative is just made up by the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press! - Bruce