A huge win, it's also just a hit on the pause button. Here's some context and ideas about paths forward.
September 28, 2005
Lynndie England just got three years and a dishonorable discharge.
When is Donald Rumsfeld going to face the music and get canned or indicted for his part in the torture scandal?
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both say there is “prima facie evidence” to indict Rumsfeld for war crimes. (See “Stripping Rumsfeld and Bush of Impunity.”)
For the fact is, that the torture scandal is not confined to a few immoral and pathetic and sadistic soldiers on the lowest rungs of the command ladder.
U.S. torture and abuse have been widespread, and the evidence of that keeps mounting.
A whistleblower from the 82nd Airborne, Captain Ian Fishback, says, “Prisoner abuse is systemic in the Army.” He and two other former members of the elite division, who were stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury near Fallujah, told Human Rights Watch of all sorts of human rights violations, including beatings and then the cover up of those beatings by medical professionals.
“Torture and other mistreatment of Iraqis in detention was systematic and was known at varying levels of command,” Human Rights Watch alleges in “Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne.”
“Military Intelligence personnel, they said, directed and encouraged Army personnel to subject prisoners to forced, repetitive exercise, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness, sleep deprivation for days on end, and exposure to heat and cold as part of the interrogation process,” the report says. “At least one interrogator beat detainees in front of other soldiers. Soldiers also incorporated daily beatings of detainees in preparation for interrogations.”
It adds that this torture and abuse included “the application of chemical substances to exposed skin and eyes.”
Perhaps most disturbing of all, “the torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers.” In the Mercury base lingo, a detainee was called a PUC (which stands for “Person Under Control” and is pronounced “puck”). “On their day off, people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent,” one sergeant told Human Rights Watch. “In a way, it was a sport.
The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day [a sergeant] shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger, a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs.”
U.S. military personnel broke the bones of detainees “every other week,” according to the soldiers who spoke to Human Rights Watch. Then medical professionals would cover for them. “When a detainee had a visible injury such as a broken limb . . . an army physician’s assistant would be called to administer an analgesic and fill out the proper paperwork,” the soldiers charged, according to the report. “They said those responsible would state that the detainee was injured during the process of capture, and the physician’s assistant would sign off on this.”
Captain Fishback said he raised concerns with his superiors for seventeen months, but the Army did nothing until he contacted members of Congress.
Fishback told The New York Times on September 28 that he believes the Army still does not want to investigate thoroughly. “I’m convinced this is going in a direction that’s not consistent with why we came forward,” he said. In the last week alone, Fishback has been questioned by his superiors for at least eight hours. “They keep asking about my relationship with Human Rights Watch,” he told the Times.
Along with the new Human Rights Watch report comes a hideous report from the East Bay Express about how “U.S. soldiers trade grisly photos of dead and mutilated Iraqis for access to amateur porn.”
The article, written by Chris Thompson, says that “American soldiers have been using the pictures of disfigured Iraqi corpses as currency to buy pornography.” At the porn website, “you can see an Arab man’s face sliced off and placed in a bowl filled with blood,” the article says.
And the captions, written by the soldiers, are grotesque. “Cooked Iraqi,” says one. “Bad day for this dude,” says another. “DIE HAJI DIE,” said a third.
The Pentagon says it is investigating this story, as well.
But that’s what it always says.
It’s had more than ten formal investigations of prison abuse. But it never holds the guys at the top culpable—especially not Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld, as the man in charge, has command responsibility for those under him, and he has shirked that responsibility.
He mocked early reports of such abuse as “isolated pockets of international hyperventilation.”
And the troops took the hint: The boss doesn’t mind at all.
In case they missed it, Rumsfeld approved abusive techniques in a directive he issued in December, 2002, which he later rescinded under pressure.
But he had sent an obvious message: Take the gloves off.
And when the gloves come off, every variety of sadism is let loose—not just Lynndie England’s and not just at Abu Ghraib.