Of US Militarys
Culture Of Torture In Iraq
By James Cogan
26 April 2005
obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), under Freedom
of Information, provides further evidence of the culture of torture
and abuse that has prevailed among US military personnel involved in
the interrogation of Iraqi prisoners. It confirms that the brutal treatment
photographed at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad during November and December
2003 was not an isolated series of actions. The abuses occurred within
the context of an open discussion among US interrogators on using illegal
methods to break the willpower of Iraqi prisoners and extract information.
On August 14, 2003,
Captain William Ponce of the joint task force headquarters in Baghdad,
wrote an email to a number of US interrogators, telling them that the
scale of the Iraqi insurgency meant the gloves were coming off
and giving them three days to submit a list of alternative interrogation
techniques they would like to be able to use.
Last week, the Washington
Post published summations and extracts of several of the replies, which
were made available as part of a release of documents, court records
and files. The 2,200 documents obtained by the ACLU have been scanned
and put online at: http://www.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/041905/
in Qaim, working in a detention centre run by the Third Armored Cavalry
Regiment, replied on August 14 recommending close confinement
quarters, sleep deprivation, white noise and harsher fear-up
approaches. His email included a clause that fear of dogs
and snakes appear to work nicely.
Tikrit, working for the Fourth Infantry Division, sent back an email
on August 17, 2003, recommending open hand strikes, closed-fist
strikes, using claustrophobic techniques and a number of coercive
techniques such as striking with telephone books, low-voltage electrocution
and inducing muscle fatigue.
The feedback was
used in the drafting of a memo on acceptable interrogation methods,
which was released on September 14, 2003, by then-US commanding officer
in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. While carefully worded,
the document authorised at least 12 techniques that breached the Armys
own field manual.
The memo included
the technique described as fear-up harshor significantly
increasing a prisoners sense of fearand another called pride
and ego down, defined as attacking or insulting the ego
unfolded amid obvious signs that the US occupation confronted an unexpected
guerilla war against a well-organised resistance. The American military
had little knowledge of the forces it was fighting and desperately required
such as Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz had predicted before
the war that less than 60,000 US troops would be needed in Iraq within
months of an invasion. Bush had strutted the deck of an aircraft carrier
and declared victory on May 1, 2003.
Instead, by August,
the scale of the anti-occupation insurgency had forced the Pentagon
to maintain troop numbers at more than 140,000 and US casualties were
steadily rising. Mutinous statements were being made by soldiers in
frontline American units such as the Third Infantry Division, denouncing
the government for lying about what they would confront in Iraq.
By November 2003,
senior field commanders such as Major General Charles Swannack, commander
of the 82nd Airborne Division, were telling journalists theres
no-holds barred on the methods the US military was prepared to
use. Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, commander of the US 1st Armored
Division, told a press conference that the one thing I am blessed
with is a chain of command that runs right up through the president
of the United States, who has essentially told me You do whatever
you need to do, in a way thatll make your country proud, to finish
The discussion in
the military on using harsher tactics against the Iraqi resistance establishes
that the attempt by the Bush administration to blame bad apples
for the abuse of prisoners is nothing more than crude scapegoating.
Interrogators were encouraged to believe they had the go-ahead to use
torture to gain information on the popular insurgency. Such methods
flowed inevitably from the demands of the Bush administration for the
military to suppress the opposition of Iraqis to the illegal occupation
of their country.
A US intelligence
sergeant, for example, responded to a reprimand he was given over prisoner
abuse in September 2003 by accusing his superiors of blurring
the lines between official enemy prisoners-of-war and terrorists not
afforded international protection. He had been punished for supervising
an interrogator in Tikrit who allegedly beat an Iraqi detainee on the
soles of his feet, his buttocks and back with a police baton.
the sergeant wrote, it seems clear that, considering the seeming
approval of these and other tactics by the senior command, it is a short
jump of the imagination that allows actions such as those committed
by [name censored] to become not only tolerated but encouraged.
At the Qaim detention
facility, the torture went much further. Former Iraqi general Abid Mowwhoush
died while under interrogation in November 2003. At the time of his
death, he was tightly bound inside a sleeping baga claustrophobic
techniqueand had been beaten. Three American soldiers and
an interrogator have been charged over the killing.
At Abu Ghraib, the
American guards who have been prosecuted, have alleged that the orders
to sexually humiliate Iraqis came from intelligence officers who instructed
them to prepare prisoners for interrogations. One of the
other guidelines from Sanchezs office was the use of dogs, to
exploit Arab fear of the animals. Five US soldiers have now been
tried and convicted for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib.
More than likely,
the cases at Tikrit, Qaim and Abu Ghraib are only the tip of the iceberg
of US crimes against Iraqi prisoners. According to the ACLU, the documents
it has now published include autopsy reports that provide new,
and often gruesome details about detainee deaths ruled to be homicides,
including death by strangulation and blunt force injuries.
ACLU attorney Amrit
Singh noted in a press release on April 19 that the documents showing
a discussion on torture were further evidence that the chain of
command in Iraq approved and even encouraged the abuse of detainees...
Instead of holding that chain of command accountable for systematic
detainee abuse, the US government continues to thwart efforts to bring
the full truth out about who was ultimately responsible.
This charge was
confirmed on April 22. An investigation by the US Army Inspector General
cleared General Sanchez and three other senior officers of any culpability
in the torture and abuse carried out by soldiers under their command.
In total, just 125
US personnel have been charged with criminal or administrative offences
over prisoner abuse. The only high ranking officer who is likely to
face any sanction is Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the Army reserve
officer who was ostensibly in charge of Abu Ghraib. She is expected
to receive a reprimand.
Those most responsible
for the crimes committed in Iraq, however, are the civilian and military
leadership in the White House and the Pentagon. It is simply not credible
that the Bush administration and the chiefs-of-staff were unaware of
the systemic abuses and use of torture taking place in US-run detention