What struck me most about Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld's testimony last week was how he reserved his greatest indignation
for those who leaked classified information exposing rampant military abuse
of Iraqi prisoners. They did so "against the law," he twice noted in a testy
exchange with a senator.
Rumsfeld seemed more upset with conscientious whistleblowers breaking the law
than sadistic guards and interrogators breaking the law by abusing Abu Ghraib
prisoners – 60 percent of whom were innocent civilians who should never have
been jailed in the first place, according to the investigative report Rumsfeld
didn't want leaked.
Neither he nor the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers,
bothered to read even the summary of the report, or so they say. Yet Myers found
the time to put the screws to CBS to delay a "60 Minutes
II" report on the scandal.
It's plain that brass were more concerned about political damage from the abuses
than the abuses (which is just a kind way to say war crimes). These aren't "shocked"
leaders; these are leaders covering up. And for good reason.
According to senior Pentagon officials I've interviewed, some directly involved
in Iraq intelligence operations, this scandal has long legs. Before it's all
over, we'll know the following and then some:
Those same internal Army reports, written last summer and fall, describe
the U.S.-run prisons in Iraq as "Roach Motels," because innocent Iraqi civilians
check in, but they never check out, as I detail in the upcoming issue of
Pat Buchanan's The American Conservative magazine.
In fact, that commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (who later started the
criminal investigation), was so concerned about interrogations getting out
of hand last fall that he ordered a review of detention and interrogation
operations by Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, who examined legal and medical
issues at the prisons and recommended that military police not be allowed
to participate in interrogations.
But as anti-occupation attacks surged, Rumsfeld and Myers overrode Sanchez
by pushing on him a Gitmo interrogation specialist – Maj. Gen. Geoffrey
D. Miller – who recommended MPs be "actively engaged in setting the conditions
for successful exploitation of the internees" – or in plain English, softening
up Iraqis so they'd confess to whatever was needed (Miller is now in charge
of "reforming" Abu Ghraib and other prisons).
Soldiers were so poorly trained in screening Iraqis taken into custody
that they would often just write one word on so-called "capture tags," which
are supposed to state all the reasons and circumstances of their capture,
and that word was "Baathist," which contributed to the unnecessary jailing
of thousands of Iraqis.
Geneva Convention rules were supposed to be posted at the prisons in both
Arabic and English, but they weren't posted in any language; and none of
the MPs had been trained in proper screening and interrogation – not at
home before deployment, not at Camp Doha in Kuwait, and not at the prisons
where they ended up working.
Even now there are no plans to train them in so-called GENCON compliance
(it's not on the "critical task list" for the next army training program);
yet Rumsfeld's undersecretary of intelligence (a newly created Pentagon
position, frighteningly enough) has helped launch a plan to turn all soldiers
– including basic-infantry reservists and National Guardsmen – into interrogators.
Also, CIA paramilitary officers hid inmates, called "ghost detainees,"
at Abu Ghraib from visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
teams – even though the practice ran afoul of the Army's own doctrine, which
clearly states: "Accredited representatives of protecting powers and the
ICRC are allowed full access to the I/R (internment and resettlement) facility
In a tragic irony, the harsh tactics didn't even work to get the relatively
few legitimate security detainees to crack, because "the Iraqis were subject
to such brutality (under Saddam Hussein) that there's not a lot to throw
at them," one military intelligence official told me, "so largely flattery
or just simply outsmarting the Iraqis is what seems to be working."
The reported deaths of Iraqi inmates pales next to the unreported number
of unjustifiable killings of civilians by coalition forces outside prisons,
which officials say are occurring at an alarming rate of about a dozen a
day on the streets and in homes across Iraq; and the innocent victims include
women, children and elderly (the Pentagon still won't release civilian or
even military casualty figures, a departure from previous wars).
So let's get this straight.
In order to save the now-dearly beloved Iraqi people (for whom George W.M.D.
Bush cared not one whit as a candidate or first-year president) from Saddam's
"brutality," we are beating them, siccing dogs on them and sodomizing them with
broom handles and glow sticks. And to protect them from burial in his "mass
graves," we are burying them ourselves at a rate of more than 4,000 a year.
Such ingrates those Iraqis.