Church Folks for a Better America

A Time Comes When Silence Is Betrayal

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Coalition for Peace Action, 40 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542

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War Crimes

The Washington Post | Editorial

Thursday 23 December 2004

      Thanks to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups, thousands of pages of government documents released this month have confirmed some of the painful truths about the abuse of foreign detainees by the U.S. military and the CIA - truths the Bush administration implacably has refused to acknowledge. Since the publication of photographs of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in the spring the administration's whitewashers - led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld - have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low-ranking reservists, that they were limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003, that they were unrelated to the interrogation of prisoners and that no torture occurred at the Guantánamo Bay prison where hundreds of terrorism suspects are held. The new documents establish beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false.

      Though they represent only part of the record that lies in government files, the documents show that the abuse of prisoners was already occurring at Guantánamo in 2002 and continued in Iraq even after the outcry over the Abu Ghraib photographs. F.B.I. agents reported in internal e-mails and memos about systematic abuses by military interrogators at the base in Cuba, including beatings, chokings, prolonged sleep deprivation and humiliations such as being wrapped in an Israeli flag. "On a couple of occasions I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water," an unidentified F.B.I. agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004. "Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more." Two defense intelligence officials reported seeing prisoners severely beaten in Baghdad by members of a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, in June. When they protested they were threatened and pictures they took were confiscated.

      Other documents detail abuses by Marines in Iraq, including mock executions and the torture of detainees by burning and electric shock. Several dozen detainees have died in U.S. custody. In many cases, Army investigations of these crimes were shockingly shoddy: Officials lost records, failed to conduct autopsies after suspicious deaths and allowed evidence to be contaminated. Soldiers found to have committed war crimes were excused with noncriminal punishments. The summary of one suspicious death of a detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison reads: "No crime scene exam was conducted, no autopsy conducted, no copy of medical file obtained for investigation because copy machine broken in medical office."

      Some of the abuses can be attributed to lack of discipline in some military units - though the broad extent of the problem suggests, at best, that senior commanders made little effort to prevent or control wrongdoing. But the documents also confirm that interrogators at Guantánamo believed they were following orders from Mr. Rumsfeld. One F.B.I. agent reported on May 10 about a conversation he had with Guantánamo's commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who defended the use of interrogation techniques the F.B.I. regarded as illegal on the grounds that the military "has their marching orders from the Sec Def." Gen. Miller has testified under oath that dogs were never used to intimidate prisoners at Guantánamo, as authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld in December 2002; the F.B.I. papers show otherwise.

      The Bush administration refused to release these records to the human rights groups under the Freedom of Information Act until it was ordered to do so by a judge. Now it has responded to their publication with bland promises by spokesmen that any wrongdoing will be investigated. The record of the past few months suggests that the administration will neither hold any senior official accountable nor change the policies that have produced this shameful record. Congress, too, has abdicated its responsibility under its Republican leadership: It has been nearly four months since the last hearing on prisoner abuse. Perhaps intervention by the courts will eventually stem the violations of human rights that appear to be ongoing in Guantánamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. For now the appalling truth is that there has been no remedy for the documented torture and killing of foreign prisoners by this American government.


Letters to the Editor

Washington Post

War Crimes Culpability

Friday, December 31, 2004; Page A28

  I am glad that The Post has spoken out clearly in calling the offenses being committed against prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere "war crimes" [editorial, Dec. 23]. Two important points were omitted.

  One point, according to the International Red Cross, is that 70 to 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib appear to be innocent of any crime, which makes the suffering of these prisoners inexcusable. The other point is that the American Civil Liberties Union issued a press release on Dec. 20 stating that the documentation of these crimes, which it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, includes an FBI e-mail referring to an executive order from President Bush that authorizes some of the techniques now being termed "torture" and "war crimes."

It is good that responsibility for these crimes is finally being directed toward the defense secretary, but he, like some soldiers who have been charged, may have been following orders. The Post must not shirk from reporting the whole story.


Takoma Park


Prisoners and Torture: What Do We Stand For?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004; Page A18

  The Dec. 23 editorial "War Crimes" ended with perhaps the most disheartening words I have ever read in The Post -- "the documented torture and killing of foreign prisoners by this American government."

  Where has America's conscience gone?


Yonkers, N.Y.










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A Project of the Peace Action Education Fund, educational arm of the
Coalition for Peace Action, 40 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542