We kept it to broken arms and legs

by Henry on September 24, 2005

The NYT has another story on what seems to have been deliberate and systematic abuse of prisoners in Iraq. At this stage, anyone who’s sticking to the “few bad apples” story is delusional, lying or both. The Human Rights Watch report on which the NYT story is based has first person accounts from two sergeants and an officer.

The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay. They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine. It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy goes before he passes out or just collapses on you. From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever. Deprive them of food water, whatever.
To “Fuck a PUC” means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day.
To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.
… Someone from [Military Intelligence] told us these guys don’t get no sleep. They were directed to get intel [intelligence] from them so we had to set the conditions by banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling. All that shit. We never stripped them down because this is an all-guy base and that is fucked up shit. We poured cold water on them all the time to where they were soaking wet and we would cover them in dirt and sand. We did the jugs of water where they held them out to collapse all the time.
None of this happened in Afghanistan. We had MPs [military police] attached to us in Afghanistan so we didn’t deal with prisoners. We had no MPs in Iraq. We had to secure prisoners. [Military intelligence] wants to interrogate them and they had to provide guards so we would be the guards. I did missions every day and always came back with 10-15 prisoners. We were told by intel that these guys were bad, but they could be wrong, sometimes they were wrong. I would be told, “These guys were IED trigger men last week.” So we would fuck them up. Fuck them up bad. If I was told the guy was caught with a 9mm [handgun] in his car we wouldn’t fuck them up too bad – just a little. If we were on patrol and catch a guy that killed my captain or my buddy last week – man, it is human nature. So we fucked them up bad. At the same time we should be held to a higher standard. I know that now. It was wrong. There are a set of standards. But you gotta understand, this was the norm. Everyone would just sweep it under the rug.
What you allowed to happen happened. Trends were accepted. Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it. They wanted intel. As long as no PUCs came up dead it happened. We heard rumors of PUCs dying so we were careful. We kept it to broken arms and legs and shit. If a leg was broken you call the PA – the physician’s assistant – and told him the PUC got hurt when he was taken. He would get Motrin [a pain reliever] and maybe a sling, but no cast or medical treatment.

According to an officer, the problem was systematic.

I witnessed violations of the Geneva Conventions that I knew were violations of the Geneva Conventions when they happened but I was under the impression that that was U.S. policy at the time. And as soon as Abu Ghraib broke and they had hearings in front of Congress, the Secretary of Defense testified that we followed the spirit of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan, and the letter of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and as soon as he said that I knew something was wrong. So I called some of my classmates [from West Point], confirmed what I was concerned about and then on that Monday morning I approached my chain of command.
I talked to an officer in the Ranger regiment12 and his response was, he wouldn’t tell me exactly what he witnessed but he said “I witnessed things that were more intense than what you witnessed,” but it wasn’t anything that exceeded what I had heard about at SERE school.13
After that I called the chaplain at West Point who I respected a lot and I talked to him about some things and we were on the same page. Then I had said well, “I’m going to talk to my company commander and then my battalion commander on Monday.”
My company commander said, “I see how you can take it that way, but…” he said something like, “remember the honor of the unit is at stake” or something to that effect and “Don’t expect me to go to bat for you on this issue if you take this up,” something to that effect.
I went and talked to my battalion commander. Again, he clearly thinks he has done the right things and that what I am bringing attention to is within the standards and that he is okay. He didn’t dismiss me. He just said “Go talk to JAG. We’ll work this out.” It wasn’t alarming to him in any way, shape or form that these things had happened.
… So I went to JAG and … he says, “Well the Geneva Conventions are a gray area.” So I mentioned some things that I had heard about and said, “Is it a violation to chain prisoners to the ground naked for the purpose of interrogations?” and he said, “That’s within the Geneva Conventions.” So I said, “Okay. That is within the Geneva Conventions.” And then there is the prisoner on the box with the wires attached to him, and to me, as long as electricity didn’t go through the wires, that was in accordance with what I would have expected US policy to be and that he wasn’t under the threat of death. And he said, “Well, that is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.” And I said, “Okay, but I’m looking for some kind of standard here to be able to tell what I should stop and what I should allow to happen.” And he says, “Well, we’ve had questions about that at times.”
When I talked to [an official in the Inspector General’s office about the policy confusion on what was permitted] he says, “You obviously feel very upset about this, but—I don’t think you’re going to accomplish anything because things don’t stick to people inside the Beltway [Washington, D.C.].” He says, “I worked at the Pentagon and things don’t stick to people inside the Beltway.”
When the Secretary of the Army came [to my training], I addressed him on numerous issues, which I don’t want to go into. One of those issues was treatment of prisoners. I mentioned that I didn’t have clear guidance, and the Secretary of the Army said, “Well, we realized that that was a problem but you are a little bit behind the times. We’ve solved that matter. And I didn’t get a chance to respond to that. I should have, I should have pressed that issue a lot harder. That’s one of my regrets. Just bringing up the issue at all was stressful, but it hasn’t been resolved because there is no clear guidance. And through discussions with other officers the problem is not taken care of. It really is multiple problems. It’s two problems. One is the Army handling interrogations and the other is the relationship between OGA and prisoners and what they can and can’t do.
The officer also spoke with multiple experts on the U.S. military Law of Land Warfare, his peers, and his soldiers, all of whom, he said, expressed concern that the Geneva Conventions were not being applied in Iraq. He decided to bring his concerns to the Congress since he felt they were not being adequately addressed by his chain of command. Days before this report was published his brigade commander told him to stop his inquiries; his commanding officer told him that he could not leave the base to visit with staff members of Senators McCain and Warner without approval and that approval was being denied because his commanding officer felt the officer was being naïve and would do irreparable harm to his career.

{ 57 comments }

1

LeisureGuy 09.24.05 at 12:36 pm

No wonder the GOP has been so concerned about the possibility of US personnel being accused of war crimes. And today Alberto Gonzales is our Attorney General–how sick is that?

2

almostinfamous 09.24.05 at 1:02 pm

So I went to JAG and … he says, “Well the Geneva Conventions are a gray area.”

i dont know whether to cry or curl up in a ball and twitch…

3

Kip Manley 09.24.05 at 1:33 pm

“Well, see, it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘few’ is…’

4

j0nesing_around 09.24.05 at 1:55 pm

I was on a chat a few days a ago and these guys were talking in arabic (script and everything). A Lebanese guy I was speaking with translated for me … he said they were talking about American torure in Iraq and making jokes. They seemed to want to damage America by hoping it gets hyped to the max, while also laughing cynically and sneering that the American activity was more like children play acting at torture than real torture. Seems they are of the conviction that Americans don’t know the first damn thing about torture – and after reading some reports lately of activities in Syrian and Iranian prisons, I’m inlcined to agree.

Let’s whip ourselves good. It’s what we do best … ain’t it?

5

Jeremy Osner 09.24.05 at 2:09 pm

Yeah the Syrian cab driver I was riding with the other day said the exact same thing.

6

abb1 09.24.05 at 2:26 pm

…Americans don’t know the first damn thing about torture – and after reading some reports lately of activities in Syrian and Iranian prisons, I’m inlcined to agree.

As a patriotic American, I resent this allegation. I have no doubt whatsoever that our professional torturers will give the Syrians and Iranians a good run for their money.

These kids at the 82nd Airborne are only amateurs now, they’ll learn and excel, give ’em a few years, will ya?

7

Uncle Kvetch 09.24.05 at 2:35 pm

What abb1 said. If anything, this report suggests that we’re making great strides and will be catching up to the Syrians in due course. So take heart, JA.

8

Walt Pohl 09.24.05 at 3:38 pm

There’s a rallying cry that all American can get behind: we should try to be more like Syria, that beacon of political and economic success.

9

engels 09.24.05 at 4:02 pm

How did the US get so far behind Syria in the human rights abuses race? The torture gap must be eliminated.

10

j0nesing_around 09.24.05 at 4:59 pm

engels again. This guy will be cracking open the champagne and dancing IF ONLY ….IF ONLY … the U.S. can be exposed as a filthy imperial, torture enabling backwater of civilization. Only then will the engles of this world sleep easy.

11

nick s 09.24.05 at 5:53 pm

Americans don’t know the first damn thing about torture – and after reading some reports lately of activities in Syrian and Iranian prisons, I’m inlcined to agree.

Two words: extraordinary rendition.

12

Randy Paul 09.24.05 at 5:59 pm

Seems they are of the conviction that Americans don’t know the first damn thing about torture – and after reading some reports lately of activities in Syrian and Iranian prisons, I’m inlcined to agree.

Oh, there are plenty of us who know a great deal about torture:

There are an estimated 400,000 survivors of foreign torture living in the United States, and those who work with survivors say about a quarter of them live in the New York area. While others may debate the fine points of interrogation and the reach of international law, these survivors are now encountering a new dimension of fear, according to doctors and counselors in the network of specialized torture treatment centers across the country.

“There was a sense of horror and disbelief,” said Dr. Allen S. Keller, the director of the program at Bellevue Hospital Center, which treated more than 600 people from 70 countries last year, and gets 5 to 10 new referrals a week. “These are individuals who came to this country seeking safety. We owe it to the torture survivors living in our country not to condone or practice it.”

Rachel Tschida, a spokeswoman for the Center for the Victims of Torture in Minneapolis, the first such center in the United States when it opened in 1985, said the assumptions of torture victims about America have suddenly been thrown into question. “The overwhelming feeling, frankly, is heartbreak,” she said.

Some of us have met torture victims and have worked with them and on their behalf. We just don’t need to find a way yo define deviant behavior down.

More’s the pity you do.

13

soubzriquet 09.24.05 at 6:04 pm

Jonesing: Regardless of how reflective your anectdote may be of opinions in (parts of) the middle east, I do hope nobody is stupid enough to think that in any way excuses us…

14

engels 09.24.05 at 6:17 pm

“j0nesing” – I didn’t say that. But you already know that. I can’t really argue with you beyond this, except to remind you that if anyone wants to check this fact they can just read my comment, which is only a few centimetres above yours on the screen. Cheerio!

15

j0nesing_around 09.24.05 at 6:20 pm

No soubzriquet *sob* I know … you’re right *sob*
OHHHHH GOD!!!!
we are so evil …. *sob*

16

bert 09.24.05 at 6:44 pm

Let go of the “let’s whip ourselves good” line.

You really don’t see how much damage this stuff does to the attempt to prevent further terrorism? To the huge task America’s taken on in the Middle East? You cheered Bush’s inaugural, dint ya?

Even Hitchens – whose idea of a Slate column is a short, successful search for grounds for extenuation (… on Rove/Plame, on Cindy Sheehan: Jewbaiter, on Katrina …), even Hitchens called Abu Ghraib it a “moral Chernobyl”.

This is a different situation, yes.
But in two ways most importantly. First difference: these are 82nd Airborne, not red state retard guardsmen. They’re the face America wants to show to the world, with the marches and Clint Black concerts and all that inspiring stuff. Second difference: this behaviour serves no plausible purpose of any kind. Some have argued that torture is a necessary tool in the attempt to prevent further terrorist attacks, and to arbitrarily rule it out of bounds is to tie your hands unnecessarily. I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but that sounds like it might be a view you’d have some sympathy with. How does an off-duty cook working off his frustrations by breaking a someone’s legs with a baseball bat square up in that calculation?

As other commenters have pointed out, it just won’t do to compare America to the worst type of police state, figure you come out somewhere ahead, then flip channels back to the NFL.

Have another go at thinking it through.

17

jet 09.24.05 at 7:23 pm

So standard procedure is to treat prisoners worse than a biker gang would treat someone who touched his bike, but better than US prisoners have been treated in any war they’ve fought in the last 200 years?

I’ve found torture to be wrong from a civilian point of view, but I wonder how soldiers feel about it. Treatment of prisoners has always been based on parity. One side doesn’t kill/mistreat their prisoners because they don’t want the other side to act in kind. What happens when one side doesn’t meet the standard? Do we show them how much better we are, shove their nose in our pristine morality?

18

Kieran Healy 09.24.05 at 7:43 pm

Do we show them how much better we are

I thought that was the main point of invading them in the first place.

19

bert 09.24.05 at 7:55 pm

Jet, if pristine morality bothers you, you’ll love nowthatsfuckedup.com.

Originally created as a site for men to share images of their sexual partners, this site has taken the concept of user-created content to a grim new low: US troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan are invited to display graphic battlefield photos apparently taken with their personal digital cameras. And thousands of people are logging on to take a look.

The website has become a stomach-churning showcase for the pornography of war–close-up shots of Iraqi insurgents and civilians with heads blown off, or with intestines spilling from open wounds. Sometimes photographs of mangled body parts are displayed: Part of the game is for users to guess what appendage or organ is on display.

[…]

A series of photos showing two men slumped over in a pickup truck, with nothing visible above their shoulders except a red mass of brain matter and bone, is described as “an Iraqi driver and passenger that tried to run a checkpoint during the first part of OIF.”

[…]

All of the posters–and many of the site’s patrons–appear to regard the combat photos with sadistic glee, and pathological wisecracks follow almost every post.

“better than US prisoners have been treated in any war they’ve fought in the last 200 years”?
You’ve got to be kidding.

20

soubzriquet 09.24.05 at 8:16 pm

jOnesing: are you being manipulative, or just obtuse?

21

Jack 09.24.05 at 8:16 pm

Jet, you are bending over backwards to avoid hearing unpleasantness and your judgement appears to have been salami sliced out of existence. This is the big lie effect. Could Bush possibly have sold the war if he had said that there would be large scale abuse of Iraqis by Americans and the oil would reach $70 a barrel? I’m still waiting for Rupert Murdoch and Steven den Beste to explain when exactly we will have oil at $20 a barrel.

The call for this kind of behaviour was not lead from the military. In fact quite the reverse since no-one now assumes that Americans pay attention to the geneva convention. We know from Abu Ghraib that many of the people so treated were not in any sense the other side — at worst most inmates were nothing but small time crooks and in many cases they were entirely innocent, in other words the people we were supposed to be saving. There are not just two sides in this situation, the rest of the world has TV too so wherever US soldiers appear people will be tinking of Lyndsey England which won’t do much for hearts and minds.

I sincerely hope that a few moments reflection on your part will come up with a few more reasons for not mistreating prisoners than fear of reciprocation.

The only possible thing wrong with pristine morality would be if the blemishes that are the alternative delivered some better result. In this case I can’t see what has been gained.

Finally the irony of US soldiers beating people up because they had been found in possession of a gun is profound. What does the NRA think?

22

Nick M 09.24.05 at 8:24 pm

Yes, war is nasty, there will be collaterall damage (i.e. innocents will be blown into little bits) but this does not give any excuse to sink to the level of a previous regieme that we went in to remove. We all know that there were no WMDs, there was no immediate threat and basically it was all about strategic resources, so we are in no position to ‘stick our pristine noses’ into the moral question, other than showing how a moral state should act. The problem appears to be that the media cannot distinguish between a tragedy (a car full of innocents foolishly jumping a check-point and being shot) and the true un-pardonable brutality of mistreatment in custody. The result is an orgy of self-flagelation regardless.
I personally disagree with all the reasons war was waged bar one, the removal of a brutal dictatorship, the one thing that cannot legally justify a war within the UN excepting evidence of genocide. Now we are there, the last thing we should be doing is acting in character of an invading force, so we need to be even more sensitive in adhering to conventions.

23

Aidan Maconachy 09.24.05 at 8:44 pm

When the news first broke about Abhu Ghraib, I was pretty cynical because it seemed to be a minority of boneheads acting out.

However this is looking worse than I had hoped, and yes I agree it definitely got out of hand and now needs to be dealt with thoroughly, and safeguards put in place so we don’t have a repeat.

When you are claiming to be the harbinger of democracy and freedom, you simply can’t afford to sink to this level. It’s that simple.

What I resent though are liberals who almost gloat about this, and take righteous poritions even though they aren’t in the field dealing with the fear and the threat. It’s not hard to be an armchair moralist.

24

engels 09.24.05 at 9:15 pm

What I resent though are liberals who almost gloat about this, and take righteous poritions even though they aren’t in the field

Right. You think it’s appalling and you are happy to say so. What you resent, though, is “liberals” saying so. And maybe civilians in general.

the fear and the threat

We are talking about abuse in a military prison. What the hell do you mean? Please explain how beating up prisoners, putting them in stress positions, and depriving them of sleep mitigates the doubtless substantial “fear and threat” which they represent.

25

Aidan Maconachy 09.24.05 at 9:23 pm

I would add a proviso to the above remark though …

This type of random humiliation of prisoners is a disgrace. Especially because it seems to be more about power and abuse, than intelligence. While it can’t be compared to the vicious torture methods used in other arab countries, it is still a bad lapse that serves the American interest in the region very poorly.

If however, a suspect is being held with only hours to spare before a major catastrophe, and he is holding info relating to location of a device, then I’m inclined to say that in order to save innocent lives pressure might have to be applied to get him to talk. I do know that during the troubles in N. Ireland there were a number of instances when RUC special squad operatives made life very unpleasant for provisional IRA members, and succeeded in evacuating commercial premises sometimes only minutes before explosions, saving countless lives.

I would be interested in hearing from the people in here who have been so tough on the Americans … would you agree that if torture could extract crucial information within a short time frame … info relating to a bomb planted in a mall, that is should be used to save the lives of hundreds of civilians?

26

Walt Pohl 09.24.05 at 9:48 pm

j0nesing_around: Since you just wiped your ass on the American flag, you’re not in a good position to question the patriotism of anyone else.

aidan: The answer to your question is “maybe”. That argument, though, is usually used as part of a bait-and-switch. We start out talking about nuking New York, and then we’re suddenly being asked to endorse the random torture of innocents on the say-so of Pakistani clerics. It’s clear from your post that’s not what you’re doing, but the way that particular question has been used before on this comment board has (I’m guessing) made the commenters here sick of it.

27

jet 09.24.05 at 10:30 pm

Jack,

“The call for this kind of behaviour was not lead from the military.”
Are you sure? September saw ~130 Iraqi cops, ~430 Iraqi civilians, and ~30 coalition soldiers killed in Iraq. With all those innocent cops and civilians blow up, it is quite possible the soldiers want some payback. And the quotes do imply some distinctions between petty criminals and bombers.

“here are not just two sides in this situation, the rest of the world has TV too…”
And that is my point. I really wonder what the US soldiers think about their audiences?

Perhaps they are trying to send a message to the future volunteer insrugents. And it isn’t like they are going to lose their prisoner treatment parity. They have to start targetting civilians and sawing off heads to even reach parity. And I’d bet that the military in Iraq fully understands that a poll of the Middle-East on why do you hate the US invasion in Iraq the most would have “Christian invaders” several spots above “torture of prisoners”.

28

Ray 09.25.05 at 1:39 am

“I do know that during the troubles in N. Ireland there were a number of instances when RUC special squad operatives made life very unpleasant for provisional IRA members, and succeeded in evacuating commercial premises sometimes only minutes before explosions, saving countless lives.”

Cite evidence for at least two such instances.

29

nick s 09.25.05 at 1:51 am

Can we get jet et al. to enumerate the kinds of treatment they consider unacceptable, so that along the line, should evidence of such treatment become public, they can be called on it when (inevitably) they try to defend it?

30

bad Jim 09.25.05 at 2:33 am

Damn. They’re STILL saying “at least we’re not as bad as Saddam” as though it was any sort of excuse, particularly when many of those abused are as innocent as any that Saddam tortured.

“But they’re the bad guys!” Except that the only remaining justification for the invasion and occupation was the liberation of the people we now consider our enemy. Are we fighting them or liberating them? Perhaps our tactics ought to distinguish these cases.

31

abb1 09.25.05 at 2:53 am

I disagree that this is not as bad as Saddam.

My impression is that Saddam’s people didn’t torture for sport, they tortured their political opponents.

Bush’s regime tortures pretty much random people, it tortures them for sport and this seems to be more widespread than it was under Saddam, since it’s not only done by the spooks but by army too, including elite units. I don’t think I ever heard about Saddam’s National Guard torturing anyone, clearly they had higher standards.

32

jet 09.25.05 at 8:08 am

nick s,
I find it completely unacceptable that torture is happening outside of the public eye. But this month, of the ~600 people murdered by the Iraqi insurgents, ~73% were civilians and ~22% were cops. The quotes say that the people that get the really rough treatment are the ones that were picked up for terrorist/insurgent activities, the petty criminals apparently get much lighter treatment. It is wrong (since it is secret), but I find it hard to get worked up about.

But think what would have been the SOP for the Brits if 550 cops and civilians had been dieing every month in Northern Ireland from terrorism.

33

Ckrisz 09.25.05 at 9:21 am

Shorter Jet: Anything short of beheading is okay.

And if you seriously believe our soldiers are torturing Iraqis because they’re upset about Iraqi civilians and cops dying, you are truly, detached from reality.

34

Uncle Kvetch 09.25.05 at 9:24 am

The quotes say that the people that get the really rough treatment are the ones that were picked up for terrorist/insurgent activities

In other words, they were suspects. Not “terrorists” or “insurgents,” but suspects. Meaning that there’s a distinct possibility they were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

Treatment of prisoners has always been based on parity.

So we treated captured Viet Cong & NVA as badly as, say, John McCain was treated at the Hanoi Hilton? We observed how the North Vietnamese did it and adjusted our practices accordingly?

35

rea 09.25.05 at 9:40 am

“remember the honor of the unit is at stake”

“What I resent though are liberals who almost gloat about this, and take righteous poritions even though they aren’t in the field”

You can’t be dishonored by what people say about you, only by what you do. Too many people have reacted to news of dishonorable conduct by our troops by saying everything will be okay if we all just shut up about it.

This is my country we’re talking about here. It used to stand for something, even if we sometimes didn’t live up to our ideals. If we abandon our ideals–if we become just another set of bloody-handed torturers–what the heck does it matter what people say about us?

36

jet 09.25.05 at 9:56 am

ckrisz,
Besides being an assclown, you obviously don’t follow much military news. The record levels of re-enlistment probably have nothing to do with soldiers believing in what they are doing. It must be the great pay and health benefits. Seeing their public works, which they spent months of their own sweat on, blown up over and over probably doesn’t bother them in the least. Handing out candy in the streets to children only to have a roadside bomb go off in the midst of them, doesn’t keep them up at night at all. Spending months clearing insurgents out of a town, losing many friends along the way, only to have all the replacement Iraqi soldiers killed and the town overran as soon as they pull out, probably doesn’t even matter to them. Yeah, it must be the great pay and not a sense of frustration.

Uncle Kvetch,
Obviously the military isn’t going NVA on the Iraqis. The JAG officer was explicit in his quote about not electrocuting prisoners. The behavior is unacceptable, but it is far from as bad as it gets. In a country where the court system is corrupt and overburdened, where arrested terrorists are often released by the courts, it’s hard to get worked up over the military taking the law into its own hands.

37

Uncle Kvetch 09.25.05 at 10:42 am

Obviously the military isn’t going NVA on the Iraqis.

OK…so all that stuff about “parity” was…what, exactly?

The JAG officer was explicit in his quote about not electrocuting prisoners.

Well, that’s a relief. Of course, if it were revealed that US troops were electrocuting prisoners, there would doubtless be a number of commenters on this very site arguing that electrocution is a quick and painless death, it’s really very humane when you think about it, a hell of a lot more humane than what Uday and Qusay used to do, etc etc etc. Would you be one of them, Jet? Or is there actually a point–somewhere out there beyond “breaking limbs with baseball bats just for the fun of it”–where you would, finally, get “worked up”?

38

Randy Paul 09.25.05 at 10:54 am

Treatment of prisoners has always been based on parity. One side doesn’t kill/mistreat their prisoners because they don’t want the other side to act in kind. What happens when one side doesn’t meet the standard? Do we show them how much better we are, shove their nose in our pristine morality?

Even shorter jet: Two wrongs may make a right.

39

hilzoy 09.25.05 at 11:34 am

Aidan M: Personally, I don’t think most of us are gloating. I think we’re genuinely appalled that the country we love is doing these things, in our name.

But this is also not about bashing Americans. There are a lot of things wrong with abusing detainees. One is that it’s morally wrong to treat anyone that way. Another is that it exposes our own soldiers to similar treatment. A third is that it creates a lot more people who hate us, and that directly puts our soldiers’ lives at risk.

But a fourth is one that I just wrote about on my own blog: those who set policy for Iraq, in both the military and civilian leadership, have an absolute obligation to take care of the troops whose lives depend on them. And this means not just keeping them from physical harm, but also trying your best to make policies that will keep them from needlessly doing things that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The people who wrote the policies governing our treatment of detainees completely failed to do that.

If you read the HRW report, and in particular the account of Officer C, you’ll see what I mean. One example:

“It’s army doctrine that when you take a prisoner, one of the things you do is secure that prisoner and then you speed him to the rear. You get him out of the hands of the unit that took him. Well, we didn’t do that. We’d keep them at out holding facility for I think it was up to seventy-two hours. Then we would place him under the guard of soldiers he had just been trying to kill. The incident with the detainee hit with baseball bat; he was suspected of having killed one of our officers. (…)

Look, the guys who did this aren’t dishonorable men. It’s not like they are a bunch of vagabonds. They shown more courage and done more things in the time that I’ve spent with them than I could cover in probably a week of talking to you. They are just amazing men, but they’re human. If you put them in a situation, which is the officer’s responsibility, where they are put in charge of somebody who tried to kill them or maybe killed their friend, bad things are going to happen. It’s the officer’s job to make sure bad things don’t happen.”

We should not have prisoners guarded by the unit that captured them — a unit whose members may have been shot at or killed by these same prisoners. I think it is understandable, under the circumstances, that “bad things happen”: if your buddy just got killed, and you think that the prisoner before you is the guy who did it, it’s easy to see how you could end up abusing him. But, as Officer C says, “It’s the officer’s job to make sure bad things don’t happen.” And our total failure to do that is not understandable at all.

Similarly, it’s worth reading Officer C’s report just for his account of his efforts to get clear on which interrogation methods were allowed and which were not. He couldn’t. Again, asking soldiers to basically make up their detention policies on the fly is an invitation to disaster, and a total failure of leadership. Our soldiers deserve a lot better.

40

Donald Johnson 09.25.05 at 12:26 pm

Are people under the impression that Vietcong prisoners weren’t tortured during the VIetnam War?

My impression is that most governments, democratic and non-democratic alike, will stoop to bestial practices both in war and in their foreign policy in general if they think they can get some benefit from it and won’t pay a heavy price. In a democracy they can get away with it if the citizens either don’t know, don’t want to know, or rationalize it away when they do know. As we see happening in this thread.

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abb1 09.25.05 at 12:33 pm

In a democracy they can get away with it if the citizens either don’t know, don’t want to know, or rationalize it away when they do know.

Exactly. I posted this link to a Chinese newspaper article in another thread, but it belongs here.

Deputy mayor, 2 police officers killed in Iraq

TIKRIT, Iraq, Sept. 23 (Xinhuanet) — A deputy mayor of the Iraqi town of Dhuluiyah, some 100 km north of Baghdad, and two police officers were killed by US forces there on Friday, local policeand witnesses said.

“A group of US soldiers stormed the house of Brigadier Jabar Atiyah Saud, the deputy mayor of Dhuluiyah and dragged him out of his house before they shot him several bullets in his head,” asource from the Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, the US soldiers also killed two local police officers, Captain Amir Yousif and the 1st Lt. Jasim Khalaf, the source added.

The US troops have sealed off the town of Dhuluiyah since Tuesday, imposing curfew and preventing people from leaving their homes as US snipers deployed on roofs of high buildings, local residents told Xinhua by telephone.

“The US soldiers shot the drinking water containers above houses and many families are suffering from shortage in watersupplies,” a local resident, Ammar al-Jubouri said. The wounded people or even deaths were not allowed to shift to the medical center outside the town, Jubouri said. On Wednesday, the US troops had detained the police chief of the town and hundreds of people, including dozens of policemen, after insurgents in Dhuluiyah attacked a convoy of trucks carrying military supplies for the US troops.

The attack damaged three trucks in the convoy guarded by the US troops and killed their three drivers, probably Turkish nationals, According to the source.

See the whole thing is one big atrocity, from the beginning to end.

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Randy Paul 09.25.05 at 3:24 pm

I would be interested in hearing from the people in here who have been so tough on the Americans … would you agree that if torture could extract crucial information within a short time frame … info relating to a bomb planted in a mall, that is should be used to save the lives of hundreds of civilians?

Belle Waring, addressed the question rather well here, but you’re stacking the deck so much that you really need to review what you said.

To begin with, expert interrogators (i.e. people who do this for a living) make the argument that someone would say anyhting to end the torture. Accordingly, I wouldn’t accept the core of your argument, “if torture could extract crucial information within a short time frame.”

Moreover, if time is of the essence, imagine the two following hypotheticals:

1.) You have the wrong guy and torture him while the real perpetrator is out there, well, perpetrating the terrorist act.

2.) You torture the guy only to have him succumb and give you information that he knows is false. So, whilke all the resources to prevent the bombing are directed to point A, the bomb goes off at point B.

Torture is not used to extract information. It is used to intimidate. It is used, as Elaine Scarry made the point in her book, The Body in Pain: the Making and Unmaking of the World, to substitute the torturer’s world for the torture victim’s.

It has absolutely no place in a democracy.

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Jack 09.25.05 at 4:58 pm

I interpret Jet as suggesting, in an atempt to explain coalition torture, that the following propositions hold:

Torture is necessary R&R for GIs

Torture is not damaging to the reputation of the US.

Torture is an effective deterrent to resistance to US forces.

Torture of innocents is not as serious as beheading of soldiers.

Torture is not the main thing people have against us.

The only reason not to torture is fear of being tortured.

That’s six impossible things to believe before breakfast. It is also the thinking of a psychopath.

Jet, accepting that, how are we the good guys? Cooperate with the US — we will torture people if you don’t but not quite as badly as the other guys will? It doesn’t even work as a threat. Can you think of a reason not to be cruel to animals?

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Jack Lecou 09.25.05 at 8:22 pm

Aidan,

To what Randy and Belle said, I would add only that even the hypothetical ticking bomb scenario is not an adequate argument for making ex ante exceptions to an anti-torture policy.

If Heroic Agent Jack Bauer really does find himself in the highly unlikely position of needing to torture the location of a bomb out of someone, then he can go right ahead and perform whatever unlawful acts he deems necessary. Then he can walk straight down the hall, lock himself in a cell, and prepare himself for a long stay. If others later deem his actions justified, then perhaps he will receive a pardon.

It simply isn’t necessary to invite abuse by listing a bunch of hypothetical conditions where torture would be “justified”. It should work just as well to declare that torture and mistreatment will be severely punished across the board. G-men who believe that an exception needs to be made should weigh that need against the personal consequences they will face should they be mistaken.

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Donald Johnson 09.25.05 at 8:26 pm

My Vietcong prisoners sentence was ambiguous–did I mean Vietcong who were prisoners were tortured by the US and South Vietnam, or did I mean that the Vietcong tortured the prisoners they caught? No matter. The answer is the same either way.

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jet 09.25.05 at 8:30 pm

Jack,
Maybe you should add quotations for where I said those things, cause I only seem to recall this one “Torture is not the main thing people have against us.” I’d made my point and was done, but I can’t leave assclownery like yours unchecked.

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MQ 09.25.05 at 11:24 pm

Jet has a lot of nerve accusing other people of being assclowns.

It is true that torture has been practiced by both sides in just about all the guerilla “dirty” wars we have seen in this century (Algeria, Vietnam, etc.), so it is not surprising that our troops are engaging in it here. This is, as usual, the fault of the Bush administration for getting our troops into a particularly dirty and nasty guerilla war with a hostile, alien population, with no ability to engage in it effectively and no plans for handling intelligence.

I look forward to the replies from Bush apologists (I think we should stop calling them ‘conservatives’ as that ideology has a long and honorable intellectual history) arguing as usual that the manifest incompetence and stupidity we have displayed through the Iraq war is the fault of “the terrorists”. It is true that we couldn’t have fought this war in a manner more damaging to this country’s interests if an Al Qaeda member was in charge of the Pentagon, so perhaps there is a sleeper agent somewhere.

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nick s 09.26.05 at 12:55 am

The record levels of re-enlistment probably have nothing to do with soldiers believing in what they are doing. It must be the great pay and health benefits.

Or perhaps it’s the realisation that re-upping (and getting the signing benefits) is preferable to being stop-lossed or called up out of the reserves? Obviously you don’t read that much military news.

And you haven’t answered my question, have you?

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Jack 09.26.05 at 2:31 am

Jet, will this do?

Torture is necessary R&R for Gis
I’ve found torture to be wrong from a civilian point of view, but I wonder how soldiers feel about it

and

With all those innocent cops and civilians blow up, it is quite possible the soldiers want some payback.

Torture is not damaging to the reputation of the US.
“here are not just two sides in this situation, the rest of the world has TV too…”
And that is my point. I really wonder what the US soldiers think about their audiences?

Torture is an effective deterrent to resistance to US forces.
Perhaps they are trying to send a message to the future volunteer insrugents.

Torture of innocents is not as serious as beheading of soldiers.
They have to start targetting civilians and sawing off heads to even reach parity.

Torture is not the main thing people have against us.
And I’d bet that the military in Iraq fully understands that a poll of the Middle-East on why do you hate the US invasion in Iraq the most would have “Christian invaders” several spots above “torture of prisoners”.

The only reason not to torture is fear of being tortured.
And it isn’t like they are going to lose their prisoner treatment parity.

and

It is wrong (since it is secret), but I find it hard to get worked up about.

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jet 09.26.05 at 7:51 am

nick s,
Do I need to quote myself on this thread saying that what was reported was unacceptable?

Jack, you’re kind of your own refutation. Your turning questions into statements and being purposefully obtuse shows we have no way of communicating and nor do you want to.

For the obtuse and hysterical, I’m in no way condoning torture. But the joint coalition/Iraqi court system often lets powerful criminals/insurgents go, so until the system is fixed, we will see abuses. I say we start with a full Congressional accounting of the mechanics of the coalition occupation. Perhaps a 9/11 style investigation with a report on what exactly has happened. This baseball bat torture is just another symptom of much larger problems.

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Jack 09.26.05 at 11:10 am

Jet , you may not be condoning but every comdemnation from you comes with a “but” at the end. Not only that but the explanations, ameliorations and nuances are mostly quite alarming if examined at all carefully. I can’t imagine you being comforted to the point of not being able to get worked up by any of these arguments if they had been expounded before we went into Iraq. I think that you are in quite a strange position and that it would be worthwhile taking a step back. I hope that if you do you will be less accepting. I note how many soldiers and conservatives were upset by the original revelations alone but when nothing much happens as a result people accept it as a fact of life. I think that is unfortunate.

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nick s 09.26.05 at 8:55 pm

Jet , you may not be condoning but every comdemnation from you comes with a “but” at the end.

Precisely. Now, jet, could you answer my question? Because there’s an awful lot of accepting in your account of what you consider ‘unacceptable’. I’m looking for something a little less weasely.

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jet 09.26.05 at 9:04 pm

Here. If it is to happen, then it should be part of a public debate. I would be completely against it, but wouldn’t be too concerned if I lost. Thousands of people are being blown to pieces by terrorists. If the grand intelligence of a Democracy decides that torture is a good way to fight this, so be it.

The Badr militia and SCIRI are wildly popular amongst Shi’ites and their methods (via the ministry of interior) make the coalitions look like the work of pacifists. They are pretty much the work of a democracy.

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nick s 09.27.05 at 12:06 am

jet: uh, try reading yourself.

“It is wrong (since it is secret), but I find it hard to get worked up about.”

Try again. What kind of treatment of detainees would actually get you worked up? What would make you give a shit? C’mon. I just want some pointers on what you’ll be making excuses for in six months’ time.

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terry the terriste 09.27.05 at 11:06 am

Thousands of people are being blown to pieces by terrorists. If the grand intelligence of a Democracy decides that torture is a good way to fight this, so be it. (jet)

Thousands of people are being tortured. If the Grand Intelligence of Osama bin-Laden decides that terrorism is a good way to fight this, so be it.

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Randy Paul 09.27.05 at 8:00 pm

Thousands of people are being blown to pieces by terrorists. If the grand intelligence of a Democracy decides that torture is a good way to fight this, so be it.

And thus break it’s own laws. Do you ever wonder why they call it a crime against humanity?

By the way, the above comment of yours renders the following comment of yours a lie:

I’m in no way condoning torture

Poppycock. You most certainly are.

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Urinated State of America 09.28.05 at 12:05 pm

“I do know that during the troubles in N. Ireland there were a number of instances when RUC special squad operatives made life very unpleasant for provisional IRA members, and succeeded in evacuating commercial premises sometimes only minutes before explosions, saving countless lives.”

I’d check your sources. The PIRA usually gave warnings prior to bombings in commercial areas (there were even codewords used to validate the warnings). The worst of the IRA bombings (bloody friday, and the CIRA’s bombings in Omagh) were when the bomb location given in the warning was inaccurate. (How do I know? Well, being evacuated from your home at 5:00 am burns it into you). The only non-warning bombing that comes into my head is the Narrow Water Castle bombing that killed 18 soldiers. I’m no fan of the PIRA, but they did make a more-than-rhetorical distinction between so-called legitimate targets and the rest of the population.

I’ll also point out how badly internment in the early 1970s and mistreatment of internees backfired on the UK government. Most rounded up during internment weren’t connected to the PIRA; but the PIRA didn’t lack for recruits afterwards.

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