Friday, August 27, 2004

When something stinks

I was reading the Schlesinger Commission report on Abu Ghraib. It's actual title is "Final Report of the Independent Panel To Review DoD Detention Operations," and you can find it here.

As usual, the press is totally clueless in their reporting of it. But only because they follow their usual course of taking the words of the principles involved at face value rather than thinking for themselves, and asking the questions that they should be asking.

When reporting on politics the main question is not the traditional litany of "What, When, Where, Why and How." The main question is, "Is this bullshit?"

For instance, the AP headline reads, "No Evidence That Rumsfeld Condoned Abuse." USA Today says "Report on Iraq abuse cites interrogators, clears leaders"

But in reality, the report itself makes it clear that, as usual, when something stinks, it stinks from the top. The devil is in the details, and the details aren't even complicated.

On page 33 of the Schlesinger Commission report, it says that the Department of Justice told the Counsel to the President that "neither the Federal War Crimes Act nor the Geneva Convention would apply to the detention condition of al Qaeda prisoners," and that the Taliban "did not qualify for Enemy Prisoner of War status under Geneva Convention III." Both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and "many service lawyers" disagreed with the White House, because they felt that such a stance "would be inconsistent with past policy and practice, jeopardize the United States armed forces personnel and undermine the United States military culture which is based on a strict adherence to the law of war." The Department of State, Department of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that all detainees "would get the treatment they are (or would be) entitled to under the Geneva Conventions."

So what happened?

What happened was that Bush, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft thought that the recommendations of the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were stupid.

It's the usual pattern with this crew: despite the fact that they don't know a damned thing about real war, never having been real soldiers, they THINK they know more than everybody, including those who HAVE been real soldiers. They live and die following arrogance as their sacred principle..

So, on February 7, against the advice of those who knew better, Bush issued a memo saying that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to al Qaeda. On August 1, 2002, Bush's Office of Legal Counsel stated that "only the most extreme acts, that were specifically intended to inflict severe pain and torture would be in violation." In fact, the memo said, Bush could even authorize torture as Commander In Chief exercising wartime powers, if he so decided.

Then, authorities at Guantanamo asked for permission to use "strengthened interrogation techniques" in order to garner information. The Schlesinger report is silent on the specifics of the techniques authorized, but according to a report by Major General George R. Fay, Rumsfeld himself approved interrogation techniques which included "the use of stress positions, isolation for up to thirty days, removal of clothing and the use of detainees' phobias (such as the use of dogs)."

Who commanded Guantanamo Bay and was authorized to carry our these extreme interrogation procedures? Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller. And after his stint in Guantanamo, the White House decided that he was just to man to head up interrogations in Iraq.

"In Iraq, Miller's team gave officers at the prisons copies of the procedures that had been developed at Guantánamo to interrogate and punish the prisoners, according to the officer who traveled with him.

To at least a few of the officers who met Miller in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib crisis was partly rooted in what they described as his determination to "Gitmoize" the American-run prisons in Iraq."

Colonel Thomas Pappas told investigators the idea of using dogs came from Miller.

So, in a nutshell: Rumsfeld and Bush authorized extreme interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, and then sent the folks who had carried out these extreme techniques to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.

But despite this rather glaring proof of culpability, the White House is supposed to have no culpability for what happened at Abu Ghraib.

The main reason the press spins in that way is because, like the good little puppies that they are, they were told to. James Schlesinger, the head of the commission, went out of his way to underplay it.

"There was direct responsibility for those activities on the part of the commanders on the scene up to the brigade level, because they did not adequately supervise what was going on at Abu Ghraib," Schlesinger said. "There was indirect responsibility at higher levels, in that the weaknesses at Abu Ghraib were well-known and that corrective action could have been taken and should have been taken."

But Schlesinger revealed that his reasons for underplaying the wrongdoing of the high mucky-mucks had nothing to do with the facts of the situation but were entirely motivated by personal fondness for Rumsfeld.

"He said Rumsfeld's office could be faulted for inadequate supervision, but he strongly objected to the suggestion that Rumsfeld should step down from his post.

"His resignation would be a boon to all of America's enemies," Schlesinger said."

Actually, Mr. Schlesinger, there are a whole lot of us who think his resignation would be a boon to America.

And you should not have allowed your personal opinion of Mr. Rumsfeld to cause you to whitewash his obvious culpability.

When something stinks, it stinks from the top.

There are many documents relating to the Torturegate scandal available on the Washington Post's website.

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