Prisongate: The Down and Dirty

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:

  • Army intelligence warned brass in internal reports last year that Iraq prisons (plural) were a human-rights time bomb, further casting doubts on the Administration’s claims that it only became aware of mistreatment this year and only at Abu Ghraib.

  • 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.

  • After the Red Cross complained about abuses last August, the top U.S. commander in Iraq fired off a classified memo putting a stop to “pride-and-ego-down” interrogations and other harsh tactics without his authorization.

  • 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.

  • Beginning in August, Iraqi detainees were allowed to keep copies of the Quran and their prayer beads, which had previously been taken away.

  • 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.

  • Around November, the CIA was banned from conducting interrogations by some commanders who didn’t like its methods, which included accidentally offing high-value detainees.

  • 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 and internees.”

  • Stripping prisoners and leaving them naked for several days at a time also violated Army doctrine which mandates that guards “supply EPWs (enemy prisoners of war) with sufficient clothing, underwear and footwear.”

  • 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.