Creating Blowbacks and Backlashes

George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Inhumane treatment of prisoners produces blowbacks and backlashes

Dear Mr. President:

The reported widespread abuse of prisoners by your Administration adds another condition that reflects on your failure of leadership. Anticipation and prevention of such tragedies should have been routine by the top officials whom you command. How can you imagine winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? You are expanding what the intelligence agencies call “blowbacks” – expanding the networking of stateless terrorists against the United States. In addition, your Administration’s actions put US soldiers and civilians in Iraq at increased risk from the backlash to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, most of whom the press reports were charged with no wrongdoing when imprisoned.

With the publication of photos from Abu Ghraib prison the truth is beginning to come out. In recent years newspaper articles, human rights reports and expressions of concern from the International Red Cross, Red Crescent and other human services agencies have claimed that torture, degradation and inhuman treatment had become the mode of operation under your Administration in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and Iraq. This has included repeated reports in the media of deaths and suicides of people being held in US military custody.

General Antonio Taguba, who wrote the Pentagon’s report looking into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, testified on May 11 before the Senate Armed Services Committee describing systemic problems with the prison. He testified that what happened was the result of a rampant failure of leadership “from the brigade commander on down, lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report concerning prisoner abuse based on private interviews with prisoners of war and civilian internees during the 29 visits ICRC staff conducted in 14 places of detention across Iraq between March 31 and October 2, 2003. The report said that as far back as last May, the Red Cross reported to the military about 200 allegations of abuse, and that in July it complained about 50 allegations of abuse at a detention site called Camp Cropper – including one case of treatment that included being deprived of sleep, kicked repeatedly and injured and having a baseball tied into the prisoner’s mouth. On May 10 the Red Cross stated that the organization’s president, Jakob Kellenberger, complained about the prison abuses directly to top administration officials during a two-day visit to Washington in mid-January when he met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

You cannot claim that you were unaware of these allegations. You are briefed daily. In addition to these allegations being reported in the media, human rights groups have specifically written to your Administration about them. In July 2003, Amnesty International sent your administration a Memorandum on Concerns Relating to Law and Order in Iraq. The Memorandum included allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Iraqi detainees by US and Coalition forces.

A May 7, 2004 letter signed by nine leading human rights organizations states: “For over a year, the undersigned organizations and others have repeatedly asked you and senior officials in your Administration to act promptly and forcefully to publicly repudiate the statements of intelligence officials and to assure that the treatment of detainees is consistent with international humanitarian law.” Amnesty International also alleged torture and degradation in the treatment of prisoners and detainees resulting from the war in Afghanistan held in that country as well as Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And, the Washington Post has reported that your State Department and Department of Defense had conflicts over the treatment of prisoners. As commander-in-chief, certainly you were or should have been aware of these assertions – often repeated in the media, by various organizations – and of the conflicts within your own Administration.

Now that the photographs are beginning to make their way into the media, the public is seeing that US treatment of detainees, prisoners and people held in enemy combatant status includes acts abhorred by the American people. Sadly, there will be more – more photos, videos, testimony – where more of the facts will come out.

Human rights groups wrote you on May 7 saying: “Extraordinary action on your part is now required to begin to repair this damage and, at long last, bring an end to this pattern of torture and cruel treatment.”

You and your aides have a disquieting habit of not responding at all to such letters going back to the pre-invasion of Iraq early last year, when 13 groups representing millions of Americans (e.g., religious, veterans, business, labor, retired intelligence) wrote you requesting a meeting. They did not even receive the courtesy of a reply.

In order to restore public confidence around the world an independent international investigation is needed. The Department of Defense investigating itself, or investigation by Republican controlled congressional committees in a presidential election year, will not be sufficient to restore the confidence of the world.

The following steps are needed:

  1. Get the truth out through an impartial, international commission. This should include people of unquestioned integrity from within the United States and around the world. You should state that you or anyone in your Administration will testify in public before this fact-finding Commission. This should include involvement of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission provided for by Article 90 of Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions to look into the allegations of abuse and related US investigations. The US should agree to pay restitutions to all individuals whose rights were violated.

  2. Renounce interrogation techniques that destroy basic human dignity and the very purpose of eliciting valuable information. Remove those in the chain of command who in anyway countenanced or ordered such activity. Direct the Department of Defense and US intelligence agencies not to engage in any practices that are inconsistent with the US Constitution forbidding cruel and unusual punishment, the Geneva Convention, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This includes banning “stress and duress” techniques, incommunicado detentions and transfer of prisoners to countries that use torture techniques. Strong and clear penalties should be announced for anyone who uses such interrogation techniques. Adequate funding should be provided to allow for investigation of allegations of abuse.

  3. Ban the use of private civilian corporate contractors in interrogation and any direct contacts with prisoners or detainees held by the United States. These are essential governmental functions under established rules of military, domestic and international law. You would do well to examine the corporate contracts in Iraq for waste, corruption, non-performance and favoritism – before the media gets there.

  4. Allow access to all prisons, prisoners, detainees and people held in non-combatant status to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and UN International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. This should include private interviews of prisoners as well as visits by medical personnel.

The photos showing abusive treatment are serious. They come on top of reports of US military actions that took the lives of hundreds civilians – including women and children – in Fallujah, as well as reports of over 10,000 Iraqi civilians being killed in the US war and occupation of Iraq. It comes at a time when it is evident that under your leadership as commander-in-chief there has been inadequate planning for post-war Iraq and moving that country to independence from US military and corporate occupation. Further, it has now become evident that the reasons you gave for the invasion and occupation of Iraq were fabrications and deceptions. In truth the United States and the stronger countries surrounding Iraq were never threatened by a tottering dictator with a dilapidated military having no command and control over his troops. Richard Clarke, former White House Terrorism Advisor has argued that the Iraq War and occupation diverted us from preventing stateless terrorism and has been counterproductive to making the United States safer. Gen. William Odom who served as director of the National Security Agency under President Reagan, has called for withdrawal from Iraq saying: “I don’t think that the war serves U.S. interests. I think Osama bin Laden’s interests and the Iranian interests are very much served by it, and it’s becoming a huge drain on our resources both material and political.”

The combination of these actions under your leadership as commander-in-chief amounts to an accumulating failure. You are clearly not able to win the hearts and minds of mainstream Iraqis. You are making the United States less safe by producing more stateless terrorist recruiting, as leading security specialists have pointed out in the media. Your attempt to restore our relations with the international community and involve them in winning the peace in Iraq is too little and too late. Polls report that the majority of Iraqis now want the US to leave immediately – a sharp turnaround by desperate people who wanted Saddam Hussein out.

You need to make major adjustments by giving the Iraqi people truthful expectations – no puppet government (See Yochi Dreazen and Christopher Cooper, “Behind the Scenes, US Tightens Grip on Iraq’s Future,” Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2004, page 1, 8) a responsible withdrawal of both US military and corporate occupations – to protect our troops by bringing them home – and internationally supervised elections with international peacekeepers from neutral countries. This withdrawal from Iraq is consistent with the recommendations of General Odom who explained in an interview on Nightline: “[T]o say you can’t fail at that now, is to fail to realize that you’ve already failed. Now, when I say get out, I don’t mean just pull out and walk out today. I would go through the procedures of going to the United Nations and encouraging a United Nations resolution to approve some U.N. force there. And I would be quite prepared to participate in that for a while, if we could get allies and others to come in. But then I would make it clear that I am slowly moving that responsibility to this force and withdrawing the U.S. over six months or so.”

Perhaps you now see the wisdom of meeting with some of the thirteen groups of Americans – including those composed of retired military officers and intelligence officials, business, church and labor – who asked to meet with you before you declared your unconstitutional war. They could have cautioned you about the Iraqi quagmire.

Ralph Nader