Breaking news: The Army officer in charge of the interrogation/torture operation at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 is being court-martialed. My first thought: Finally, an officer is being held accountable. In view of the repeated rebuff to my own attempts to stop the torture and identify those responsible, however, you will perhaps excuse my skepticism that justice will be done.
An Army intelligence analyst, my job at Abu Ghraib was systems administrator (“the computer guy”). But I had the bad luck to be on the night shift. And so I saw the detainees dragged in for interrogation, heard the screams, and saw many of them dragged out.
Watching Act I of the faux-trial of Lt. Col. Steven Jordan last week at Fort Meade, Md., confirmed my worst suspicions. I know Jordan; I was in place for his entire tenure at Abu Ghraib, including when prisoners were being tortured; he was an immediate boss.
Enter from the wings Reserve Maj. Gen. George Fay. Fay was handpicked to run interference for then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by conducting the same kind of “full and thorough investigation” that former President Richard Nixon ordered for Watergate.
With Fay, too, I speak from personal experience. Shortly after photos of the torture at Abu Ghraib were published, I found myself being interviewed by Fay on May 1, 2004. It was a surreal performance, with Fay seeming to take his cue at times from Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau.
Except it wasn’t funny then, and it isn’t funny now. To me, Fay showed himself singularly uninterested in what really was going on at Abu Ghraib. I had to ask him repeatedly to listen to my account. Whereupon he said he would recommend action against me for not reporting what I knew sooner, for, if I had done that, I could have prevented the scandal. Right.
In my view, it was clear that Fay’s job was to quiet any discordant notes from noncommissioned officers like me and help Rumsfeld push the responsibility down to “bad apples” at the bottom of the chain of command.
When Maj. Gen. Taguba’s Abu Ghraib investigation report was leaked to the press on May 4, 2004, I was very surprised to find myself listed as the only military intelligence soldier to witness to the truth. And for my conscientiousness, the Army imposed an exclusive gag order on me 10 days later; a week after that my top-secret clearance was suspended, and eventually I was reduced in rank.
So it came as no surprise to me that Fay would continue to play a disingenuous role at the court-martial of Lt. Col. Jordan.
Jordan is the only officer and the last of the 12 persons charged in the scandal to go to trial. Eleven enlisted soldiers have been convicted of crimes, with the longest sentence, 10 years, given to former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. in January 2005.
Two of the charges against Jordan (together punishable by eight years in prison) were obstruction of justice and lying to Fay.
On the day before Jordan’s trial began, Fay contacted Army prosecutors to claim that he “misspoke” in earlier testimony that he had advised Jordan of his rights before interviewing him in 2004. The Army judge was quick to approve a defense motion to dismiss the false-statement and obstruction of justice charges.
Eight years off a possible sentence even before the trial begins! Not bad.
The next stiffest possible sentence was five years for disobeying Fay’s ban on discussing the investigation with others. But not to worry. Testifying last Wednesday, Fay could not remember when he had told Jordan to avoid discussing the investigation.
Enter defense attorney Maj. Kris Poppe. To Fay: “Today you testified you gave a specific order not to discuss to speak to no one. And that testimony is based on your memory, is it not, sir?”
“It is,” Fay replied.
So, presumably, we can now strike five more years off a possible sentence.
What’s left of the charges? Cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, punishable by one year in prison.
But the Army prosecutor amended that particular count by reducing its scope from three months to a single day. The only other charges are failure to obey a regulation (a possible two-year sentence) and dereliction of duty (six months).
It seems a safe bet that Jordan, like his immediate supervisor, Col. Thomas Pappas, will get off with a reprimand and a minor fine.
If They Had Asked Me
According to press reports, other witnesses will be called to testify at the Jordan court-martial.
Strange. Although I was at Abu Ghraib for the entire time Jordan was there, for some reason the prosecution does not seem interested in using my testimony at this trial.
I could, for example, provide testimony demolishing the myth that Jordan was not all that involved in interrogations.
One of the soldiers who worked very closely with Jordan verified that he was fully familiar with the infamous “hard site,” where much of the torture took place. Jordan had been seen there on more than one occasion, hanging out, laid back, with his feet propped up. My soldier informant also bragged that he had joined Jordan in beating up a prisoner.
Jordan also took liberties with what were standard procedures, much like the CIA and other civilians who did not seem to bother much with such niceties. One of the sergeants with direct access to Jordan told me that Jordan felt empowered to ignore regulations and interview detainees alone, which was highly irregular even for swashbuckling CIA interrogators.
I cannot tell whether the Army is deliberately oblivious to my potential input or it is simply not taking these things seriously.
Last month, a person from the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division and one from the team prosecuting Jordan came to interview me. Why? Because they had seen me in a documentary and learned from the film that I was at Abu Ghraib at the same time as Jordan. Never mind the copious testimony I had given over the past several years.
Never have I been called to testify at any of the trials.
No One Accountable
In keeping with the Rumsfeld adage “Stuff Happens,” and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s timidity, no senior U.S. Army officer or defense official is likely to be held accountable for the torture, “ghost” prisoners, and other abuses at Abu Ghraib. Only the bad apples at the bottom; none of the ones at the top.
Not the commander in chief, who authorized torture by memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002, announcing and implementing a new policy that detainees be treated “humanely, as appropriate, and as consistent with military necessity.”
Not then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, nor his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, nor U.S. pro-consul Paul Bremer, nor troop commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, nor Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller (in charge of Gitmo-izing Abu Ghraib), nor Sanchez’s intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, nor National Security Council functionary Frances Townsend.
All of the above visited Abu Ghraib during the torture year of 2003 before the photos surfaced the next year.
Had it never occurred to them that their incessant pressure on Army interrogators to find nonexistent WMD in Iraq and nonexistent ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, together with the expanded list of torture techniques duly approved by hired-gun lawyers in the Pentagon, the office of the vice president, and the Department of Justice, would lead to the abuses of Abu Ghraib?
Not to mention things like the marginal notes from Rumsfeld, on the list of torture techniques: “Make sure this happens.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Only one general officer passes the smell test, and he with flying colors Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba.
On Jan. 31, 2004, he was asked to look into the abuses at Abu Ghraib. A mark of his seriousness of purpose is the fact that Taguba completed his investigation in two months and did not sugarcoat his findings: “Systemic and illegal abuse of detainees numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.”
In an attempt to explain how it could be that Taguba could deviate so far from the official line, one wag speculated that, for some reason, Taguba “didn’t get the memo.”
He did an honest job and we would probably not ever have seen his unvarnished findings, had not some patriotic truth-teller (AKA leaker) made it available. That was the end of Taguba’s Army career, however. Several months after his report leaked, Taguba got a phone call from his boss telling him to retire.
Looking back, Taguba recently told Seymour Hersh, “I assumed they wanted to know. I was ignorant of the setting.”
The general spoke of his futile attempts to get senior generals to focus on the problem of torture. One lieutenant general was at least candid in rebuffing Taguba: “I don’t want to get involved because what do you do with that information, once you know?”
Taguba also spoke of the indignities thrown his way by Rumsfeld and martinets like Gen. John Abizaid who, like so many other high officials civilian, as well as military seem to have forgotten the oath we all took to defend the Constitution of the United States.
A few weeks after his report became public, Abizaid turned to Taguba with a pointed warning: “You and your report will be investigated.”
Preferring to hold onto his belief in an Army led by generals with integrity, Taguba later expressed his disappointment that Abizaid would have that attitude.
Awakening to the new reality, though, Taguba let it all out in a very telling way: “I had been in the Army 32 years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.”
This article first appeared on ConsortiumNews.org.