May 17, 2004
The court martial of Specialist Jeremy Sivits in the Abu Ghraib scandal that is set to start this week will be open with the media invited into the court.
Why is Sivits the first to go on trial? According to news reports, Sivits has cut a deal. He has pleaded guilty, and in exchange for a lighter sentence, Sivits is expected to testify that his superiors did not know what was going on. Only the little guys did something bad; the higher-ups never knew a thing about it. He has even said, "If they saw what was going on, there would be hell to pay."
So, just as quickly as the scandal is breaking, the government is furiously trying to put in place some kind of cover-up.
Did the higher-ups know about the torture? Of course they did – from the very beginning. At the very least, they were told about it by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), which carried out inspections of the prisons and issued several reports starting more than a year ago, in March of 2003, that documented what amounted to torture in U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Moreover, in January, the president of the ICRC met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Department deputy Paul Wolfowitz to insist that the U.S. government do something to stop what amounted to systematic torture in its prisons in Iraq. And – Colin Powell recently told the Baltimore Sun that he fully briefed President Bush about these reports. It is a matter of public record that the U.S. government at its very highest level was made fully aware of the ICRC findings as of January – and nothing was done to put an end to the torture. In other words, it was condoned – which in this situation is the same as saying it was authorized.
These findings were not limited to torture in just one part of one prison, Abu Ghraib, as has been reported. No, the ICRC found the torture to be systemic, throughout the U.S.-run prisons, including at Camp Cropper at Baghdad airport and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq – which were both in operation months before the U.S. even opened Abu Ghraib.
Nonetheless, it is also a matter of public record that the U.S. military did not change its policy. On the contrary, the U.S. military carried out torture openly and brazenly. More than two years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that the U.S. would not adhere to the formal Geneva Conventions that outlawed torture. His justification was that the U.S. was in what he called the war against terror, under which the U.S. regularly includes its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
To run Abu Ghraib, which had previously been Saddam Hussein's most infamous prison, the U.S. military sent in Major General Geoffrey Miller, who previously had been in charge of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of detainees from the Afghan war are still being held under special military rules, without access to lawyers. They have been tortured, as reported by several international organizations. Miller claimed his methods got a high confession rate – even though every military authority says these kinds of confessions are completely worthless, since the person being tortured will say anything in order to get the pain to stop.
Under Miller, the U.S. military decided to use military police – the unit to which the seven soldiers being court-martialed belong – to work closely with military intelligence "to set conditions for the successful interrogation and exploitation" of prisoners. As the accused soldiers put it, they were to "soften" up the detainees, make sure they "have a bad night," for example. The worst forms of torture were always a part of U.S. policy.
Neither the ICRC reports, nor the formal complaints from several U.S. soldiers, who refused to participate in torture as they had been instructed, forced the military to even investigate its own policies. Only in March, that is a year after the first instances of torture were documented did the U.S. military take action. That was precipitated because Joseph Darby, an MP in Abu Ghraib, brought a formal complaint and backed it up with a CD and video tapes filled with over a thousand photos documenting murder, rape, systemic beatings and other forms of torture of men, women, children and elderly people at the hands of the U.S. military. The photos began to circulate – being copied and passed amongst a wide range of people, even being sent in e-mails. This meant it was only a matter of time before a scandal would break. So, the U.S. military was left with no other choice, and it opened up several formal investigations.
The most well-known of these was carried out by Major General Antonio Taguba, which was only reported in May, after it had been leaked to reporter Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker. Taguba's report did document many forms of torture. But it still limited responsibility for this to a supposed breakdown in discipline and poor training of the guards. In other words, Taguba still laid most of the responsibility for the torture on seven privates, corporals and sergeants. The problem with more responsible military officers and government officials was that they were supposedly negligent and incompetent.
But as long as the Taguba report remained secret, the military apparently changed little in the functioning of the prisons. The proof is that the rules that were posted in the prisons that authorized the different forms of torture, including sensory deprivation (including by keeping hoods on people for many days), sleep deprivation, chaining people in uncomfortable "stress" positions for long periods of time, were only taken down in mid-May, that is, only after the scandal had taken on international proportions. In other words, the military waited to a very late date to take down from the prison walls the very rules that proved that torture had been institutionalized.
Today, George Bush may claim that "such practices do not reflect our values." In fact, yes they do reflect George Bush's values – and those of the whole state apparatus.
The members of the U.S. Congress may act shocked for the cameras, and hold hearings, or even call for the dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld. But the fact that they have not immediately moved to impeach Bush and his entire cabinet proves that they are simply stalling for time until the scandal dies down.
Every level of government and the military, from Sivits to the Pentagon to Bush to the Congress are just trying to cover up the crimes that show the real face of the U.S. war against the Iraqi population.