Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners III
Kevin Drum hopes I’m right but fears that I’m not when I say that the abuses in Iraq are isolated events rather than evidence of systemic failure. He cites a piece in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh. I’m a bit leery of Hersh as a source, given some of the rather strange things he’s written in the past, but the article itself strikes me as credible, aside from a few factual errors that seem inevitable when someone without military experience writes about the armed forces.
Hersh cites several institutional problems that he believes contributed to the problem:
BG Janis Karpinski, an Army Reserve MP, “had never run a prison system. Now she was in charge of three large jails, eight battalions, and thirty-four hundred Army reservists, most of whom, like her, had no training in handling prisoners. ” She was soon relieved and an investigation launched.
A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in late February. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of Ã¢€œsadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abusesÃ¢€ at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to KarpinskiÃ¢€™s brigade headquarters.)
Six suspectsÃ¢€”Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II, known as Chip, who was the senior enlisted man; Specialist Charles A. Graner; Sergeant Javal Davis; Specialist Megan Ambuhl; Specialist Sabrina Harman; and Private Jeremy SivitsÃ¢€”are now facing prosecution in Iraq, on charges that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault, and indecent acts. A seventh suspect, Private Lynndie England, was reassigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after becoming pregnant.
Hersh or the report (it’s hard to tell the sourcing) then goes on to list a whole series of rather vile acts, including numerous instances of forcing the prisoners to engage in quasi-homosexual activity.
This is all, obviously, outrageous conduct. On the other hand, the culprits so far identified are limited to six people (out of 3400 in the command), the highest of whom is a 37-year-old staff sergeant, all of whom are Reservists. The action was discovered because a lowly E-4 MP understood that this was outrageous and reported it. At which point, assuming Hersh is right, a one-star was relieved for this failure of control at one of the three prisons she was in command of. A thorough investigation was commissioned under the auspices of a two-star general and criminal charges filed against the alleged culprits.
Perhaps more serious, in terms of finding a systemic pattern of conduct, is the allegation that this is the way military intelligence is “done” in the modern military. Unfortunately, the sourcing for this is less clear than for the first issue. Hersh cites statements by SSG Frederick, the senior defendant, and his attorney, who has a rather inauspicious history:
[Civilian attorney Gary] Myers, who was one of the military defense attorneys in the My Lai prosecutions of the nineteen-seventies, told me that his clientÃ¢€™s defense will be that he was carrying out the orders of his superiors and, in particular, the directions of military intelligence. He said, Ã¢€œDo you really think a group of kids from rural Virginia decided to do this on their own? Decided that the best way to embarrass Arabs and make them talk was to have them walk around nude?Ã¢€
In letters and e-mails to family members, Frederick repeatedly noted that the military-intelligence teams, which included C.I.A. officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors, were the dominant force inside Abu Ghraib. In a letter written in January, he said:
I questioned some of the things that I saw . . . such things as leaving inmates in their cell with no clothes or in female underpants, handcuffing them to the door of their cellÃ¢€”and the answer I got was, Ã¢€œThis is how military intelligence (MI) wants it done.Ã¢€ . . . . MI has also instructed us to place a prisoner in an isolation cell with little or no clothes, no toilet or running water, no ventilation or window, for as much as three days.
The military-intelligence officers have Ã¢€œencouraged and told us, Ã¢€˜Great job,Ã¢€™ they were now getting positive results and information,Ã¢€ Frederick wrote. Ã¢€œCID has been present when the military working dogs were used to intimidate prisoners at MIÃ¢€™s request.Ã¢€ At one point, Frederick told his family, he pulled aside his superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Phillabaum, the commander of the 320th M.P. Battalion, and asked about the mistreatment of prisoners. Ã¢€œHis reply was Ã¢€˜DonÃ¢€™t worry about it.Ã¢€™
Hersh admits that such statements are “self-serving” but thinks there’s circumstantial evidence to back it up, including some incidents in Afghanistan. There’s also this from the report mentioned earlier:
General Taguba saved his harshest words for the military-intelligence officers and private contractors. He recommended that Colonel Thomas Pappas, the commander of one of the M.I. brigades, be reprimanded and receive non-judicial punishment, and that Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, be relieved of duty and reprimanded. He further urged that a civilian contractor, Steven Stephanowicz, of CACI International, be fired from his Army job, reprimanded, and denied his security clearances for lying to the investigating team and allowing or ordering military policemen Ã¢€œwho were not trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate interrogations by Ã¢€˜setting conditionsÃ¢€™ which were neither authorizedÃ¢€ nor in accordance with Army regulations. Ã¢€œHe clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse,Ã¢€ Taguba wrote. He also recommended disciplinary action against a second CACI employee, John Israel. (A spokeswoman for CACI said that the company had Ã¢€œreceived no formal communicationÃ¢€ from the Army about the matter.)
War criminals always blame the system and claim they were just following order. It’s difficult to assess all of this without more information. On the one hand, it’s clear that the Army is taking this situation very seriously and was doing so before it broke in the press. I also know from personal experience, unless things have changed a hell of a lot in the last twelve years, that the Army trains both its officers and enlisted personnel in military ethics and the law of land warfare. Further, while there have been abuses in every conflict we’ve fought in, American soldiers–whether regulars, reservists, or draftees–have been amazingly gentle with prisoners and non-combatants, seeingly able to turn a switch once the shooting stops. Hell, my maternal grandfather (a German enlisted conscript) was a prisoner of the Americans during WWII and, while it wasn’t a picnic, had no animosity toward his captors.
On the other hand, Peters was right and I was wrong on a key point: it’s clear that the repurcussions did extend beyond the six enlistees formally charged with crimes. Also, the use of poorly trained reservists and contractors is an even bigger problem than I’d realized. I was only tangentially aware that contractors had become in such widespread use for combat operations until very recently. And, while I’ve been arguing that we needed more active duty MPs for over a decade, I didn’t realize how poorly trained our reserve MPs are.