Monday, November 5, 2007

Who pulled the strings at Abu Ghraib?

Yes, this all happenned several years ago...but it's been weighing on my mind ever since. It's a VERY long blog. Please bear with me.

There really aren’t a lot of things that I call myself “eminently qualified” to give an opinion on. Most of the time that doesn’t stop me, though. I generally am pretty content to spout off with my relatively-informed opinions at the drop of a hat without being a qualified expert on the topic. Most of the things I talk about aren’t exactly rocket surgery either. However, occasionally a topic comes up where I have special qualifications, such as a commercial driver’s license, or specific experience, such as being there in Germany first-hand to see the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism. There are a lot of things that I can engage in an intelligent discourse over without looking like a complete rube, but few things I would be so bold as to call myself an expert on. But on a select few topics, yes, I am eminently qualified. This is one of those topics.

For the sake of background, I spent four years as a military policeman in the US Army. My primary specialty as an MP was Combat Support and Law Enforcement, and my secondary specialty was that of Corrections. The wartime mission for my unit in Germany, the 285th MP Company, was that of Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) operations. In the event of an armed conflict, we were to set up and operate a prison camp as well as process and guard EPW’s and CI’s, or Civilian Internees. In addition to frequent classroom training on the subject, I had several excellent field training exercises specifically tailored to EPW ops to give practical application to the classroom theory. In one exercise I role-played the part of a prisoner, and in a longer 21-day event, we ran a camp whose prisoners were members of the Army’s elite 10th Special Forces Group.

In Kansas, I was assigned to the US Army Correctional Brigade, and as part of my duties apart from Law Enforcement, I was responsible for prisoner custody & control in a military correctional environment populated by as many as 3,000 convicted offenders. Once the First Gulf War started to ramp up, my unit helped train National Guard MP units in EPW operations prior to their deploying to the front lines.

Additionally, while in college I served an internship at the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor, Maine, working in part with prisoner intake and classification for a semester. So yeah, I guess it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about jails in general and military prisons in particular. This said I felt that I had finally procrastinated long enough, and that I should make my opinions on the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal known, in as much as I was not there first-hand to witness the events.

Personally, I think things got way out of hand, but also that things got blown way out of proportion, too. What should have been administratively handled at the unit level instead made it to the press, and the drive-by media blew it all over the place, and everybody proceeded to boo-hoo over it. There, I said it. Now start calling me a torturing war-monger.

Look, be realistic, people. Occasionally alternative interrogation methods need to be employed to get valuable intelligence from people who are doing their level best to KILL US. Yes, us. Not just American troops, but the entire country. These extremist Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and insurgents want to wipe us as a nation off the map and start over from scratch as an all-Islamic world state. How big of an idiot does someone have to be to not see that? And note that I said “extremist Islamic fundamentalists” and not “everyday Muslims”. Not everyone who follows the Koran is a terrorist.

I’ve asked time & time again, why is it seemingly okay for insurgent scumbags to behead our people on live streaming webcasts, to mutilate the burned corpses of contractors and hang the remains from bridges, and to put IED’s inside the remains of dead women and babies on the side of the road to blow up people coming to try and render aid? But when anyone wearing an American flag does something even remotely non-Hearts & Flowers it’s suddenly an international war crime? Riddle me that, why don’t you? That double standard is a load of crap. Don’t feed me any lines about the Geneva Convention, the Hague Accords, the Code of Conduct, et cetera. Nobody follows them any more. Sure, we should try to hold ourselves up to a higher standard of ethical & moral conduct, I agree. However, war is nasty. War is dirty. War is a blurred-line gray area with murky situations, where young people are forced to make instantaneous decisions on life & death. For most of us the toughest decision we make all week is “cash or charge” or what to make for dinner.

Early in the war, LTC Allen B. West, a veteran officer working to facilitate elections, fired his pistol into the ground a foot away from the head of an Iraqi policeman who refused to give up information about a plot to assassinate West in a large-scale ambush. The Iraqi then gave up all the relevant information he had, and many lives were saved. Was it extreme? Maybe, but I’d rather see some corrupt enemy operative crap his pants in fear than see American troops come home in a flag-draped box. West was quoted as saying, “"If it's the lives of my men and their safety, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can." Colonel West was reprimanded, fined around $5,000.00, and relieved of command pending his forced retirement. His career was ruined by Army staffers looking for a convenient example to set. That’s a shame, since we need more officers like him who are willing to make tough decisions and save American lives. If you’re reading this, Colonel West, I’d personally carry your gas can, sir.

The MP’s at Abu Ghraib prison screwed up. That much is glaringly obvious, and I’ll easily give it that much. They did a bunch of stupid, juvenile grab-ass pranks at the expense of prisoners who would gladly have done worse to them had the roles been reversed. It was dumb and childish to dog pile naked prisoners and dumber still to take pictures of themselves doing it. But humiliation of that nature is not what I consider torture. It really wasn’t even severe abuse. It was childish hazing but it actually served a purpose. No one was found to have bamboo splinters under their nails. No one had cinder blocks dropped on them to break their bones, and no one was being hooked up to live wires attached to their scrotums. Allegations of abuse and torture were made by the New York Times, but nothing truly substantial was able to be proven. Again, there was childish hazing that actually does in the end serve a purpose. Hazing and harassment serves to break down a prisoner’s will to resist and makes them despair enough to crack and eventually talk during interrogation.

I should know; I’ve done it myself.

Yes, you read that right. I’ve done it myself to American soldiers during a training exercise.

During a multi-unit Joint Combat Readiness Exercise called Coronet Rodeo in 1989, my unit operated a mock POW camp and our prisoners were members of the 10th Special Forces Group. Under orders from the 511th Military Intelligence Battalion, we made sure the “prisoners” got no more than 2 hours of sleep at a stretch, sometimes giving them as little as 45 minutes between wakeups and roll calls. The lights were always on to ensure they never had a darkened area to sleep in. We kept them silent, and didn’t allow them to bathe but every few days. (The stench in the main tent was special). At night they were stripped to their skivvies and t-shirts to sleep in. But in the case of their leader, a Special Forces Captain about to be promoted to Major whose name I will not reveal due to Operational Security concerns, he wasn’t wearing any skivvies when “captured” so he got the added perceived embarrassment of standing at attention for all the roll calls with his junk in the breeze in front of his subordinates. Southern Germany is cold and wet in late October so he was quite miserable in addition to be humiliated such. After about a week, we gifted him with a pair of pink panties donated by a female trooper, again for the humiliation factor, assisting in breaking the subordinates respect for their leader and in breaking down the officer for interrogation.

The interrogations themselves were an amazing learning experience to see, even though I don’t speak Russian, the primary language used during the sessions. (This added realism to the exercises). There was a lot of yelling, banging on tables, the ubiquitous single light bulb overhead, and implied threats of a very personal nature, judging from the interrogators’ body language. Some of the “prisoners” were graduates of the military’s SERE School, so the stuff we were told to do by the Intel staffers were a walk in the park for them. SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) is a program that provides military personnel with training in the Code of Conduct, survival skills, evading capture, recovery and dealing with captivity. Please look it up for a full overview.

So, to reiterate, under the orders and supervision of intelligece personnel, I embarassed/humiliated prisoners, deprived them of sleep, and ensured that they were tired, cold, miserable, and smelly, all in a training environment.

So these guys at Abu Ghraib took a buch of pictures of naked Iraqis in a dog pile, were parading naked prisoners around female soldiers, and told a couple guys that if they moved off their chairs they’d get electrocuted. They harrassed some prisoners and did a bunch of stupid childish hazing. I do not see where they themselves tortured anybody. From what I’ve seen, their behavior was directed and orchestrated by civilian interrogators contracted by the CIA. I find that scenario highly plausible and believeable given my prior experience with military interrogators and the rampant use of civilian contractors by the CIA to do their dirty work. The MP’s, Army Reservists who were not full-time soldiers and had not been assigned to the prison for very long, have been scape-goated by the entire Western world. If indeed there was any torture at all, look to the civilian contract interrogators, not the MP’s.

Of the soldiers involved in the case, the Army removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and seven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault, and battery.

•Colonel Thomas Pappas was relieved of command of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. He was in charge of military intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib. He was fined $8000 under the provisions of Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (nonjudicial punishment). He also received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR) which effectively ended his military career.
•Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan became the highest ranking Army officer to have court martial charges brought against him in connection with Abu Ghraib. LTC Jordan, a reserve civil affairs officer, was director of the Joint Interrogation Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib prison.On August 28, 2007, Jordan was acquitted of all charges related to prisoner mistreatment and received a reprimand for disobeying an order not to discuss a 2004 investigation into the allegations. His career is effectively ended.
•Specialist Charles Graner was found guilty of multiple charges and was sentenced to ten years confinement, forfeiture of all pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private.
•Corporal Joshua Lee Betts, of the 321st Military Intelligence Battalion, Detachment 9, pled innocent to his charges. CPL Betts was later cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence.
•Staff Sergeant Ivan “Chip” Frederick pled guilty to multiple charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison, forfeiture of all pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private. He served 3 years and was paroled on October 1, 2007 .
•Sergeant Javal Davis pled guilty to multiple charges. He was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.
•Specialist Jeremy Sivits was sentenced by a special court-martial to the maximum one-year sentence, in addition to being discharged for bad conduct and demoted, upon his plea of guilty.
•Specialist Armin Cruz of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion was sentenced to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge in exchange for his testimony against other soldiers.
•Specialist Sabrina Harman was sentenced to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge after being convicted on six of the seven counts she was charged with. She had faced a maximum sentence of 5 years.
•Specialist Megan Ambuhl was convicted and sentenced to reduction in rank to private and loss of a half-month’s pay. She was allowed to remain in the military.
•Private First Class Lynndie England was convicted of multiple charges. England faced a maximum sentence of ten years, but was sentenced to three years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction in rank to Private and received a dishonorable discharge. She was paroled on 3 March, 2007, after having served 521 days. She will remain on parole through September 2008, when her three-year sentence will be complete.
•Sergeant Santos Cardona was convicted of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault and served 90 days of hard labor at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He was transferred to a new unit and was eventually promoted to Sergeant. He is currently with a unit selected to train Iraqi police.
•Specialist Roman Krol pled guilty to multiple charges. He was sentenced to ten months confinement, reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.
•Specialist Israel Rivera, who was present during alleged abuse, was under investigation but was not been charged and has testified against other soldiers.
•Sergeant Michael Smith was found guilty of multiple charges and sentenced to 179 days in prison, a fine of $2,250, a demotion to private, and a bad conduct discharge.

For those unfamiliar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a Bad Conduct Discharge is a punitive discharge that can only be given by a court-martial as punishment to an enlisted service member. Bad conduct discharges are often preceded by a period of confinement in a military prison. The discharge itself is not executed until completion of both confinement and the appellate review process. Virtually all veterans' benefits are forfeited by a bad conduct discharge. A Dishonorable Discharge is a punitive discharge that can only be handed down to an enlisted member by a General Court-Martial. With this characterization of service, all veterans' benefits are lost, regardless of past honorable service. This type of discharge used to carry a heavy stigma as it made obtaining gainful post-service employment extremely difficult. Also, many states will prohibit ownership of firearms from those who have been discharged dishonorably, as does Federal law.

The commanding officer at the prison, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, was reprimanded, and demoted to the rank of Colonel on May 5, 2005. Her demotion was not officially related to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. General Karpinski ( I refuse to acknowledge her demotion) has denied knowledge of the abuses, claiming that the interrogations were authorized by her superiors and performed by subcontractors, and that she was not even allowed entry into the interrogation rooms.

Karpinski claims the particular wing of the prison where the events took place was under the control of military intelligence "twenty-four hours a day." She claims Army intelligence officers encouraged guards to torture prisoners as an aid to interrogation, and that she was a scapegoat. A June 2004 BBC article said, "Gen Karpinski believes the soldiers had not taken the pictures of their own accord." It quotes her as saying:

"I know that the MP unit that these soldiers belonged to hadn't been in Abu Ghraib long enough to be so confident that one night or early morning they were going to take detainees out of their cells, pile them up and photograph themselves in various positions with these detainees."

In an interview with BBC Radio, Karpinski claimed that Major General Geoffrey Miller, who was sent from Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay to improve interrogations at the Iraqi prison, told her to treat prisoners "like dogs" in the sense that "if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you've lost control of them". General Miller denies that he ever made the remarks.

In November 2006, Karpinski told a Spanish newspaper she had seen a letter apparently signed by now-former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that allowed civilian contractors to use techniques such as sleep deprivation during interrogation. She stated, "The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorised these specific techniques." According to Karpinski, Rumsfeld's handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished."

If you want to blame people, blame the CIA and Department of Defense for playing dirty. Blame Donald Rumsfeld for letting things get out of hand and for not policing his cronies. Granted, “I was just following orders” is not a reasonable defense for misconduct, but trust me when I say that intelligence personnel are very persuasive in the ways they phrase their orders to guard personnel and phrase things so that they sound perfectly legal. I can guarantee that with civilian CIA contractors in the mix, the MP’s were made to feel pretty much helpless to do anything other than what they were told. A bunch of reservists pulled from jobs at pizza places and Wal Marts, and newly assigned to the prison, in my humble opinion, aren’t likely to question the CIA.

Again, I don’t have any real issue with harrassment and hazing in a controlled manner to break down prisoners for interrogation. Ocasionally, alternative measures have to be employed. People are not just going to cough up valuable intelligence by us asking “Pretty Please”. Let’s be adults here. Sleep deprivation, loud music, bread & water, yelling and shouting, naked parades, those are fine. Beatings are not okay. Breaking bones is not okay. Complete lack of sanitation is not okay. Sexual assaults are not okay. I’m not sure yet where I stand on waterboarding.

Scapegoating American soldiers so that the CIA can slide their dirt under the rug is also not okay. Do not sacrifice your soldiers for the supposed greater good of secrecy, because pretty son you’ll run out of soldiers willing to serve. Nobody wants to get thrown under the bus. Lynndie England may have been photographed holding a prisoner on a leash, but who was holding her leash?

No comments: