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Friday, August 31, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Dishonesty about Abu Ghraib

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Dishonesty about Abu Ghraib
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: August 30, 2007

We would have been hard pressed to think of a more sadly suitable coda to the Bush administration's mishandling of the Abu Ghraib nightmare than Tuesday's verdict in the court-martial of the only officer to be tried for the abuse, sexual assault and torture of prisoners that occurred there in 2003.

The verdict was a remix of the denial of reality and avoidance of accountability that the government has used all along to avoid the bitter truth behind Abu Ghraib: The abuses grew out of President George W. Bush's decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions and American law in handling prisoners after Sept. 11, 2001.

The man on trial, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, was not a career officer. He was one of a multitude of reservists pressed into Iraq duty, many of them for jobs beyond their experience or abilities. A military jury of nine colonels and a brigadier general decided that he was not to blame for the failure to train or supervise the Abu Ghraib jailers and acquitted him on all charges related to the abuse. He was convicted only of disobeying an order to keep silent about Abu Ghraib.

Our purpose is not to second-guess the verdict. Rather, we fear that this and the other Abu Ghraib trials have served no larger purpose than punishing 11 low-ranking soldiers. Not one officer has been punished beyond a reprimand, and there has been even less accountability at higher levels. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials have claimed that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were the disconnected acts of a small number of sociopaths. It's clear that is not true.

Abusive interrogations, many of them amounting to torture, were first developed for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after Bush declared that international and American law did not protect members of Taliban or Al Qaeda, or any other foreigner he chose to designate as an "unlawful enemy combatant." Once the signal was sent that prisoners in the "war on terror" were not entitled to decent treatment, cynical lawyers conjured up perverse legal arguments to ensure that the jailers' bosses would not be prosecuted for abusing them. The techniques and attitudes developed in Guantánamo Bay were exported to Afghanistan, and then to Iraq.

Pentagon officials say they have learned the bitter lessons of Abu Ghraib. Their civilian bosses clearly have not. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 did not provide adequate protection to military prisoners, and it gave the CIA carte blanche to run overseas prisons to which anonymous men are sent for indefinite detention and abuse. In July, Bush issued an executive order reaffirming his policy of ignoring the Geneva Conventions when he chooses.

The need to be honest about Abu Ghraib and to correct the abuses at military and CIA prisons is not only about upholding the law and American values. It is about the safety of American soldiers. Every abuse the United States visits on detainees increases the risk of American soldiers being abused in foreign prisons. If humanity and law are not reasons enough to end the detainee abuse, then it should be done for the cause that Bush invokes daily: supporting the troops.


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