May 11, 2004

Who's responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib?

Today members of the US Senate heard from Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the US military official who investigated the events at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to Taguba, there was no policy or specific order that authorized that authorized the 'sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses' carried out by some military and civilian personnel.

Gen Taguba told the committee: "A few soldiers and civilians conspired to abuse and conduct egregious acts of violence against detainees and other civilians outside the bounds of international laws and the Geneva Convention."

Detainees at Abu Ghraib prison were forced to commit sexual acts, were threatened with torture, rape or attack by dogs, and were hidden from Red Cross visits, "in violation of international law", according to his 53-page report which focused on blocks where interrogation took place.

Asked directly what had led to the abuses, Gen Taguba told the committee: "Lack of discipline, no training whatsoever, and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant."

[You can download a PDF file of Taguba's full report here.]

We have to admit to being somewhat suspicious of Taguba's findings that the responsibility for the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib lies at such a low level — especially given the evidence that high officials in the Pentagon and Dubya's administration were first alerted about the problems at the prison a year ago.

A few days ago, we had an interesting conversation with a current Army reservist, who recently finished her active duty (not in Iraq). She comes from a military family and has relatives currently in the service. She told us that she and her family members were worried about the possibility that the Army and administration would try to limit the responsibility for the abuse and torture of prisoners to the lowest level possible. Given her military experience, she said, she seriously doubted that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib would have done what they did without either 1) clear orders to do so from their superiors or 2) a clearly conveyed 'understanding' that such actions were approved and expected. And even if neither of these were true, she said, the commanders of the prison — and their superior officers — were responsible for knowing what was being done in the units under their command — especially given how pervasive the abuse was and how long these acts had been occurring.

[For a similar opinion, see this editorial in the Army Times. ]

This magpie certainly isn't an expert on US military law, the chain of command, or the Geneva Convention (and, unlike some in the blogosphere, we won't pretend we are), but we're not at all sure that all of the facts of what happened at Abu Ghraib are coming out. And, despite Maj. Gen. Taguba's admirable effort at documenting at least some of the abuse, we're not convinced of his conclusion that the problems at the prison were due to a few loose cannons who operated without approval of their superiors. If we were talking about only a few incidents that took place over a few weeks, maybe this explanation would wash. But given that this stuff went on for at least a year, we can't believe that only the people who actually carried out the torture and abuse are the only people who bear the responsibility for the awful acts carried out in the name of all of us in the US.

Via BBC.

More: The full text of today's hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee (including Maj. Gen. Taguba's testimony) is here. We recommend skipping over defense under-secretary Stephen Cambone's spin-ridden statement to the committee, which begins on page 2 and ends on page 5.

Posted by Magpie at May 11, 2004 08:27 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |