|The Practice of Torture by the American Army Widespread in Afghanistan |
By Eric Leser
Le MondeTuesday 15 March 2005
Military reports, cited by Human Rights Watch, detail the treatment undergone by two Afghan prisoners who died in December 2002 at Baghram. The same interrogation techniques were then applied to detainees in Abu Ghraib prison. From our correspondent in New York.
American Army internal reports detailing the conditions under which two Afghan prisoners were beaten to death in December 2002 in Baghram prison, north of Kabul, demonstrate, according to the human rights defense organization Human Rights Watch, that the use of torture was systematic in Afghanistan.
Close to thirty American soldiers could be indicted for having participated in the murders. Two of them from the 377th Military Police Company of Cincinnati (Ohio), Sergeant James Boland and Private Willie Brand, have been charged: for abuse and assault in the first case, for involuntary manslaughter in the second.
According to researcher and Afghanistan specialist for Human Rights Watch in New York John Sifton, who has obtained a clandestine copy of the Army's reports, the prisoners died in December 2002, a year before the photographs of tortures and humiliations were taken in the Iraqi Abu Ghraib prison.
"These documents are equivalent to police notes. They demonstrate the evolution of the inquiries, the testimonies, the proofs. The Bush Administration and the Pentagon describe the problems of torture as isolated incidents that are not part of an overall plan. The proofs show otherwise," Mr. Sifton explains to Le Monde.
"The incidents are not isolated cases. We cannot assert that they were the norm, but Private Brand acknowledges, for example, that he beat some twenty other detainees. Blows and painful positions were used very frequently in Afghanistan. According to our own inquiries, almost all the prisoners who subsequently testified underwent abuse in 2002," he adds.
The men of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion who established the interrogation methods at Baghram did the same thing later at Abu Ghraib.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched a suit to obtain the army's reports officially under the Freedom of Information Act; however, they have been refused, since the inquiry is not yet terminated and several indictments could still be pronounced. A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Jeremy Martin, has asserted that "the investigations are being intensively conducted and ... [that] the guilty will be punished appropriately."
The two murdered prisoners were thirty-year-old Mullah Habibullah, the brother of a Taliban commander, and Dilawar, a 22-year-old taxi driver. They died a week apart from one another and had been delivered to American troops by Afghan forces. The New York Times, in its March 12 edition, cites extracts from the reports Human Rights Watch obtained, which detail the treatments undergone.
The two detainees were "chained in their cells and frequently beaten." The investigators cite "credible information" according to which four guards regularly "kicked them in the groin and the legs," "threw them against walls and tables," "forced them to stay in painful positions during interrogations and poured water into their mouths until they suffocated."
The autopsies completed by doctors and cited in the reports indicate that Dilawar's legs were so damaged that amputations would have been necessary. Dilawar died of "violent trauma to the inferior extremities provoking coronary and arterial complications," according to a document dated July 6, 2004.
Mullah Habibullah died of a pulmonary embolism apparently linked to the presence of clots formed in his legs following blows received to them, according to a June 1, 2004 report.
Among the other soldiers under indictment, one "put his penis alongside the face" of a prisoner" and "simulated sodomization." "There were several other deaths in American prisons in Afghanistan before December 2002, and we would like to have information on this subject," explains John Sifton. He also wonders "the reason why, in this matter, in those at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, no member of American intelligence services, and notably of the CIA, has been indicted, even though they had overall control of the interrogations and the prisoners."
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
Go to Original
GIs against Tortur
By John Sifton
28 March 2005 Issue
The torture scandal shows no signs of abating. Almost every day, new allegations surface about mistreatment of detainees in US military and CIA custody. Last week Iraqi and Afghan plaintiffs filed suit against Donald Rumsfeld alleging that they suffered torture while in American custody in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Washington Post broke a major story about a death-by-torture in a secret CIA-run prison north of Kabul.
But while media coverage of the scandal isn't subsiding, neither is public furor escalating. The Defense Department and the CIA continue to quietly direct attention away from some of the more sensitive abuse cases the 2003 killings of several "ghost" detainees by personnel in Iraq, for instance by putting accused military personnel before nonjudicial punishment boards, closed to the public, and hiding CIA involvement behind classified-evidence shields. The Administration has shrugged off the Rumsfeld suit and the CIA scandal in typical fashion, cataloguing its past investigations and promising that all new allegations will be thoroughly investigated.
The strategy seems to be working. Most implicated troops are getting off without significant punishment (in two-thirds of known abuse cases, troops have received only administrative punishments like reprimands and demotions), and no CIA officers have been charged (though one CIA contractor, David Passaro, is awaiting trial in North Carolina for the killing of a detainee in Afghanistan in 2003). Few members of Congress are looking into the issue, save some dedicated Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Senate Armed Services Committee, which held hearing into the abuse charges last summer, has put further hearings on hold. Minority Democrats on that committee are powerless to push the issue, and Democrats generally are pulling their punches.
Senator John McCain could help move things forward. As a second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, and as a torture victim himself, he possesses unique influence to jump-start the hearings. He has also been a forceful and outspoken advocate on these issues in the past.
But there is a valid concern that pursuing further investigations will begin to look like a witch hunt against troops, and thus a dangerous political issue, especially for someone considering a run for the White House. (This is one reason John Kerry avoided the issue during his campaign.)
There is a way out of this trap. The solution lies with the veterans themselves. The issue of accountability for abuses could ultimately become a populist issue. Soldiers and veterans groups could complain that troops are being made into scapegoats, and that the Pentagon and CIA have sold them down the river.
Groups like Soldiers for the Truth and Veterans for Common Sense have already spoken out against higher-level impunity and are starting to ask tough questions. Why are the current investigations only focusing on lower-level troops like Charles Graner and Lynndie England? Why are the grunts paying for the crimes of the Pentagon top brass, the civilian hawks and the CIA spooks?
Some of the troops still being prosecuted for abuse are exploiting the argument further. Several Navy SEALs facing trial in California for killing an Iraqi detainee in November 2003 have made this case, and threatened to drag the CIA into court as part their legal defense. The government appears to have cut deals with some of the SEALs to keep them quiet. A similar situation is unfolding in a case at Fort Carson, Colorado. And David Passaro, the former CIA contractor on trial in North Carolina, recently invoked a "superior orders" defense. He says he is being made a patsy by the government.
These implicated personnel, however guilty they are, should be given an opportunity to make their allegations. And innocent whistleblowers should be given better protection to make complaints. (Many soldiers are currently afraid to talk about abuse allegations, fearing for their careers or that they might be prosecuted for failing to report abuse, something that has in fact occurred.)
The troops know the truth better than anyone. They understand that much of the alleged prison abuse was encouraged or condoned by military intelligence officials, CIA officers or civilian contractor interrogators the very point the Administration denies. They know that more serious abuse, and even torture of high-level detainees, was authorized or condoned by higher-level officials. And they know that other freelance abuses, atrocities committed by various personnel on their own initiative, have gone unpunished an omission that implicates the military and CIA.
Of course, lower-level troops who have committed abuse should not be let off. They should be held accountable. But real accountability for the scandal demands that responsible institutions also be put on trial, along with the people who run them. As rights groups uncover more facts about abuse, they will need to partner with veterans groups to make this point effectively.
And former soldiers will need to be more vocal about these issues. When veterans groups hold an antiwar rally in Fayetteville this March 19, on the two-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, they will need to move their rhetoric beyond "bringing the troops home" and start talking more about abuse issues.
Human rights and civil liberties groups cannot speak the truth alone. On the abuse issue, the factual and contextual disconnects between divergent Americans is simply too great to tackle. Veterans groups are in a unique position to re-establish the narrative about prison abuse so that the American public comes to understand the abuse issue not in terms of rotten apples but in terms of fruits from a poisonous tree.
© : t r u t h o u t 2005