Sunday, March 19, 2006

How you turn things upside down!

Woe betide those who seek to hide their plans
too deep for the Lord to see!
When their deeds are done in the dark
they say, 'Who sees us? Who knows of us?
Isaiah 29:15 (REB)

I don't think anything here is unfamiliar if you've read the article in Harper's Magazine from the February issue, "Judgment Days: Lessons from the Abu Ghraib Courts-Martial." Unfortunately, that still isn't available online, although I excerpted from it here. This article makes it clear that Abu Ghraib was not an aberration; and that the stench clearly rises to the top:

As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.
Black because of its color. Black because even the Red Cross wasn't allowed in this prison. Black, too, for the deeds done there.

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.
No more than there are at Abu Ghraib. Go to the article; they even had their own logo (the placard mentioned there).

The heart of the matter is this:

The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib.

The abuses at Camp Nama continued despite warnings beginning in August 2003 from an Army investigator and American intelligence and law enforcement officials in Iraq. The C.I.A. was concerned enough to bar its personnel from Camp Nama that August.
With these kinds of protests going on within the government, how can anyone argue this abuse was unknown, unauthorized, and disapproved? When an Army investigator issues a warning about the abuses, American intelligenc and law enforcement officials raise the issue, and the CIA won't send agents there, who is overriding all the red lights and blaring klaxons those actions are setting off?

Three guesses, first two don't count.

The article notes that: "The documents and interviews...reflect a culture clash between the free-wheeling military commandos and the more cautious Pentagon civilians working with them that escalated to a tense confrontation." But it quotes Gen. Bryan D. Brown, the commander of the Special Operations Command: "Any kind of abuse is not consistent with the values of the Special Operations Command." So which is it? Are our soldiers poorly trained and unable to do their jobs in accordance with the laws of this country and our military regulations? Or are they being told to ignore those laws and regulations, and secrecy is protecting them?

Some complaints were ignored or played down in a unit where a conspiracy of silence contributed to the overall secretiveness. "It's under control," one unit commander told a Defense Department official who complained about mistreatment at Camp Nama in the spring of 2004.
Secrecy is a great way to get away with things:

The secrecy surrounding the highly classified unit has helped to shield its conduct from public scrutiny. The Pentagon will not disclose the unit's precise size, the names of its commanders, its operating bases or specific missions. Even the task force's name changes regularly to confuse adversaries, and the courts-martial and other disciplinary proceedings have not identified the soldiers in public announcements as task force members.
Out of 5 incidents, 34 people have been "disciplined." How? For what? That information, apparently, is "classified." "Trust us; we're from the government."


And then there was the "High Five Paintball Club," which Jeralyn Merritt has already written on. They even had their own logo (picture at the NYT article).

And if there is any doubt this was "a few bad apples:"

Task Force 6-26 was a creation of the Pentagon's post-Sept. 11 campaign against terrorism, and it quickly became the model for how the military would gain intelligence and battle insurgents in the future.
This is not accidental; it's institutional. The mission of Task Force 6-26 was to capture al Zarqawi. How did they do?

Despite the task force's access to a wide range of intelligence, its raids were often dry holes, yielding little if any intelligence and alienating ordinary Iraqis, Defense Department personnel said. Prisoners deemed no threat to American troops were often driven deep into the Iraqi desert at night and released, sometimes given $100 or more in American money for their trouble.
The CIA knew this was a problem in August, 2003; American generals learned about it at least by December of that year. The FBI went on record as being concerned in June, 2004. American generals knew about it in December, 2003. Stephen Cambone wrote a note demanding information about the camp and the task force on June 24, 2004. Later that summer, Camp Nama was closed. The task force was disbanded, right? Wrong. And remember: secrecy is a good thing; for those it protects, anyway.

Military and legal experts say the full breadth of abuses committed by Task Force 6-26 may never be known because of the secrecy surrounding the unit, and the likelihood that some allegations went unreported.

In the summer of 2004, Camp Nama closed and the unit moved to a new headquarters in Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad. The unit's operations are now shrouded in even tighter secrecy.
And remember: we're from the government; you can trust us:

Senior military commanders insist that the elite warriors, who will be relied on more than ever in the campaign against terrorism, are now treating detainees more humanely and can police themselves. The C.I.A. has resumed conducting debriefings with the task force, but does not permit harsh questioning, a C.I.A. official said.

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