Thursday, June 19, 2008

US General Accuses WH of War Crimes

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 18, 2008; 12:44 PM

The two-star general who led an Army investigation into the horrific detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib has accused the Bush administration of war crimes and is calling for accountability.


In his 2004 report on Abu Ghraib, then-Major General Anthony Taguba concluded that "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees." He called the abuse "systemic and illegal." And, as Seymour M. Hersh reported in the New Yorker, he was rewarded for his honesty by being forced into retirement.

Now, in a preface to a Physicians for Human Rights report based on medical examinations of former detainees, Taguba adds an epilogue to his own investigation.

The new report, he writes, "tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individual's lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.

"The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full-scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted --both on America's institutions and our nation's founding values, which the military, intelligence services, and our justice system are duty-bound to defend.

"In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. . . .

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Pamela Hess of the Associated Press has more on the report, which resulted from "the most extensive medical study of former U.S. detainees published so far" and "found evidence of torture and other abuse that resulted in serious injuries and mental disorders."

The War Council

So if war crimes were committed, who's responsible?

In today's installment of a major McClatchy Newspapers series on the U.S. detention system, Tom Lasseter writes: "The framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan wasn't the product of American military policy or the fault of a few rogue soldiers.

"It was largely the work of five White House, Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers who, following the orders of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, reinterpreted or tossed out the U.S. and international laws that govern the treatment of prisoners in wartime, according to former U.S. defense and Bush administration officials.

"The Supreme Court now has struck down many of their legal interpretations. It ruled last Thursday that preventing detainees from challenging their detention in federal courts was unconstitutional.

"The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the 'War Council,' drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military's code of justice, the federal court system and America's international treaties in order to prevent anyone -- from soldiers on the ground to the president -- from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes. . . .

"The international conventions that the United States helped draft, and to which it's a party, were abandoned in secret meetings among the five men in one another's offices. No one in the War Council has publicly described the group's activities in any detail, and only some of their opinions and memorandums have been made public. . . .

"Only one of the five War Council lawyers remains in office: David Addington, the brilliant but abrasive longtime legal adviser and now chief of staff to Cheney. His primary motive, according to several former administration and defense officials, was to push for an expansion of presidential power that Congress or the courts couldn't check."

The other members were Alberto Gonzales, first the White House counsel and then the attorney general; William J. Haynes II, the former Pentagon general counsel; former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo; and Timothy E. Flanigan, a former deputy to Gonzales.

For more on Addington's central role, see my Sept. 5, 2007 column; for more on the relationship between the administration's legal memos and torture, see my April 2 column.

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