Inter Press Network

Monday, September 20, 2004

Bush & Co.: War Crimes and Cover-Up

By Marjorie Cohn

As the election approaches, we are bombarded with stories about swift boats, dereliction of duty, and who's the most macho leader. Missing from the discourse is a critical examination of why George W. Bush failed to heed warnings before September 11, why he sat paralyzed for 7 minutes after being informed of the attacks, how he subsequently turned Iraq into a deadly cauldron, and committed - then covered up - war crimes in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq.

The central theme of the Republican Convention was Bush's bona fides as a tough president who will save us from another terrorist attack. Instead of examining why we went to war with a country that posed no threat to us, the agenda was replete with rhetoric about fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we wouldn't have to fight them here.

Significantly absent from the patriotic speeches was the "t" word. Not even a brief acknowledgement that prisoners in American custody were mistreated. Torture is on the back burner. Every so often, another official report comes out, with more disturbing revelations, but never directly implicates Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld.

Even the release of Seymour Hersh's new book, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, has garnered scant attention in the daily fare of television staples, where most Americans get their news. But Rumsfeld noticed. Four days before the book's release, without having read it, the Department of Defense issued a rare but characteristically preemptive attack on the book.

Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that his department was alerted to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in January 2004. Rumsfeld told Bush in February about an "issue" involving mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq, according to a Senior White House aide.

These claims are disingenuous. The roots of Abu Ghraib, writes Hersh, lie in the creation of the "unacknowledged" special-access program (SAP) established by a top-secret order Bush signed in late 2001 or early 2002. The presidential order authorized the Defense Department to set up a clandestine team of Special Forces operatives to defy international law and snatch, or assassinate, anyone considered a "high-value" Al Qaeda operative, anywhere in the world.

Rumsfeld expanded SAP into Iraq in August 2003. It was Rumsfeld who approved the use of physical coercion and sexual humiliation to extract information from prisoners. Rumsfeld and Bush set this system in motion long before January 2004. The mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was part of the ongoing operation.

Hersch quotes a CIA analyst who was sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo in late summer of 2002, to find out why so little useful intelligence had been gathered. After interviewing 30 prisoners, "he came back convinced that we were committing war crimes in Guantánamo."

By fall 2002, the analyst's report finally reached Gen. John A. Gordon, the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, who reported directly to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Gordon was deeply distressed by the report and its implications for the treatment of captured American soldiers. He also thought "that if the actions at Guantánamo ever became public, it'd be damaging to the president."

Gordon passed the report to Rice, who called a high-level meeting in the White House situation room. Rumsfeld, who had been encouraging his soldiers to get tough with prisoners, was present at the meeting. Yet Rice asked Rumsfeld "what the issues were, and he said he hadn't looked into it." Rice urged him to look into it: "Let's get the story right," she declared.

A military consultant with close ties to Special Operations told Hersh that war crimes were committed in Iraq and no action was taken. "People were beaten to death," he said. "What do you call it when people are tortured and going to die and the soldiers know it, but do not treat their injuries?" the consultant asked rhetorically. "Execution," he replied to his own question.

We should have seen it coming. In Bush's January 2003 State of the Union Address, he said: "All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries, and many others have met a different fate." He added, "Let's put it this way. They are no longer a problem for the United States and our friends and allies."

Bush was admitting he had sanctioned summary execution, in direct violation of international, and United States, law.

The Bush administration has also admittedly engaged in the illegal practice of rendition, where people are sent to other countries to be tortured. The C.I.A. acknowledged in testimony before Congress that prior to 2001, it had engaged in about seventy "extraordinary renditions."

In December 2001, American operatives kidnapped two Egyptians and flew them to Cairo, where they were subjected to repeated torture by electrical shocks from electrodes attached to their private parts.

Rapes, sodomy with foreign objects, the use of unmuzzled dogs to bite and severely injure prisoners, and beating prisoners to death have been documented at Abu Ghraib. Women beg their families to smuggle poison into the prisons so they can kill themselves because of the humiliation they suffered.

Allegations of routine torture have emerged from Mosul and Basra as well. "Some were burnt with fire, others [had] bandaged broken arms," claimed Yasir Rubaii Saeed al-Qutaji. Haitham Saeed al-Mallah reported seeing "a young man of 14 years of age bleeding from his anus and lying on the floor." Al-Mallah heard the soldiers say that "the reason for this bleeding was inserting a metal object in his anus."

The army has charged one Sergeant with assault and other crimes, and is recommending that two dozen American soldiers face criminal charges, including negligent homicide for mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan.

Last week, three Americans, running a private prison, but reportedly working with the CIA, were convicted of kidnapping and torture and sentenced to 8-10 years in prison by an Afghan court. Afghan police had discovered three men hanging from the ceiling, and five others were found beaten and tied in a dark small room.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty ratified by the U.S. and thus part of our binding domestic law, defines torture as follows: the infliction of severe pain or suffering for the purpose of obtaining a confession, discrimination, coercion or intimidation.

Torture, inhuman treatment, and willful killing are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, treaties ratified by the United States. Grave breaches of Geneva are considered war crimes under our federal War Crimes Act of 1996. American nationals who commit war crimes abroad can receive life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, a commander can be held liable if he knew or should have known his inferiors were committing war crimes and he failed to prevent or stop them.

When John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, his American interrogators stripped and gagged him, strapped him to a board, and displayed him to the press. He was writhing in pain from a bullet left in his body.

Although initially charged with crimes of terrorism carrying life in prison, John Ashcroft permitted Lindh to plead guilty to lesser crimes that garnered him 20 years. The condition: Lindh make a statement that he suffered "no deliberate mistreatment" while in custody. The cover-up was underway.

Lawyers from the Defense and Justice Departments penned lengthy memos and created a definition of torture much narrower than the one in the Torture Convention. They advised Bush how his people could engage in torture and avoid prosecution under the federal Torture Statute.

Relying on advice in these memos, Bush issued an unprecedented order that, as commander-in-chief, he has the authority to suspend the Geneva Conventions. In spite of Geneva's requirement that a competent tribunal decide whether someone qualifies for POW status, Bush took it upon himself to decide that Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan were not protected by the Geneva Convention on the POWs.

This decision was premised on the reasoning of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez, that "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war, a new paradigm [that] renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." Quaint!

A still-secret section of the recently-released Fay Report says that "policies and practices developed and approved for use on Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees who were not afforded the protection of the Geneva Conventions, now applied to detainees who did fall under the Geneva Conventions' protections."

The Schlesinger Report that came out a few weeks ago accused the Pentagon's top civilian and military leadership of failing to exercise sufficient oversight and permitting conditions that led to the abuses. Rumsfeld's reversals of interrogation policy, according to the report, created confusion about which techniques could be used on prisoners in Iraq.

Rumsfeld has admitted ordering an Iraqi prisoner be hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Pentagon investigators believe the CIA has held as many as 100 "ghost" detainees in Iraq. Hiding prisoners from the Red Cross violates Geneva.

The Schlesinger Report confirmed 5 detainee deaths as a result of interrogation, and 23 more deaths are currently under investigation.

In May, when the Abu Ghraib scandal was on the front pages, there were demands for Rumsfeld to resign. But Cheney told Rumsfeld there would be no resignations. It was blatantly political. We're going to hunker down and tough it out, Cheney said, so as not to hurt Bush's chances for election in November.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the American commander in charge of detentions and interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison, was sent from Guantánamo to Iraq last fall to transplant his harsh interrogation techniques. Miller recently conducted an overnight tour of Abu Ghraib for journalists.

He proudly displayed "Camp Liberty" and "Camp Redemption," newly renovated in response to the torture scandal.

Under the new system in place at Abu Ghraib, an interrogation plan is submitted to a lawyer for approval before any interrogation begins. The time required to process prisoners has been reduced from 120 to 50 days. Since July, 60% of the reviews have led to releases.

Three hundred Iraqi prisoners were released Wednesday. Each walked away with $25 and a 12-page glossy pamphlet on Iraq's interim government.

But evidence of war crimes by the Bush administration - notably Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush - continues to emerge. And in spite of Bush's renunciation of the International Criminal Court, many people around the world are clamoring for Bush and his deputies to be held accountable. In the words of Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman: "It is one thing to protect the armed forces from politicized justice; quite another, to make it a haven for suspected war criminals."

-Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

Posted on:Monday 20 September 2004 ...


Terror countered only with just policies

By Jim Mullins

The 20th century was the bloodiest in the history of mankind, witnessing two world wars and further bloodshed in civil wars fought by surrogates in the Cold War.

The 21st century heralded a new kind of war -- a "War on Terror" declared by President Bush as a response to 9-11's terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center and took almost 3,000 American lives.

But "war on terror" is a contradiction in terms. War by definition is open, armed conflict between nations or states, or between armed groups attempting to overthrow governments within states. Terrorism, the more relevant term, is the use of random violence intended to instill terror -- intense fear or dread -- in achieving political objectives. Terrorism is not war; it is a tactic, a tool, in attaining success in that objective.

Bush has consistently maintained that his actions since 9-11, including the war in Iraq, were based on the simple proposition of waging "war on terror." As recent as an April White House press conference, he posed a rhetorical question: "Can you ever win the war on terror?" answering himself with, "Of course you can."

When asked the same question on the Today show, the day before the Republican National Convention, he flip-flopped by admitting that: "I don't think you can win the war on terror."

For a day it seemed that after nearly four years of his administration, Bush had come to realize that terror is not a nation, a state or an insurgent group that can be defeated in war. The next day, in another flip-flop, White House spokespersons stated that he had been misunderstood and reasserted "the war on terror" as the operating policy rationale.

Terrorism is resorted to by the weak to get the attention of the powerful, whose actions they find objectionable -- as evidenced by our home grown terrorism: the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, anthrax mailings, abortion clinic bombings and Atlanta's Olympics bombings, to name a few recent incidents.

Miltarily, it was resorted to by both sides in World War II, as a tactic to obtain unconditional surrender. German and Japanese indiscriminate civilian slaughter was countered by "firestorm" bombings of Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo and other Japanese cities, with tremendous civilian death and destruction and very little military significance.

The Cold War was fought by either client states or covert actions requiring the recruitment of millions of young men and women; those fighting on our side, "freedom fighters," the other side, "terrorists." When the Cold War ended, these fighters/terrorists were left adrift with no marketable skills except war. Blowback -- their continuing engagement in violence either as mercenaries or ideologically committed fighters -- was an inevitable consequence.

Osama bin Laden's war on the United States, declared in 1996, is a classic case of blowback. Returning to Saudi Arabia after victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan, he demanded that U.S. forces leave his country as promised after the Gulf War. Saudi Arabia, fearing his popularity, expelled him to Sudan, where he reassembled his former fighters, creating al-Qaida. The United States pressured Sudan to deport him to Afghanistan. Back in a country where his "Afghans" had defeated one superpower, it seemed possible and more than just hubris to believe he and his al-Qaida could drive the other superpower out of the Middle East.

It is very clear that Middle Eastern terrorism directed toward the United States is driven by American policy since the end of World War II and not by a religious fanatic who hates the freedom, democracy and exchange of information that we feel characterizes the Western World. That is not his concern.

American policies are.

Osama bin Laden symbolizes Middle Eastern resentment toward: the despotic rulers that we prop up with military bases and in so doing maintain U.S.

control of their most important natural resource -- oil; the draconian sanctions imposed on the Iraqi people after the 1991 Gulf War, causing the death of a half million Iraqi children; and our unqualified support for Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for the last 37 years.

Bush showed his abysmal understanding of the Middle Eastern situation when he stated on the same Today show that: "I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in that part of the world." He doesn't understand that "terror as a tool" has been used the world over to achieve political objectives, is not a regional problem and can only be countered by following just and peaceful policies.

Bush has given bin Laden a great gift by invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, thus creating fertile ground for the creation of leaders and followers, independent of his leadership, in the struggle to achieve independence from Western dominance.

-Jim Mullins is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., and a resident of Delray Beach.

Posted on September 18,2004...

Copyright (c) 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


Has the war in Iraq become unwinnable?

By Patrick Seale

When the police in any country investigate a crime, the first question they tend to ask is: Who gains from the crime? The same question may be put about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has turned into a crime of vast and mushrooming proportions.

Last week's ferocious battles in Baghdad point to a sharply deteriorating situation in which the initiative has passed to the insurgents. American troops, aided by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's ill-trained and battered security forces, control little beyond the heavily protected Green Zone. Hostage taking is rampant and the war looks increasingly unwinnable. It therefore seems highly unlikely that national elections in a country of 25 million people can be held in January 2005, a mere four months from now; or, if they are held against all odds, that a credible government will emerge from them.

The prospect of a stable and legitimate Iraqi government extending its authority over the whole country seems increasingly remote. But if the prospect of "victory" fades like a desert mirage, so do American hopes of making a dignified and honorable exit from the Iraqi quagmire. The alternative is to "stay the course," with all that this means in terms of mounting American and Iraqi deaths, terrible material destruction and soaring costs.

For this policy to have a chance of success, many more American troops on the ground would be required - and they would need to be ready to fight their way into insurgent areas and subdue them. But, with the U.S. military already over-stretched, there is little political will in Washington to extend the war. The most likely outcome is a bloody stalemate, in which the main losers will be the sorely pressed Iraqi people. Conservative estimates put Iraqi civilian casualties at between 30,000 and 40,000, but the dead and wounded are piling up so fast that no accurate count can be made.

Amazingly, the war does not seem to have damaged President George W Bush's lead in the polls. This is probably because many Americans have swallowed the administration's lie that Saddam Hussein was linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Bush has cast himself successfully as a "war president" who is fighting in Iraq to protect them. But opinion could swing against him in the coming weeks if fighting - and American losses - continue to escalate.

There are different ways of describing what is taking place in Iraq. Bush's argument is that America is fighting to "liberate" Iraqis from a repressive Oriental autocracy and introduce them to the joys of "democracy," in the expectation that this will serve as a model for the whole region. As if oblivious of the horrific setbacks, he continues to rant about "the forward march of freedom." A very different opinion is that this is an old-fashioned colonial war. According to this view, imperial America is seeking to defeat the forces of Arab nationalism and militant Islam in order to extend its hegemony over the Arab world - and especially over Arab oil. Yet another way of looking at the war in Iraq is to see it as a transposition of the Arab-Israeli conflict - a war in which the U.S. is fighting on Israel's behalf.

Although the struggle continues, it is not too early to ask who has gained from the war and who has not. Who are the winners and losers?

It is well established that the main advocates for America's war in Iraq were Israel's friends in the U.S. - the so-called neoconservatives present in large numbers in the Pentagon and several other government agencies, in think tanks, war colleges and the press. In the words of General Anthony Zinni, a former chief of the U.S. Central Command, "the worst-kept secret in Washington" was that the neoconservatives pushed the war in Iraq for Israel's benefit.

Zinni's remarks, made on the American network CBS, is part of a swelling backlash against the neocons - especially against those often referred to as the "civilian leadership of the Pentagon." A recent example of the backlash may be found in the Sept. 23 issue of the highly influential journal, The New York Review of Books, in which Arthur Schlesinger Jr., one of America's most respected historians, points an accusing finger at Israel and its American supporters. "Surely," he writes, "American identification with [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's Israel is a major cause of Arab hatred of the United States."

He cites approvingly a book to be published next month by an American political theorist, Anne Norton, under the title Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire. Strauss, a German refugee philosopher who, until his death in 1973, taught at the University of Chicago, is regarded as the intellectual inspiration of the neoconservatives, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the chief architect of the war. Schlesinger quotes Norton's judgment that Wolfowitz's strategic plan after Sept. 11 was "built conceptually and geographically around the centrality of Israel ... This strategy could be understood as advancing American interests and security only if one saw those as identical to the interests and security of the state of Israel."

Israel's interest in the war - its strategic aim - was to destroy and permanently enfeeble Iraq, so as to eliminate any future potential threat from the east. This aim was achieved in the two wars of 1991 and 2003. Iraq as a strong, unitary Arab state no longer exists. It has effectively been dismembered. The best that can be hoped for under present circumstances is that it will eventually re-emerge as a loose federation. This is a far cry from the hopes of all those concerned that the Arab world might one day be able to assert its strength and independence.

America's interest was by no means identical to Israel's. The U.S. wanted to get rid of the person of Saddam Hussein, whose ambitions and recklessness were seen as a threat to the American-sponsored political order in the Gulf. But the U.S. did not wish to destroy Iraq altogether. It has no interest in a weak, dismembered Iraq becoming a source of instability for the whole region. It did not foresee that a power vacuum would emerge in Iraq that would be far more threatening to America's overall regional interests than Saddam had ever been.

On the contrary, the American vision was of an Iraq reborn as an American client-state, a strongpoint of American influence, hosting American bases, its vast oil reserves exploited by American companies, its reconstruction in American hands, a country strong enough to serve as a counterweight to Iran and Saudi Arabia. American strategists envisaged that the seizure and remodeling of Iraq would consolidate America's political and military control over Middle Eastern oil and affirm its supremacy over all rivals, regional and international.

It is evident that, while Israel got what it wanted, American strategic aims have not, and will not, be achieved. Instead of a U.S. client state, Iraq has become a hotbed of violent anti-Americanism. The insurgents - whether Iraqi nationalists, former Saddam loyalists or militant Islamists - seem intent on forcing a Western withdrawal from Iraq. They appear to want to push the U.S. out of the Arab Middle East as it was pushed out of Iran in 1979. Meanwhile, America's dilemma remains as cruel as ever: It cannot comfortably stay, nor can it easily withdraw. The trap is closing on its hopes - and on its forces - in Iraq.

-Patrick Seale, a veteran Middle East analyst,wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR of Lebanon...
Itwas publshed on Monday, September 20,2004........