It’s still unclear what impact the war on terror is having in the Middle East, with some positive signs and still worrying possibilities in Iraq and elsewhere. But the impact on America – and on the U.S. military – is already clear. The United States has become a country that practices and condones torture and abuse of war detainees – even in a conventional conflict, such as Iraq. The legal memos allowing this are clear; the responsibility is clear – from president Bush down. And the consequences are clear: hundreds and hundreds of cases that prove systematic, approved torture and abuse of prisoners in every field of conflict, in camps and bases across Afghanistan and Iraq. The latest news about Camp Mercury is sickening, horrifying, but, at this point, utterly predictable. And when you read the Human Rights Watch report, and hear what the courageous and heroic soldiers say about what they witnessed, the conclusion is unavoidable. Scott Horton takes up Marty Lederman’s baton and explains more here. Money quote:

Soldiers state they fully appreciated that the abuse to which the detainees were subjected was sanctioned up the chain of command. A decision apparently had been made not to apply the Geneva Conventions in the War on Terror, and unambiguous instructions had come down the line of command to “take the gloves off” with the detainees. But one officer saw Donald Rumsfeld testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2004 saying that the Geneva Conventions were being respected in Iraq. “Something was wrong,” he said. The officer went up the chain of command and to the JAGs in theater trying to get clarification of how the Geneva Conventions could possibly permit what was happening. He got nowhere. Moreover, he found he was subjected to implied and direct threats. Asking questions or reporting on what he saw would affect “the honor of the unit” and would damage his career.
The officer attempted to report these matters to several Republican senators. When his intention to do this became clear, officers in his chain of command denied him leave and took other steps to block his actions.

I think it’s pretty clear that the military knows they have a lot to hide and that Rumsfeld knew he was lying when he assured Senators that the war in Iraq was being conducted in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The cover-up of abuse that was the norm went all the way up the military command to Rumsfeld himself. Someone had told these officers that torture was now okay. That someone told the Senate another version.

THE END OF ACCOUNTABILITY: The Bush administration – especially vice-president Dick Cheney and Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld – have fiercely resisted releasing critical documents that could nail this down without any doubt. They threatened to veto any bill that would bar the CIA from inflicting torture, and they oppose any Congressional attempts to insist that the U.S. military be legally forbidden from “cruel, inhumane or degrading” treatment of detainees. We need to see the rest of the Abu Ghraib photos that have been withheld, but we also need some critical documents, in order to categorically disprove propaganda like that recently published by National Review. Horton again:

Until the Yoo March 14, 2003 memo is released to congressional oversight — and to the public — it is impossible for any serious analyst to accept the Harvey and Schoomaker claims about the role of doctrine. To the contrary, the unjustified withholding of this document — along with the military’s own Church Report, and the numerous primary documents collected during that investigation — invites a strong inference that their claims are false. Moreover, at this point the text of the March 14, 2003 memo in and of itself is not enough. We need to see exactly how it affected military doctrine in the form of advice given by the DOD General Counsel’s office, the JAG Corps, and the Military Intelligence branch, among other things. Some e-mail traffic I have seen among MI officers in Iraq suggests that this memo shaped actions on the ground in the War on Terror within a matter of weeks, if not days.

Horton reminds us of an important fact. In the military, responsibility goes up the chain of command. Punishing the grunts, while excusing those who devised these policies is not only unjust, it violates basic principles of military accountability. Read this analysis from someone who actually cares about the military’s reputation. The president has already repeatedly declared his own view of his own responsibility for what goes on in his administration: others are always to blame. Only with Katrina did he manage to spit out his own responsibility. But destroying centuries of honor in the U.S. armed services is a graver crime than slovenly hurricane response.


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