IRAQ: Working `with the dark side` to win a war
June 28, 2005
Amnesty International recently condemned `war crimes in Iraq and mounting evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in other countries....` Amnesty said that given its power and reach, the United States risked being `a global threat to the rule of law and security`.
At a press conference on May 31, US President George W. Bush dismissed Amnesty`s accusations as `absurd` and said they were made by `people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained, in some instances, to dissemble - that means not tell the truth.`
Bush`s denial of his administration`s record of abuse and torture is remarkably absurd, because the government`s own documents confirm a policy of consistent disregard for international law and accepted standards of human right.
On March 16, the New York Times revealed that army documents confirmed that at least 26 people had died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan in what the army described as criminal acts.
On March 17, Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence told a congressional hearing that he could not give assurances that the interrogation methods used by the CIA since September 11, 2001, were permissible under federal law that prohibits torture. (NYT. March 18).
Yet, there seems to be a general disregard for the basic principle of accountability. On March 26, the Times revealed that despite recommendations by army investigators, commanders decided not to prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the death of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although the Bush administration had always maintained that senior military commanders did not sanction acts of abuse, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in March told a different story. A memo dated September 14, 2003 signed by the highest ranking US officer in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, authorized interrogation techniques that exceeded the army`s own field manual and some that violated the Geneva Convention. It was under Sanchez`s watch that the Abu Ghraib abuses occurred.
The White House claimed that a recent Newsweek story about Koran desecration damaged the image of the US abroad. In reality, reports of alleged Koran abuse have appeared as early as March 6, 2003 (The Washington Post) and again in 2004 in the Financial Times (June 28) and the Independent (August 5).
Michael Isikoff, the principal reporter behind the Newsweek Koran desecration story, told the `Charlie Rose Show,` that he ran the Koran abuse story by the US defense department before printing it and that nobody asked any questions about it and nobody followed up on it. (May 23)
On May 14 the Washington Post reported: `Lawyers representing Kuwaitis held at Guantanamo Bay said their clients told them that military police threw at least one Koran into a toilet.`
A released Afghan named Ehsannullah told the Washington Post in 2003 that US soldiers taunted him by doing the same thing. Three Britons released last year also said Korans were put into toilets by U.S. guards.
Declassified documents released by the FBI to the American Civil Liberties Union this May revealed detainee claims of Koran desecration by US guards at Guantanamo as early as 2002. (AUCL, May 25, 05) They also revealed humiliation and degradation including bizarre incidents of sexual assaults by female guards against detainees.
Eric Saar, an army insider who served at Guantanamo revealed to the Observer `shocking new details of abuse and sexual torture of prisoners at Guantanamo`. Saar said that `the Geneva Conventions were deliberately ignored by the US military.` (May 8, 2005)
The American CBS Television `60 Minutes` program revealed `previously secret emails from FBI agents at Guantanamo that warn FBI headquarters that prisoners are being tortured.` (May 1, 05)
When `60 Minutes` showed these revelations to Army Col. Patrick Lang, former head of intelligence at the Pentagon, he said he was ashamed and asked: `What level of hell are we on to?`
None of these abuses elicited enough outrage or condemnation to warrant a truly independent investigation and a serious commitment to the conspicuously absent democratic principle of accountability
This indifference was not limited to the Bush administration. Congress does not want to know and the American people apparently do not want to know. Republican leaders have opposed attempts to investigate possible misconduct by government agencies in the treatment of detainees. (NYT, March 2)
Members of Congress say they receive few letters and calls about the torture revelations. `You asked whether they want it clear or want it blurry,` Republican Senator Susan Collins said to a reporter about the reaction of her constituents to the torture revelations, concluding, `I think they want it blurry.` (NYT Magazine, June 12, 05)
Vice President Dick Cheney, who now claims to be offended by the Amnesty report, had himself, in an earlier moment of candor, ominously announced that in the war on terror, the US government would often need to work `quietly` and `without any discussion`, and would `use any means at our disposal` and `work through, sort of, the dark side` (NBC `Meet the Press`, September 16, 2001)
Human rights are about the transparent respect for the human dignity of all, including those we dislike. By choosing to work on the `dark side` the Bush administration has chosen to disregard human rights and its rhetoric to the contrary is patently unconvincing.
Far from guaranteeing security such a policy is only inflaming hatred and resentment with predictable consequences. Bush`s attempts to deny it, further discredits his claim to champion the spread of democracy and promote freedom and human dignity.
Professor Adel Safty is UNESCO Chair of Leadership and president of the school of government and leadership, Bahcesehir University, Istanbul. He is author-editor of 14 books including From Camp David to the Gulf, and Leadership and Democracy, New York, 2004 .