Saturday, December 18, 2010

Part 1: W - Presidential Rhetoric - Public Policy - and Torture: The Legacy of King George

Who is to Blame for The Abuse at Abu Ghraib?

Major General Antonio M. Taguba submitted his report on the conditions of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq on February 26, 2004. He reported about “’detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.’” Photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included in his report, Taguba said, because of their “’extremely sensitive nature.’” (Hersh 2004, 2) The photographs had been circulating around the base and became public information on April 28, 2004 by CBS and May 10th by The New Yorker.
The photographs tell it all. In one, Private England, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is giving a jaunty thumbs-up sign and pointing at the genitals of a young Iraqi, who is naked except for a sandbag over his head, as he masturbates. Three other hooded and naked Iraqi prisoners are shown, hands reflexively crossed over their genitals. A fifth prisoner has his hands at his sides. In another, England stands arm in arm with Specialist Graner; both are grinning and giving the thumbs-up behind a cluster of perhaps seven naked Iraqis, knees bent, piled clumsily on top of each other in a pyramid. There is another photograph of a cluster of naked prisoners, again piled in a pyramid. (Hersh 2004, 2)
The Bush administration denounced the acts as “disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.” (Human Rights Watch 2005, 8) The Taguba report contradicted the Bush administration’s assertion and confirmed earlier reports about systemic dysfunctions in the military and at Abu Ghraib:
As the international furor over Abu Ghraib grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounted to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. (Hersh 2004b, 46)
To understand what happened at Abu Ghraib and how a seemingly small group of soldiers could commit such sadistic acts, it is necessary to ground the acts within the context of the greater war on terror and the statements, memos, decisions, and policies implemented by the Bush administration. Next the acts have to be viewed within a larger picture of a culture of abuse prevalent throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. After understanding that detainee abuse is not endemic Abu Ghraib or to a few “American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values;” the photographed examples of abuse must be observed within the horror of severe dysfunction at the Abu Ghraib prison. Analyzing the photographed examples of abuse through these three frames illustrates how the determination that the Geneva Conventions were obsolete and the redefinition of torture, created the opportunity to perform “enhance interrogation techniques” that were once considered torture. The procedures led to abuses in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay and eventually migrated to Iraq. The implementation of these procedures mixed with the dysfunctional environment led to greater abuses at Abu Ghraib and eventually those that were revealed in the photographs. By the time the photographs were revealed, the abusive environment at Abu Ghraib had already been normalized. The normalized culture of abuse created an environment in which the sadistic photographs could be taken without secrecy.
One should note that no evidence indicates that anyone high in the chain of command gave direct orders for torture or abuse. What seems to have occurred is that the lawful standards were ‘stretched’ and reinterpreted into new ‘paradigms’ such that unlawful acts were ‘normalized,’ over time becoming unlawful policies that created climates of abuse. This was the real source of the confusion for the soldier - not an unlawful order, but unlawful policies. (Mestrovic 2007, 87)
In this paper I don’t intend to make four distinct arguments in order to make 4 arguments that will place the Abu Ghraib scandal within the larger context of the United States and the War on Terror. First, this paper is not intended to excuse the behavior of the “bad apple” soldiers who did commit horrendous crimes, but to view the detainee abuse alongside the prevalence of abuse throughout Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Next, I do not intend to shift the blame to another group at Abu Ghraib, but to paint a picture of the kind of extreme dysfunction that led to the photographed abuses. Third, my intention is not to implicate President Bush or his administration as international war criminals, but to sketch a map that helps us follow the path of how policy procedures about torture flowed from the White House, through Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, into Iraq, and how those policies wound up affecting the soldiers and detainees at Abu Ghraib.
After restructuring the way we view the photographed abuses at Abu Ghraib, I will examine how a number of experts have acknowledged that the photographed abuse was not unique to the “bad apples” nor Abu Ghraib and how the dysfunctional environment created unfavorable conditions that allowed sadistic behaviors to occur. I will also analyze how the Bush policy decisions concerning the Geneva Conventions and the definition of torture led to widespread abuse of detainees and ultimately the photographed abuses at Abu Ghraib. Last I will ask how, with all of the documented evidence, did only eleven soldiers get courts-martial. Why have there not been any trials for those in command at Abu Ghraib, the CIA officials, the Military Interrogators, and others who either participated in or covered up for the widespread abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib?
To answer this question, I do not intend to engage in the debates concerning the morality, utility, or legality of torture, but I will show how debates have been argued by the Bush administration to create the appearance of justice, evade responsibility, and continue to justify its policy decision in the war on terror.

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