Posts Tagged ‘Abu Ghraib prison’

Tony Blair knew of secret policy on terror interrogations

June 18, 2009

Letter reveals former PM was aware of guidance to UK agents

Ian Cobain , The Guardian/UK, Thursday 18 June 2009

Tony Blair was aware of the ­existence of a secret interrogation policy which ­effectively led to British citizens, and others, being ­tortured during ­counter-terrorism investigations, the Guardian can reveal.

The policy, devised in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, offered ­guidance to MI5 and MI6 officers ­questioning detainees in Afghanistan whom they knew were being mistreated by the US military.

British intelligence officers were given written instructions that they could not “be seen to condone” torture and that they must not “engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners”.

But they were also told they were not under any obligation to intervene to prevent detainees from being mistreated.

“Given that they are not within our ­custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this,” the policy said.

The policy almost certainly breaches international human rights law, according to Philippe Sands QC, one of the world’s leading experts in the field, because it takes no account of Britain’s obligations to avoid complicity in torture under the UN convention against torture. Despite this, the secret policy went on to underpin British intelligence’s ­relationships with a number of foreign intelligence agencies which had become the UK’s allies in the “war against terror”.

Continued >>

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Deconstructing Obama’s Excuses

May 15, 2009

by Dan Froomkin | The Washington Post, May 14, 2009

In trying to explain his startling decision to oppose the public release of more photos depicting detainee abuse, President Obama and his aides yesterday put forth six excuses for his about-face, one more flawed than the next.

First, there was the nothing-to-see-here excuse. In his remarks yesterday afternoon, Obama said the “photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

But as the Washington Post reports: “[O]ne congressional staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the photos, said the pictures are more graphic than those that have been made public from Abu Ghraib. ‘When they are released, there will be a major outcry for an investigation by a commission or some other vehicle,’ the staff member said.”

The New York Times reports: “Many of the photos may recall those taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which showed prisoners naked or in degrading positions, sometimes with Americans posing smugly nearby, and caused an uproar in the Arab world and elsewhere when they came to light in 2004.”

And if they really aren’t that sensational, then what’s the big deal?

Then there was the the-bad-apples-have-been-dealt-with excuse. This one, to me, is the most troubling.

Obama said the incidents pictured in the photographs “were investigated — and, I might add, investigated long before I took office — and, where appropriate, sanctions have been applied….[T]his is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.”

But this suggests that Obama has bought into the false Bush-administration narrative that the abuses of detainees were isolated acts, rather than part of an endemic system of abuse implicitly sanctioned at the highest levels of government. The Bushian view has been widely discredited — and for Obama to endorse it suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the past.

The notion that responsibility for the sorts of actions depicted in those photos lies at the highest — not lowest — levels of government is not exactly a radical view. No less an authority than the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a bipartisan report: “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own….The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

But as The Washington Post notes: “[N]o commanding officers or Defense Department officials were jailed or fired in connection with the abuse, which the Bush administration dismissed as the misbehavior of low-ranking soldiers.” And the “appropriate actions,” as Obama put it, have certainly not yet been taken. The architects of the system in which the abuse took place have yet to be held to account.

Then there was the no-good-would-come-of-this excuse.

Obama said it was his “belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.”

But the photos would add a lot. It was, after all, the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that forced the nation to acknowledge what had happened there. There is something visceral and undeniable about photographic evidence which makes it almost uniquely capable of cutting through the disinformation and denial that surrounds the issue of detainee abuse.

These photos are said to show that the kind of treatment chronicled in Abu Ghraib was in fact not limited to that one prison or one country. They would, as I wrote yesterday, serve as a powerful refutation to former vice president Cheney’s so far mostly successful attempt to cast the public debate about government-sanctioned torture as a narrow one limited to the CIA’s secret prisons.

Then there was the “protect-the-troops” excuse.

Said Obama: “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

But the concern about the consequences of the release, while laudable on one level, is no excuse for a cover-up.

Glenn Greewald blogs for Salon: “Think about what Obama’s rationale would justify. Obama’s claim…means we should conceal or even outright lie about all the bad things we do that might reflect poorly on us. For instance, if an Obama bombing raid slaughters civilians in Afghanistan…, then, by this reasoning, we ought to lie about what happened and conceal the evidence depicting what was done — as the Bush administration did — because release of such evidence would ‘would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.’ Indeed, evidence of our killing civilians in Afghanistan inflames anti-American sentiment far more than these photographs would. Isn’t it better to hide the evidence showing the bad things we do?…

“How can anyone who supports what Obama is doing here complain about the CIA’s destruction of their torture videos? The torture videos, like the torture photos, would, if released, generate anti-American sentiment and make us look bad. By Obama’s reasoning, didn’t the CIA do exactly the right thing by destroying them?”

Then there was the chilling-effect excuse.

Said Obama: “Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

But how so? Under questioning, press secretary Robert Gibbs failed miserably to explain that particular rationale at yesterday’s press briefing.

“[I]f in each of these instances somebody looking into detainee abuse takes evidentiary photos in a case that’s eventually concluded, this could provide a tremendous disincentive to take those photos and investigate that abuse,” Gibbs said.

Q. “Wait, try that once again. I don’t follow you. Where’s the disincentive?”

Gibbs: “The disincentive is in the notion that every time one of these photos is taken, that it’s going to be released. Nothing is added by the release of the photo, right? The existence of the investigation is not increased because of the release of the photo; it’s just to provide, in some ways, a sensationalistic portion of that investigation.

“These are all investigations that were undertaken by the Pentagon and have been concluded. I think if every time somebody took a picture of detainee abuse, if every time that — if any time any of those pictures were mandatorily going to be necessarily released, despite the fact that they were being investigated, I think that would provide a disincentive to take those pictures and investigate.”

Get that? Yeah, me neither.

And finally, there was the new-argument excuse.

Gibbs said “the President isn’t going back to remake the argument that has been made. The President is going — has asked his legal team to go back and make a new argument based on national security.”

But as the Los Angeles Times reports, the argument that releasing the photographs could create a backlash “was raised and rejected by a federal district court judge and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which called the warnings of a backlash ‘clearly speculative’ and insufficient to warrant blocking disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

“‘There’s no legal basis for withholding the photographs,’ said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, ‘so this must be a political decision.'”

Margaret Talev and Jonathan S. Landay write for McClatchy Newspapers: “The request for what’s effectively a legal do-over is an unlikely step for a president who is trained as a constitutional lawyer, advocated greater government transparency and ran for election as a critic of his predecessor’s secretive approach toward the handling of terrorism detainees.

“Eric Glitzenstein, a lawyer with expertise in Freedom of Information Act requests, said he thought that Obama faced an uphill legal battle. ‘They should not be able to go back time and again and concoct new rationales’ for withholding what have been deemed public records, he said.

“The timing of the president’s decision suggests that a key factor behind his switch of position could have been a desire to prevent the release of the photos before a speech that he’s to give June 4 in Egypt aimed at convincing the world’s Muslims that the United States isn’t at war with them. The pictures’ release shortly before the speech could have negated its goal and proved highly embarrassing. Even if courts ultimately reject Obama’s new position, the time needed for their consideration could delay the photos’ release until long after the speech.”

Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times: “President Obama’s decision Wednesday to try to block the court-ordered release of photographs depicting alleged abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers sets him on a confrontational course with his liberal base. But it is a showdown he is willing to risk — and may even view as politically necessary…

“Obama now can tell critics on the right that he did his best to protect the nation’s troops, even if the courts eventually force the disclosure.

“Obama has been facing intense criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other conservatives, who have argued that the new administration’s efforts to roll back Bush-era interrogation policies have made the country less safe.

“The praise for Obama that came Wednesday from Republicans such as House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina can only help undercut those arguments.”

But, Wallsten and Hook write: “Obama’s dilemma is that he risks undermining one of the core principles he claimed for his presidency: transparency.”

The Washington political-media establishment seems to approve of Obama’s decision.

Rick Klein writes in ABC News’s The Note: “In the broader context, it’s cast as a sign of political maturation, maybe even classic Obama pragmatism. This is what it’s like to be commander-in-chief — one of those tough choices where there’s no easy answer, and no shame in reversing yourself.”

Ben Smith and Josh Gerstein write in Politico that Obama’s reversal “marks the next phase in the education of the new president on the complicated, combustible issue of torture.”

Washington Post opinion columnist David Ignatius blogs: “Is this a ‘Sister Soulja’ moment on national security, like Bill Clinton’s famous criticism of a controversial rap singer during the 1992 presidential campaign — which upset some liberal supporters but polished his credentials as a centrist?”

But anti-torture bloggers reject the comparison.

Andrew Sullivan blogs: “The MSM cannot see the question of torture and violation of the Geneva Conventions as a matter of right and wrong, of law and lawlessness. They see it as a matter of right and left. And so an attempt to hold Bush administration officials accountable for the war crimes they proudly admit to committing is ‘left-wing.’ And those of us who actually want to uphold the rule of law … are now the equivalent of rappers urging the murder of white people.”

In a separate post, Sullivan writes: “Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predcessors’ war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to proscute them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt his successor.”

© 2009 The Washington Post

Dan Froomkin writes White House Watch (originally called White House Briefing) for the Washington Post. He is also deputy editor of NiemanWatchdog.org, a Web site devoted to encouraging watchdog and accountability journalism from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Obama bows to Republican right and military on torture photos

May 14, 2009
By Bill Van Auken | WSWS, 14 May 2009

The Obama administration’s decision Wednesday to renege on its promise to comply with a court order and release photographs of US personnel torturing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan represents another capitulation by his administration to mounting pressure from the right and the military-intelligence apparatus.

Speaking briefly to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Obama said that the photographs would “further inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger.”

He claimed that the images are “not particularly sensational” and “would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” Obama failed to explain what makes the US president the arbiter of what is of “benefit to our understanding.”

The Pentagon, with Obama’s declared support, announced last month that it would release a “substantial number” of photos of US personnel abusing detainees at several prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision was taken in compliance with a decision last September by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals upholding a lower court victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had sought the photographs in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The full appeals court refused to rehear the case.

The photographs, reportedly 44 in all, were set to have been released May 28.

The Bush administration had argued that the release of the photos would generate international outrage and violate the rights of the detainees under the Geneva Conventions, rights that the administration had explicitly claimed had no application to detainees, who were classified as “enemy combatants.”

Apparently, the Obama administration is preparing to repackage the arguments made under George W. Bush, claiming that the release of the photos would threaten national security and, as the president asserted unconvincingly Wednesday, would have a “chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

In making its “national security” case for suppressing the photographs, the Obama administration would likely be compelled to go to the US Supreme Court.

Amplifying on Obama’s statements, an administration spokesman told the media, “The president would be the last to excuse the actions depicted in these photos. That is why the Department of Defense investigated these cases and why individuals have been punished through prison sentences, discharges, and a range of other punitive measures.”

Nothing could more clearly sum up the criminal character of the Obama administration’s decision to prevent the release of these photos. Those subjected to “punitive measures” have consisted of a handful of junior enlisted men, such as those individuals punished in connection with the photographs uncovered in 2004 depicting the horrific treatment of detainees held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The entire point of exposing the photographs of similar abuse from a half dozen other prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan was that they prove that the torture of detainees was not the work of a few “bad apples” or psychopaths in uniform, but was systemic. The photographs showing prisoners at Abu Ghraib being beaten, threatened with attack dogs, piled naked in pyramids, smeared with feces, hanging from shackles and dragged on leashes did not represent an aberration. Rather these odious practices and worse were carried out on orders that came from the White House to the Pentagon and down the military chain of command.

The ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony D. Romero denounced the about-face by the White House. “The Obama administration’s adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “This decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice Department’s failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration.

Romero continued, “It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. In America, every fact and document gets known—whether now or years from now. And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration’s complicity in covering them up. Any outrage related to these photos should be due not to their release but to the very crimes depicted in them. Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated.”

Jameel Jaffar, who argued the case for the ACLU called the decision “inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has repeated so many times.”

What is to account for the Obama administration’s sudden reversal?

The New York Times cited administration officials arguing that the photographs should be suppressed because “the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan were entering risky, new phases. In Iraq, American combat forces are withdrawing from urban areas and are reducing their numbers nationwide. In Afghanistan, more than 20,000 new troops are flowing in to combat an insurgency that has grown in potency.”

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that Generals Raymond Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, David McKiernan, the recently sacked commander in Afghanistan, and David Petraeus, the chief of US Central Command, which oversees both wars, “have all voiced real concern about this.” He added, “Particularly in Afghanistan, this is the last thing they need.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appearing before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday, said that the generals had “expressed very serious reservations about this and their very, very great worry that release of the photographs will cost American lives. That was all it took for me.”

Obama informed Odierno of his decision at a White House meeting Tuesday, before announcing it to the public.

Thus, Obama bowed to the demands of Gates, Petraeus, Odierno and McKiernan, all of whom were placed in their present positions by the same Bush administration that instituted torture as a standard operation procedure for the military and the CIA.

Even more importantly, Obama’s U-turn on the question of the torture photos has been carried out in the face of a concerted campaign led by former Vice President Dick Cheney to defend torture and portray the new administration’s decision to repudiate “enhanced interrogation techniques” and to release Justice Department memos justifying torture methods as paving the way for new terrorist attacks.

This has been accompanied by an attempt to justify the crimes of the Bush administration in relation to torture by emphasizing the complicity of key Democrats, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who were briefed on the use of waterboarding and other acts of torture being carried out against detainees and voiced no objection.

This effort has apparently been spearheaded by the CIA itself, which leaked documents detailing the number of briefings provided to members of Congress on the ongoing torture of detainees beginning in 2002.

There is no doubt that Obama is retreating in the face of this offensive by the Republican right and the national security complex. More fundamentally, however, the administration has made it clear from the outset that it has no interest in seeing any serious investigation of the torture carried out under the Bush administration, much less in the prosecution of those who ordered these practices, from Bush, Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and other cabinet members on down.

Its aim is to preserve intact the police-state infrastructure erected by the Bush administration in its “global war on terror,” while continuing to wage the wars of aggression that the previous government began in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This policy of political cowardice and complicity has inevitably turned Obama himself into a defender of torture, using the same “national security” arguments as the Bush administration to cover up its crimes.

U.S. Lawmakers Try to Block New Abuse Photos

May 11, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, May 11 (IPS) – Civil libertarians are condemning a call by two influential U.S. senators for the White House to block the impending release of photographs showing detainees being abused by U.S. military personnel at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at other U.S. detention facilities in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The plea to intervene to stop the expected May 28 release of the photos came in a letter to President Barack Obama from Senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham.

“The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited will serve no public good, but will empower al Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country’s image, and endanger our men and women in uniform,” the Senators wrote.

Release of the photos is expected in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to fight the release of these old pictures of detainees in the war on terror, including appealing the decision of the Second Circuit in the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] lawsuit to the Supreme Court and pursuing all legal options to prevent the public disclosure of these pictures,” the senators wrote.

Their letter said, “We know that many terrorists captured in Iraq have told American interrogators that one of the reasons they decided to join the violent jihadist war against America was what they saw on al Qaeda videos of abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib.”

As a result of the ensuing actions by Congress, “America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have made great progress in improving detention and interrogation procedures,” they wrote.

Senator Graham is a conservative Republican from South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee, and a military lawyer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Lieberman was a lifelong Democrat until he lost his party’s primary contest in 2006, after which he ran and won as an Independent from Connecticut. He is chairman of the powerful Senate Homeland Security Committee. The two senators were among the most ardent supporters of the recent unsuccessful presidential campaign of Senator John McCain.

Civil libertarians were virtually unanimous in their opposition to withholding the photographs.

Gabor Rona, international legal director of Human Rights First, told IPS, “Sen. Lieberman and Graham’s claims might carry more weight had the U.S. government been consistently honest about the mistreatment it authorised.”

“But as long as the American people are kept in the dark about what crimes were committed in their name, they cannot intelligently exercise their democratic right and obligation to call for corrective measures,” he said.

Rona added, “To elevate fear of al Qaeda’s reactions over faith in our democratic ideals and structures is unfortunate and counterproductive.”

Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, told IPS, “The more evidence that emerges to document the Bush policy of torture and abuse, the more likely that investigations and prosecutions will take place.”

Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois Law School told IPS, “The release of these photos will further document torture, abuse and other war crimes inflicted by U.S. military personnel in Iraq, the orders for which go all the way up the military chain of command to the Commander in Chief President Bush, the Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, none of whom has yet been held accountable.”

He said, “Senators Lieberman and Graham are simply running interference for all three of them. Yet under the terms of the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture, the Obama administration has an obligation to open an investigation and to prosecute them. Failure to do so is a war crime in its own right.”

“These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” said attorney Amrit Singh of the ACLU, the organisation that originally brought the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

“Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorising or permitting such abuse,” she said.

Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, now retired, served as the V Corps commander of coalition forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. When he retired in November 2006, he called his career a casualty of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

The disagreement over release of the photos reflects conflicting assessments of which is more dangerous and objectionable – the release of the photographs or the abusive behaviour that they depict.

It also turns on unresolved questions concerning the scale of prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel, and the nature of the public accounting that can or should be required.

The original Abu Ghraib photos were first exposed to the public in a 2006 segment of the television program, “Sixty Minutes,” and shortly thereafter in an extensive article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine.

The images showed Iraqi prisoners hooded, with electrodes attached to their bodies, being menaced by dogs, forced to walk with dog collars around their necks, and made to form pyramids of naked bodies. Existence of the images was first reported by a low-level U.S. Army soldier.

The military conducted more than a dozen investigations of the abusive practices, which then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attributed to the aberrations of “a few bad apples.” A number of low-level soldiers were convicted and sentenced to terms in military prisons, a few others were given official reprimands, and the brigadier general who was in charge of the prison was demoted to colonel.

The Defence Department investigations concluded that no one higher up in the military or civilian leadership of the Pentagon bore any responsibility for the abuses.

While the contents of the new photos have not been made public, it is known that members of Congress viewed them in a classified setting when the original Abu Ghraib images were released. Some have said publicly that the new photos paint an even grimmer picture of prisoner abuse, not only at Abu Ghraib but also at other U.S.-controlled prisons in the Middle East.

It is unclear whether the new crop of photos includes those taken by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. As an expert witness in the defense of an Abu Ghraib guard who was court-martialed, he had access to many of the images of abuse that were taken by the guards themselves.

Zimbardo assembled some of these pictures into a short video. Many of the images are explicit and gruesome, depicting nudity, degradation, simulated sex acts, and guards posing with decaying corpses.

The original Abu Ghraib photos were broadcast around the world long before it became known that U.S. authorities, including the Central Intelligence Agency, were using waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the Navy detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan, and at secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Palin’s Wrongheaded View of God’s Plans

September 9, 2008

by Jacob G. Hornberger| Hornberger’s Blog, Sept 8, 2008

In an address to an Assembly of God Church in Alaska, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested that church members pray “that our national leaders are sending [soldiers to Iraq] on a task that is from God, that’s what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God’s plan.”

It would be interesting to hear Palin explain her understanding of how God’s plans can possibly involve violations of His sacred commandments.

The commandment is simple: Thou shalt not murder. God did not provide exceptions to that prohibition, not even for agents of the CIA and the U.S. military.

Lest we forget: Neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States or threatened to do so. No matter how many contortions that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have engaged in (e.g., WMDs, the war on terrorism, 9/11, spreading democracy, UN resolutions, and radical Islam), the simple truth remains: The U.S. government attacked Iraq, not the other way around.

Thus, we should never forget: In the Iraq War, the United States is the aggressor nation and Iraq is the defending nation. That means that no agent of the U.S. government had any moral right to kill even one single Iraqi, much less the million or so that have been killed.

Some people calculate the wrongful Iraqi deaths only in terms of civilian deaths. They have it wrong. Since the U.S. government had no right to invade Iraq, U.S. agents, including those in the CIA and the military, had no moral right to kill any Iraqi, including Iraqis who were defending against the wrongful invasion and occupation of their country.

The standard neo-con religious position is that whatever the U.S. government does overseas against foreigners is right and moral as a matter of law because the government is operating as an agent of God and simply fulfilling His plans.

The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children killed by the pre-invasion sanctions? A million Iraqis killed in the invasion? Well, you see, those killings can’t be murder because it was the U.S. government that did the sanctioning and invading. It would only be murder if, say, the Russian government committed those acts. Since it’s the U.S. government that killed all those people, it’s all good and moral because it must be all part of God’s plan.

Moreover, keep in mind that in the neo-con mindset the U.S. government and the American people are one and the same. Since everyone knows that the American people are kind, caring, and charitable, that means that everything the U.S. government does, including kidnapping, renditioning, torturing, and sexually abusing people, is all good and moral. It’s all part of God’s plan, you know.

This attitude, of course, is what distinguishes Christian libertarians from Christian neo-cons. Christian libertarians adhere strictly to God’s commandments, refusing to draw an exception for agents of the U.S. government. Unlike them, we hold that murder is murder, even when committed by agents of the U.S. government. Since the U.S. government had no right to invade Iraq, it had no right to kill any Iraqis, much less a million of them. The same principle holds true with respect to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children killed by the pre-invasion sanctions. The same holds true for the murders, torture, and sex abuse committed by U.S. agents against Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison.

Christian libertarians, unlike Christian neo-cons, do not conflate the American citizenry with the U.S. government. As such, we are capable of recognizing immorality and wrongdoing committed by the U.S. government and we are unafraid to take a stand against it. Unlike the neo-cons, we don’t try to excuse away evil and immorality by claiming that they must be part of God’s plan.

Indeed, unlike the Christian neo-cons we Christian libertarians don’t view the government as an agent of God but instead as simply a bunch of ordinary people who use government force to satisfy their self-interests, including the ever-growing lust for more power and more money.

Revelations of an Abu Ghraib Interrogator

September 6, 2008

By Aaron Glantz | Inter-Press Service News

SAN FRANCISCO, Sep 4 – Few people have thought as much about the morality of the U.S. occupation of Iraq than Joshua Casteel, a former U.S. Army interrogator who served at Abu Ghraib prison in the wake of the detainee abuse scandal there.

Once a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and raised in an evangelical Christian home, Casteel became a conscientious objector while he was stationed at the prison.

It wasn’t the kind of abuse shown in the famous graphic images that made him feel morally compelled to leave the military — Casteel says that kind of behaviour had ceased by the time he showed up in June 2004 — but the experience of gleaning information speaking to the detainees in their own language.

Those experiences, and the spiritual awakening Casteel experienced inside the walls of the prison, are contained in “Letters from Abu Ghraib”, a compendium of e-mail messages he sent home from the prison, which was published last month by Iowa’s Essay Press.

The e-mails, compiled in a lean 118-page volume, are less concerned with the details of prison operations than their moral implications. By what right, the former interrogator asks, does one derive the authority to question prisoners as part of a military occupation?

It’s an important question to ask and timely too given the steady growth in the number of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody over the course of its occupation of Iraq. Pentagon statistics show the U.S. military now holds over 24,000 “security detainees” in Iraq — more than double the number incarcerated by Coalition at the time of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal four and a half years ago.

U.S. forces are holding nearly all of these persons indefinitely, without an arrest warrant, without charge, and with no right to any type of open legal proceedings. It’s perhaps a mark of the failure of the United States’ political and religious establishments that it falls to a U.S. Army Specialist like Joshua Casteel to wrestle with the moral difficulties of these massive imprisonments. “Letters from Abu Ghraib” shows how the ethical failures of their leaders affect soldiers on the ground.

When he first arrives at Abu Ghraib’s interrogation centre, Casteel tells his family he really loves his work. “I see my job much more as a Father Confessor than an interrogator,” he writes, “As a Confessor you cannot coerce a person to reveal that which they wish to hide. A Confessor’s aim is to help the one confessing to be sincere, to arrive at the kind of contrition that actually desires self-disclosure — and to that end, empathy and understanding go a long way.”

But Casteel, who prays daily and considers “keeping the liturgy with others and taking the Eucharist — Communion” to be “the most important part of the week,” begins to feel uncomfortable after just a few weeks on the ground.

“The weight of the job sometimes is more painfully present to me than at other times,” he writes a month into the deployment. He is uncomfortable “exploiting” prisoners for their “intelligence” value rather then interacting with them as fully equal human beings.

Making matters worse is that many of the detainees he interrogated turned out to be completely innocent.

“I was constantly being asked, ‘Why am I being held here? I want answers!'” Casteel told IPS. “But that was my job. We were supposed to be finding answers to our questions, but we kept being put into situations that were incredibly puzzling because talking to people was like trying to get blood from a turnip. They were the ones that had a greater justification for the need to have answers.”

Faced with such a dilemma, Casteel turns to an army chaplain for help. “We talked, I vexed and I summoned whatever strength we could conclude upon to go back to my interrogation…He prayed me back into combat,” Casteel writes. “I was no longer afraid to demand authority, to play upon certain weaknesses of my detainee, and to question in a most heated fashion — because ultimately, I thought, it would lead me to a more accurate assessment of the veracity of his statements.’

“I transgressed no lines of ‘proper conduct,’ but I certainly, and without hesitation, used a man’s anxieties, weaknesses and fears, and my particular place of power and dominance to assess him according to his word…And I even left with what I thought was a clearer picture of the man I was assessing — perhaps to his benefit. So, why did I feel like a complete failure?”

The answer to his question comes in October 2004, five months into his tour at Abu Ghraib.

“I had an interrogation with a 22-year-old Saudi Arabian who was very straightforward that he had come to Iraq to conduct jihad,” Casteel said. “We started having a conversation about religion and ethics and he told me that I was a very strange man who was a Christian but didn’t follow the teachings of Jesus to love my enemy and pray for the persecuted…I told him that I thought he was right and that there was a massive contradiction involved with me doing my job and being a Christian.”

“I wanted to have a conversation with him about ethics and the cycle of vengeance and how idiotic it was that his people said it was okay for him to come and kill me and my people told me it was okay to kill him,” he said in an interview. “Why is it that we can’t find a different path together?”

Since that type of conversation was not possible as a U.S. Army interrogator, Joshua Casteel filed an application for discharge as a conscientious objector. Much to his surprise, his command endorsed it, and offered to speed his transition out of the Army. He now hopes to serve as a bridge between conservative Christians and the antiwar left.

He hopes “Letters from Abu Ghraib” will “give conservative Christians an unfiltered picture of one Christian’s wrestling with violence and also help the secular world get a backstage pass to the way a conservative Christian operates.”

Since his discharge, Casteel converted to Catholicism, attracted by the Church’s tradition of “social teaching,” and has worked with other like-minded Catholics to push the Church play a more active role in bringing the war to an end.

He’s excited his book has been assigned to students at a number of Catholic high schools in the Midwest and the former interrogator has been invited to speak at religious schools from New Jersey to Colorado.

“Catholics are 30 percent of the military. They’re equally 30 percent of Congress,” he said. “The Vatican had a strong rebuke of the Iraq war but the Iraq war could not have happened were it not for Catholics. Christ has turned up in the people of Iraqi bodies and it’s Iraq that’s getting crucified and it’s largely Christian America that’s allowed to be prosperous in the midst of it.”

*IPS correspondent Aaron Glantz is author of the upcoming book “The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans”.


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