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Torture in Iraq:
The blame goes to the top

By Nicole Colson | Janury 21, 2005 | Page 16

FOR THE Bush administration, Army Spc. Charles Graner is an embarrassment--one it hopes will now fade away, along with the whole torture scandal from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Graner, the alleged ringleader of the torture at Abu Ghraib, was sentenced to 10 years in prison following a military trial in which he was found guilty of 10 counts of assault, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees and other charges.

Pictures of Graner and fellow soldiers brutalizing prisoners caused fury across the globe, and a scandal for the Bush administration, when they came to light last year. Ever since, U.S. officials have been trying to pin the blame on low-ranking soldiers like Graner, who supposedly acted on their own.

But the blame for this outrage runs all the way to the top--the Bush administration itself. The evidence shows that the torture of prisoners was sanctioned at the highest levels of the U.S. government--and carried out not just in Iraq, but at the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as prisons across Afghanistan.

Graner--who likely got a start practicing sadistic behavior in his previous job as a guard at the Pennsylvania prison that houses the state's death row--was certainly not bothered about what he did.

Neither he nor his attorneys denied, or even apologized for, what the world saw in the images that emerged from Abu Ghraib--detainees stripped naked, beaten, sexually abused and threatened with dogs. "I can see, to a layperson, a lot of things happen in prison that may look wrong," Graner said as his lawyer displayed the photos on a screen. "But you can have a use of force that looks bad that can be justified."

Graner's lawyer, Guy Womack--referring to the pictures of piles of naked detainees--compared what took place at Abu Ghraib to "cheerleaders all over America [who] form pyramids six to eight times a year? Is that torture?" "Sometimes," Womack told the jury, "when you make an omelet, you have to break some eggs."

That's little comfort to Ameen Said Al-Sheikh, a Syrian detainee at Abu Ghraib who says that he was subjected to repeated beatings--and worse--from Graner. "He handcuffed me to the door for eight hours, and the next day, I had a dislocated shoulder, and they took me to the hospital," he told the court.

By hanging the blame on Graner and a few other low-level soldiers, Pentagon higher-ups and Bush administration officials hope to avoid taking responsibility.

That includes military intelligence officers who, Graner and the other soldiers at Abu Ghraib say, sanctioned the abuse at Abu Ghraib. Graner says he was told "that if [military intelligence] is asking you to do this, it needs to be done. They're in charge, follow their orders.' So like all good little soldiers or bad little soldiers, right on sir, you got it, and we went back."

Sgt. Javal Davis, who witnessed the abuses at Abu Ghraib, told the Washington Post last year that military intelligence had "been giving Graner compliments on the way he has been handling the [prisoners]. Example being statements like 'Good job, they're breaking down real fast'; 'They answer every question'; 'They're giving out good information, finally'; and 'Keep up the good work'--stuff like that."

Beyond military intelligence, there is evidence that FBI officials knew about the torture. Earlier this month, the Justice Department inspector general announced an investigation into whether FBI agents at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo participated in abuse--or at least failed to report abuse that they observed.

The ACLU recently obtained a report from last June to the director of the FBI, which appears to describe an account given to the FBI's Sacramento field office by an agent who "observed numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees," including "strangulation, beatings [and] placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings."

Then there are the administration officials who helped write policies making torture an official part of the U.S. "war on terror." They include former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales--Bush's nominee to take over as attorney general--who wrote a memo defining why the "war on terror" made the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners "quaint" and "obsolete."

And former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, who wrote the Bush administration's policy redefining torture. Under Bybee's definition, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment only qualified as torture if an interrogator inflicted pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily injury or even death."

Plus Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in late 2002 signed off on a number of "stress and duress" techniques for interrogation--including isolation for up to a month, removal of clothing and "exploiting individual phobias, e.g., dogs."

Yet not only have these individuals gone unpunished, they've been rewarded. Gonzales, for example, will almost certainly be confirmed as the next attorney general. Bybee received a nomination to the federal appeals court. Gen. Geoffrey Miller--under whose watch torture was "exported" from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib--was promoted to be an Army assistant chief of staff.

As long as the officials who formulated the policies that led to torture at Abu Ghraib aren't made to answer for it, such horror stories are bound to be repeated.

Iraq's election sham

IS IT democracy when the name of the candidate you're voting for is kept secret? That's a question facing millions of Iraqis as U.S. occupation forces and the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi press ahead with plans for elections at the end of the month.

With just two weeks to go, attacks by resistance fighters are on the rise, threatening to derail the vote altogether. In Mosul and Basra, schools that were to be used as polling places were targeted with mortar fire, while election workers and candidates, particularly in the Sunni triangle, have received death threats or been attacked.

According to the New York Times, the situation is so dire that of "the 7,471 people who have filed to run, only a handful outside the relatively safe Kurdish areas have publicly identified themselves."

Earlier this month, in fact, the entire 13-member election commission in Anbar province (where the city of Falluja is located) resigned following threats from insurgents. Saad Abdul-Aziz Rawi, the head of the commission, told a local newspaper that it was "impossible to hold elections" and that officials who think it can be done are "kidding themselves."

After touting the elections as a crucial step towards a new "independent" Iraq, even the Bush administration is trying to downplay expectations. "I would...really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don't have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections," one anonymous administration official told the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are continuing to carry out a punishing assault against anyone suspected of being sympathetic to the resistance.

No matter how the Bush administration spins it, the truth about Washington's "democracy at gunpoint" can't be hidden. "If I know it will be free and honest elections, I will vote," Mohammad al-Dulaymi, whose appliance store and home were destroyed in the U.S. attack on Falluja, told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "But I know that the Americans will put whoever they want in there. So I won't vote."

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