You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.
The facts they can't retract
Washington's torture chambers

By Nicole Colson | May 27, 2005 | Pages 1 and 2

THE U.S. military calls it "repetitive administration of legitimate force." But the real term is murder.

A New York Times exposé about a confidential 2,000-page Army file detailed the vicious brutality of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan that led to the deaths of two prisoners at a U.S. detention center at the Bagram air base in December 2002.

The Times article came on the heels of upheavals in Afghanistan and across the Middle East following a Newsweek report of abuse and humiliation of detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

When the story about U.S. soldiers desecrating the Koran sparked protests and rioting, the Bush administration turned the heat up on the magazine. And Newsweek accommodated the Bush team, retracting its report--even though current and former Guantánamo detainees and human rights advocates have told the same story many times.

Now, the Times article shows the barbarism of the U.S. war on Arabs and Muslims.

According to the report, one prisoner at Bagram, a 22-year-old taxi driver named Dilawar, was chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for nearly four days--and tortured by U.S. interrogators. During several days of questioning, he was beaten on his legs--a practice known as "peroneal strikes"--so severely that he could no longer bend his legs or kneel at his last interrogation session. He was also kicked in the groin, slammed into a table and dragged by a hood that had been placed over his head.

"Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny," said one witness to the barbarism. "It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah.' It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."

Instead of being seen by a doctor, as the desperate man asked, Dilawar was hung in his cell--where he later was discovered dead.

There is no way to know exactly how many more Dilawars there have been. The Bush administration has downplayed abuse scandals in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo, portraying them as a problem of a few inexperienced soldiers overstepping the bounds in their zeal to bring "terrorists" to justice.

But the torture of detainees wasn't caused by a few "bad apples." It was the predictable outcome of official U.S. policy, sanctioned at the highest levels of the Bush administration--under which Afghans and Iraqis are detained indefinitely, refused any rights under the Geneva Convention and subjected to the routine use of "stress-and-duress" interrogation techniques.

Thus, despite a coroner's finding of homicide, Army investigators initially recommended closing the investigation into Dilawar's death without filing any criminal charges.

Yet as the Army's own documents make clear, abuse and torture was commonplace at Bagram. "Senior officers frequently toured the detention center, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep," reported the Times.

This brutality provided a training ground for U.S. personnel to export their torture. Many of the Bagram interrogators were redeployed to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq--where they used, in the Army's words, "remarkably similar" techniques.

The U.S. "war on terror" has seen atrocities like these again and again. Army investigative documents recently obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union show evidence of a pattern of brutality in Iraq that includes beatings, several "mock executions" and at least one murder.

In one incident described in the documents, an Army captain forced an Iraqi detainee to dig his own grave--before telling his soldiers to pretend to shoot the man.

In another, a sergeant referred to as "Yancey" detained a father and his sons as they were loading metal onto a truck at an ammunition factory. "Which one do you want to die?" he asked the father, referring to the man's sons--before he took one of the sons around the corner of a building and pretended to kill him.

Yancey apparently accepted dismissal from the military for the mock execution, but was never court-martialed, because, according to his commanding officer, "I do not see a requirement to tarnish [Yancey's] record for life."

Last week, an Army spokesperson claimed: "The Army does not tolerate detainee abuse and will continue to aggressively investigate all allegations of abuse and hold individuals accountable when appropriate. But the facts about what has taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan can't be retracted or hidden any longer.

And when it comes to abuse and torture, the biggest criminals are at the top--the Bush administration and military higher ups who approved the policies that paved the way for murder. To hold them accountable for their crimes, we need build a movement that demands real justice for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Home page | Back to the top