Saturday, March 12, 2005

Dress Rehearsal For Abu Ghraib

Two Afghan prisoners who died in American custody in Afghanistan in December 2002 were chained to the ceiling, kicked and beaten by American soldiers in sustained assaults that caused their deaths, according to Army criminal investigative reports that have not yet been made public. [...]

Private Brand, who acknowledged striking a detainee named Dilawar 37 times, was accused of having maimed and killed him over a five-day period by "destroying his leg muscle tissue with repeated unlawful knee strikes." The attacks on Mr. Dilawar were so severe that "even if he had survived, both legs would have had to be amputated," the Army report said, citing a medical examiner.

The reports, obtained by Human Rights Watch, provide the first official account of events that led to the deaths of the detainees, Mullah Habibullah and Mr. Dilawar, at the Bagram Control Point, about 40 miles north of Kabul. The deaths took place nearly a year before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The Army CIC reports apparently make it clear that in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, prisoner abuse was widespread. It was not limited to the two prisoners who are known to have been tortured to death, or to the two enlisted soldiers - Pfc. Willie Brand and a Sgt. James Boland - who have been charged in the prisoner murders. A couple of dozen other soldiers and reservists, including at least two officers, have been recommended for criminal charges - but those recommendations were made last fall, and who knows if they'll be followed up on.

Among those recommended for criminal charges is Captain Carolyn A. Wood, the chief military intelligence officer at Bagram, who lied to investigators in order to cover up the nature and purpose of the torture techniques interrogators were using. The next step in her military career was to travel to Iraq, where, according to the New York Times, she "helped to establish the interrogation and debriefing center at Abu Ghraib. Two Defense Department reports have said that a list of interrogation procedures she drew up there, which went beyond those approved by Army commanders, may have contributed to abuses at Abu Ghraib."

Both of the officers named in the Army reports released to the Times are captains. The Respectful of Otters Military Advisory Board points out that these are relatively low-ranking officers, and that you'd expect to see the eventual charges reach higher in the chain of command. (Compare to Abu Ghraib, where Brigadier General Janice Karpinski is still under intense investigation and will almost certainly face serious charges.) The wheels of military justice seem to be grinding awfully slow, on these torture charges. I don't know whether that means that they're trying very hard to get it right and identify everyone involved - as opposed to going for a quick show trial of some prominent scapegoats - or whether it means that they're hoping the whole thing will blow over. On the one hand, the lack of widespread furor over the Gonzales confirmation suggests that Americans have been disappointingly quick to forget their moral outrage over Abu Ghraib. On the other hand, over the course of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars I have developed considerable respect for the military legal system. They've resisted the Bush Administration's plans for secret detentions and fake "trials" right down the line.

So we'll see.