Friday, April 11, 2008


Here's another must-read article about the victims of the American occupation of Iraq, including Iraqis and U.S. soldiers. The subject of the article, Specialist Sabrina Harman, is one of the young American soldiers we saw in shocking photos from Abu Ghraib prison. Spec. Harmon took many of these shocking photos, like this one of a dead prisoner packed in ice. Because of the photos she took, and the ones in which she appeared, Spec. Harmon was convicted by court-martial of "conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, dereliction of duty, and maltreatment." She was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank, and a bad-conduct discharge. Others working at the prison were also convicted and sentenced. End of story, right? Wrong.

The article, using letters written home by Sabrina, interviews, and other sources, tells the inside story of young soldiers assigned to a physical and mental hell, and given orders to soften prisoners up for interrogation. The methods they used were either given to them or condoned by their superiors; basically they were told to do anything that would stress the prisoners and make them talk. The results are disturbing, and were very disturbing to Spec. Harmon and her colleagues.

Strangely, or perhaps conveniently, it was only the low-level personnel at Abu Ghraib who were "brought to justice" by the U.S. government. The photo of the body packed in ice, linked to above, was a prisoner who was said to have died of a heart attack. But Spec. Harmon knew better, because the body had many signs of severe beatings. In fact, the death of that prisoner, who was later found to be innocent of any crime or terrorist link, was eventually ruled to be a homicide, but neither the C.I.A. interrogator nor anyone else involved in the interrogation was ever charged. The photos of the corpse taken by Spec. Harmon, who claims she took them to document the horror of what she saw, were used to convict her.

But there's a back story, a very important one that gets little attention. Amazingly, there is an AP story in the news today that "Bush aides OK'd harsh questioning." According to "a former senior U.S. intelligence official" there was a series of high-level meetings in which senior members of the Bush administration signed-off on harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and others considered by critics to be torture. The meetings coincided with a series of memoranda from the U.S. Justice Department justifying the use of these techniques.

Who were these high-level officials attending these meetings in the White House Situation Room? Lord Darth Cheney was "deeply immersed" in developing the CIA interrogation program, as were Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. These people authorized the CIA to use techniques considered to be torture, and then asked the Justice Department to consider the domestic and international legality of these techniques. The Justice Department issued a series of memos that basically OK'd the techniques, and immunized the President.

The above leads us to John Yoo, a former Justice Department attorney, who authored at least one of the key memos supporting the interrogation techniques. The memo was recently declassified, and it is chilling, as excerpts show. The memo justifies, under presidential war powers, numerous harsh techniques included under the definition of maiming, such as "poking an eye out, cutting ears and burning a prisoner with scalding water or corrosive acid." Yoo has stated that "the president has sole authority to interpret international treaties, such as the Geneva Convention, which forbids torture," and that his role in the Office of Legal Counsel "was to rehabilitate presidential protections that previous administrations allowed to languish in deference to Congress and the courts."

So the question is begged, "who were the real criminals at Abu Ghraib?" Several low-level soldiers were prosecuted and punished for taking pictures, mistreating prisoners, tampering with evidence, etc. Their superiors remain free and uncharged. And the Bush Gang, except those who have retired, are still in the White House, still violating the U.S. Constitution and various domestic and international laws and treaties. Why haven't these people been held accountable for the crimes they've committed?

As if need to ask.

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