Friday, March 25, 2005


The smell of fear

I've written a couple of posts recently about my belief that Rumsfeld's days at the Defense Department are numbered. Of course, I've had false hopes before. Some people see the Virgin Mary; I see "signs."

But the signs keep coming. I can't escape the feeling, surveying the news as a whole, that the matters of illegal imprisonment and torture are taking on a life of their own that is beginning to get out of control of the Bush administration and the Neocons. And that exposes them to risk—not just political but legal.

One of the chinks in their armor turns out to be, of all things, the alliance with Britain, of which they may yet rue the day. The British seem further along in the exposure of Blair's shenanigans with respect to the invasion of Iraq and the illegal imprisonment and torture of aliens than we are here in the U.S.

This can be laid at the feet of several factors. I would like to say that one of them is that the British have a slightly more functional democracy than we do in the U.S., and though it is true, I don't believe that accounts for much. Unlike George Bush, Blair is encountering considerable resistance from within his own party. But it is the British participation in the European Union that seems the greatest cause of Blair's difficulties.

Blair has been in a struggle with the House of Lords over anti-terror legislation in Britain, but it must not be forgotten that those struggles would not have been precipitated if Britain were not a subscriber to the European Convention on Human Rights.

There is simply nothing equivalent for the Americans. The closest parallel is our subservience to the decision-making apparatus of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but that relates to trade, not torture, and if it's not bad for trade, the IMF couldn't care less. Of course, the U.S. is signatory to all sorts of treaties forbidding the kinds of behavior in which the American government has engaged, but the Bush administration has abrogated or ignored all of them and may continue to do so with impunity.

But the Europeans—including the U.K.—need the European Union to work, if for no other reason than to defend themselves economically against the gorilla across the Atlantic. Hence, the EU is having an unmistakeable effect on British human rights policies, at which the Brits simply cannot thumb their noses without incurring yet greater risks to the union.

And so it is that as damaging revelations on the lead-up to war mount in Britain, and British courts hear cases against British troops more readily than in the U.S., there is bound to be a certain blowback. I don't know if the Neocons have reached the point of being frightened, but I have no doubt that they are "concerned." Let's just say that they are going to be going all out to protect Bush's pardon powers.

Then there's that pesky ACLU. They keep gaining access to documents through the Freedom of Information Act. These documents are cumulatively so revealing and damning of the illegality of this administration that perhaps even federal judges will be forced to take note.

All of this was flitting through my head when I came upon "Army Documents Shed Light on CIA 'Ghosting'," which was tucked back on page 15 of the print edition of the Washington Post. It seems that WaPo has discovered that its reporters are also allowed to look at government documents.

Here's an excerpt of what reporter Josh White has found [all emphasis added]—

Senior defense officials have described the CIA practice of hiding unregistered detainees at Abu Ghraib prison as ad hoc and unauthorized, but a review of Army documents shows that the agency's "ghosting" program was systematic and known to three senior intelligence officials in Iraq.

Army and Pentagon investigations have acknowledged a limited amount of ghosting, but more than a dozen documents and investigative statements obtained by The Washington Post show that unregistered CIA detainees were brought to Abu Ghraib several times a week in late 2003, and that they were hidden in a special row of cells. Military police soldiers came up with a rough system to keep track of such detainees with single-digit identification numbers, while others were dropped off unnamed, unannounced and unaccounted for.

In other words, there are witnesses galore.

The documents show that the highest-ranking general in Iraq at the time acknowledged that his top intelligence officer was aware the CIA was using Abu Ghraib's cells, a policy the general abruptly stopped when questions arose.

CIA operatives began looking for a central place to put detainees captured during secret missions in Iraq in mid-2003, and an early choice was the high-security Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport, where CIA officers hoped to deposit a few of their prisoners without registering their names. Lt. Col. Ronald G. Chew, the military police commander there, told Army investigators later that he "argued against the practice" and turned the operatives away.

Instead, according to the documents, the CIA quickly looked to Abu Ghraib, then a dusty and decrepit compound outside Baghdad that was slated to be transformed into the central U.S. detention center for the war.

According to statements investigators took from soldiers and officers who worked at the prison, a stream of ghost detainees began arriving in September 2003, after military intelligence officers and the CIA came to an arrangement that kept the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations from knowing the detainees existed. The investigative documents show that Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the top two military intelligence officers at the prison, took part in discussions with the CIA on how to handle agency detainees.

Pappas and Jordan are still under investigation, and Army officials said they believe a decision about whether to discipline them could come by the end of the month.

We will be looking forward to hearing that decision.

Now here's where it really gets good—


Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top Army officer in Iraq at the time, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last spring that there was no system of keeping such detainees at Abu Ghraib, but he later acknowledged two cases in which it had happened, including that of one detainee who died in custody and another who was kept without registration at the behest of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

As one eyeball said to the other, "I don't have a clue what that thing is between us, but it sure does smell." Yes, it's getting all smelly up near the head, where it really matters.

One of the highly publicized incidents at Abu Ghraib was the death of an unregistered CIA detainee in a shower room in November 2003. Another case that year allegedly gained Sanchez's attention as well, when the CIA logged three Saudi nationals into Abu Ghraib under false names.

In one of several Pentagon studies of detainee abuse, Army Maj. Gen. George Fay reported last August that the three hospital workers had been swept up by the CIA. The Saudi government asked the United States if it held the three but was told no, because their real names were not registered.

A statement to investigators provided more detail. Darius Khaghani, chief of interrogation operations under Sanchez's command, said it became "a very political situation." Over several weeks, he said, requests to locate the Saudi citizens came from L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and then from the office of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Finally, soldiers "came up with the idea to question three detainees" who had been brought to the prison by the CIA, "even though they were registered under other names," Khaghani said. "In short order, the three were released and transported to Saudi Arabia on a CIA aircraft, and later I heard the chief of station was relieved over this matter and recalled back to Washington."

This resistance to the Neocon Defense Department may yet prove to be significant. Conveniently, neither Bremer nor Powell are currently in the administration and are free to testify.


Capt. Carolyn Wood, a military intelligence officer in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib, told investigators that she was one of a few who objected to the CIA using her facility for "overnight parking" of unregistered prisoners and that she expressed her "disapproval" to Pappas and Jordan. "But I was overridden," she said, and ghosting continued at least until her departure on Dec. 4, 2003.

You may count Capt. Wood as one sure witness to Pappas' responsibility.

Chief Warrant Officer Jon D. Graham, a member of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, told investigators that "OGA [CIA] had what we refer to as ghost detainees that were 'buried' or hidden in our facility," adding that he also objected to the practice.

Jordan, in his statement to investigators, said there was a memorandum of understanding between his unit and "OGA" to guide the housing of prisoners brought in by the CIA and Task Force 1-21, a secret Special Operations unit. He said they "dropped off a detainee about two to three times a week."

Documents, documents, documents. Even the Nazis couldn't resist creating them.

Donald Rumsfeld, Lt. Gen. Sanchez and Col. Pappas may some day be praying for the intervention of a Higher Power—that of the Presidential pardon.

Related posts
Anti-human-rights law to go to the Law Lords (12/14/04)
The Law Lords have decided — Let those people go! (12/16/04)
House of Lords tears into the Terrorism Bill (3/9/05)
The Lords are holding firm against Blair terror (3/11/05)
Wolfie to World Bank; Rummy to oblivion? (updated) (3/16/05)
White House planning a pardon-fest (3/19/05)
U.S. ambassador to Turkey resigns, contemplates more mischief (3/22/05)

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