News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
September 24, 2005
Whistleblowers Describe Routine, Severe Abuse
by Jim Lobe
As a military jury in Texas considers the fate of Lynndie
England, the low-ranking reservist pictured in the notorious
photos of the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison
in late 2003, two sergeants and a captain in one of the U.S.
Army's most decorated combat units have come forward with
accounts of routine, systematic and often severe beatings
committed against detainees at a base near Fallujah from
2003 through 2004.
According to their testimony, featured in a new report by
Human Rights Watch (HRW), beatings and other forms of
torture were often either ordered or approved by superior
officers and took place on virtually a daily basis. The
soldiers, all of whom had also been deployed to Afghanistan
before coming to Iraq, testified that the same techniques
were used in both countries.
The beatings were so severe that they resulted in broken
bones "every other week" at Forward Operating Base (FOB)
Mercury, where detainees would ordinarily be held for three
or four days before being transferred to Abu Ghraib. In one
case, an Army cook broke the leg of a detainee with a metal
baseball bat, according to one of the sergeants quoted in
the report, entitled "Leadership Failure."
Residents of Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold since the
2003 invasion, referred to the unit as "The Murderous
Maniacs," because of their treatment of detainees, according
to the report.
Although none of the three soldiers has been deployed to
Iraq this year, they all said they believed that practices
they witnessed at FOB Mercury continue, according to the report.
The three -- all active-duty members of the 1st Battalion,
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army 82nd Airborne
Division -- said that they had repeatedly sought guidance up
the chain of command on the applicability of the Geneva
Conventions or other rules to regarding the appropriate
treatment of detainees in Iraq, but to no avail.
The captain, referred to as "Officer C" in the report, said
he had made persistent efforts over 17 months to raise
concerns about the abuses and obtain clearer rules about the
treatment of detainees but was consistently told by
higher-ups to ignore abuses and to "consider your career."
"In many cases, he was encouraged to keep his concerns
quiet; his brigade commander, for example, rebuffed him when
he asked for an investigation into these allegations of
abuse," according to the report. Only when he began taking
his concerns to members of Congress, according to the
report, did the Army agree to investigate his complaints.
However, "just days before the publication of this report he
was told that he would not be granted a pass to meet on his
day off with staff members of U.S. Senators John McCain and
John Warner," who, along with two other Republican senators,
have sponsored legislation that would require the Pentagon
to abide by the Geneva Conventions and the Army Field Manual
in its treatment of all detainees.
Their effort has so far been frustrated by opposition from
the George W. Bush administration, notably Vice President
Dick Cheney, who has personally lobbied against the
provision, and the Republican leadership in Congress.
When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke nearly 18 months ago, the
Bush administration claimed that only a handful of poorly
trained reservists were responsible. But in the intervening
months, hundreds of other cases of abuse in both Iraq and
Afghanistan have come to light through the release of U.S.
government documents, reports by the International Committee
of the Red Cross, media reports, and detainee accounts.
While the Pentagon has initiated investigations,
administrative hearings and, in a few cases, courts-martial,
they have been confined mostly to low-ranking personnel,
permitting the administration to claim that whatever abuses
have taken place were isolated or spontaneous.
But the firsthand accounts by the three soldiers, according
to HRW, "suggest that the mistreatment of prisoners by the
U.S. military is even more widespread than has been
acknowledged to date, including among troops belonging to
some of the best trained, most decorated and highly
respected units in the U.S. Army."
Suspected insurgents, according to the testimonies, were
called PUCs, for "Persons Under Control," to distinguish
them from prisoners of war, or POWs, a practice that first
began in Afghanistan after the Pentagon announced that it
did not consider detainees captured there subject to the
protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions for POWs.
PUCs were held in tents at FOB Mercury that were surrounded
by concertina wire and were routinely subjected to abusive
techniques that included "smoking," which was normally
ordered by Military Intelligence before interrogations and
involved 12 to 24 hours of stress positions, sleep or liquid
deprivation, and physical exercises sometimes to the point
of unconsciousness, and "f**king," which referred to beating
or torturing detainees severely.
Frontline and other soldiers were invited to take part in
both practices, according to the report, while, if the
detainees were injured as a result of the abuse, a
physicians' assistant would administer an analgesic and sign
off on a report stating that the injury took place during
The beatings and other abuses served mainly to relieve
stress, according to the three soldiers. "On their day off
people would show up all the time," said one sergeant.
"Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your
frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport."
The soldiers blamed the abuses in large part on the failure
of civilian and military leaders to clarify what was and was
not permitted, particularly in light of the administration's
position that the Geneva Convention, in which the unit had
been trained, did not apply to detainees captured in
"We knew where the Geneva Conventions drew the line, but
then you get that confusion when the (Secretary of Defense)
and the president make that statement," said the captain.
After the invasion of Iraq, "none of the unit policies
changed. Iraq was cast as part of the war on terror, not a
separate entity in and of itself but a part of a larger war."
"Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just
developed it," said one of the sergeants. "They wanted intel
(intelligence). As long as no PUCs came up dead it happened.
We heard rumours of PUCs dying so we were careful. We kept
it to broken arms and legs and shit (like that)."
The administration has strongly resisted calls by HRW and
other rights groups, as well as Democrats and some
Republicans, for the appointment of independent bipartisan
commission to carry out a comprehensive investigation of
detainee abuses, including the responsibility, if any, of
senior military officers and government officials.
Civilians believed to have been Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) officers had their own interrogation facilities at the
base and at another known as FOB Tiger close to the Syrian
border. They sometimes removed prisoners -- and all their
records -- from the bases, apparently to eliminate evidence
of their having been held there.
(Inter Press Service)
Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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