Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 24th edition

July 24, 2006: U.S. Army Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division search for insurgents in houses located across the street from Outpost 293 in Ramadi after a mortar attack and gunfire were received on the outpost.

July 24, 2002:

US to attack nations in ‘self-defence’: Rumsfeld spells out military policy

A US military strike on Iraq or any other country developing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons would essentially be “self-defence”, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday.

Rumsfeld said the choice facing US leaders in such a case would be either to wait for a “Pearl Harbour” style surprise attack, in which thousands or millions of people could die, or striking first.

The possibility of a US strike on Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein has been a subject of media speculation ever since President George W. Bush took office last year. Anticipation increased in January when Bush named Iraq as part of the “axis of evil” because of Hussein’s drive for weapons of mass destruction and his support of terrorist groups.

Asked at a Pentagon press briefing to justify a potential attack on Iraq, Rumsfeld instead answered in general terms about the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of dictators, especially compared to the conventional weapons of the last century.

“Is it incumbent upon us to wait until there is a Pearl Harbour ... and risk not several thousand but several hundreds of thousands of people, or millions?” Rumsfeld said.

“Or ... is it the responsibility of a free people to ... see the risk (and) take a step to prevent that in your own self-defence?” he asked.

Rumsfeld said people were already beginning to ask such questions in considering the risks and benefits of various actions toward Iraq.

Although Bush has declared “regime change” in Baghdad to be the goal of US policy, he has repeatedly said he would explore all options and has no war plans on his desk.

The Pentagon, however, launched an internal probe last week to determine who leaked a conceptual battle plan for an Iraq invasion to The New York Times. Rumsfeld was particularly incensed by that leak, and said whoever divulged the information should be jailed.

Read the rest at the Dawn

July 24, 2003:

Troops accused of torture

Sleep deprivation, loud music, bright lights, hooding and prolonged restraint in painful positions are being used by coalition forces in Iraq to torture detainees, Amnesty International said yesterday.

Presenting a memorandum detailing allegations of ill treatment, Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, head of the organisation's delegation in Baghdad, warned that the promise of human rights for Iraqis had yet to be fulfilled.

The report was handed to Paul Bremer, the US civil administrator in charge of the country. "It is shameful to still hear of people detained in inhumane conditions without their family knowing where they are and with no access to a lawyer or a judge - often for weeks on end," Mr Ben Romdhane said.

Amnesty said its investigators had spoken to people subsequently released by coalition forces who complained they had been held in tents in extreme heat and not provided with enough drinking water.

"They were forced to use open trenches for toilets and were not given a change of clothes - even after two months' detention," the human rights organisation said.

In some cases coalition soldiers had failed to promptly implement release orders issued by Iraqi magistrates: "This is a flagrant breach of the rule of law."

Amnesty documented several cases of torture. "Khreisan Khalis Aballey, 39 ... was allegedly hooded and handcuffed and made to stand or kneel facing a wall for nearly eight days while he was being interrogated," the report said.

"He suffered from sleep deprivation as a bright light was placed next to his head and distorted music was played. His knees bled so he mostly stood, and by the end he said his leg was swollen to the size of a football."

The report accused US soldiers of conducting searches after having "smashed their way into cars and cupboards even when their owners offered keys". Property and cash was seized and not returned.

Amnesty said it had documented incidents in which US soldiers had shot at Iraqi demonstrators.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said: "Of course we take very seriously any such allegations by an organisation like Amnesty. I will study the allegations and the evidence behind them with very great care and if, as I suspect, I think it appropriate, I shall also ensure they are discussed with the Americans.

"I don't accept that the US government takes the view that ends justify means."

Read the rest at the Guardian

July 24, 2004:

An Army Whitewash

THE ARMY'S attempt to hold itself accountable for the abuse of foreign prisoners is off to a terrible start. On Thursday, while the media and political worlds were focused on the report of the Sept. 11 commission, the Army inspector general released a 300-page summary of an investigation of "detainee operations" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it identified 94 cases of confirmed or possible abuse, including 20 prisoner deaths, the probe concluded by sounding the defense offered up by the Pentagon ever since the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison were published: that the crimes did not result from Army policy and were not the fault of senior commanders but were "unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals."

This conclusion is contradicted by the independent investigations and reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross, by an earlier Army investigation undertaken before the scandal became public, and by testimony given to Congress. Oddly, it doesn't even square with some of the findings buried in the inspector general's own report, which confirm that commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan ordered "high-risk" interrogation procedures to be used on prisoners without adequate safeguards, training or regard for the Geneva Conventions.

No matter: The report effectively communicates the strategy of the military brass on the detainee affair, which is to focus blame on a few low-ranking personnel, shield all senior commanders from accountability, and deny or bury any facts that interfere with these aims. In that sense, the signal it sends to Congress is clear: The Pentagon cannot be counted on to reliably or thoroughly investigate the prisoner abuse affair. An independent probe by an outside authority is desperately needed.

To the credit of Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.), the Senate Armed Services Committee quickly assembled for a hearing on the Army report, despite the not-so-subtle timing of its release, and some Republican as well as Democratic senators rightly voiced incredulity at the Army's findings. They pointed out that, while identifying no "systemic failures" in the military, the inspector general's team chose not to investigate such episodes as the hiding of "ghost detainees" from the Red Cross -- a Geneva Convention violation that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has publicly stated was authorized by him. Nor did the investigation explore the handling of Red Cross reports by the staff of the Iraq commander in chief, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez -- which, rather than acting to stop abuses, reportedly tried to restrict further Red Cross access. In fact, no one above the rank of brigade commander was considered culpable, the inspector general candidly told the senators. "We think it ended there," said Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek.

Really? That's hard to square with the general's own report, which says that top U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, under pressure to collect more intelligence, "published high risk [interrogation] policies that presented a significant risk of misapplication if not trained and executed carefully." Yet "not all interrogators were trained," "some inspected units were unaware of the correct command policy," and some officers "with no training in interrogation techniques began conducting their own interrogation sessions." Moreover, some of the techniques set forth by Gen. Sanchez and other senior commanders previously had been approved only for "unlawful combatants" held at Guantanamo Bay. That "appears to contradict the terms of" the Pentagon's own legal judgments, which said some interrogation methods permissible at Guantanamo could not be used in Iraq.

All this -- and yet, purportedly, there were no failures of policy, and responsibility ended at the level of a lieutenant colonel, or a reserve one-star general. The senators who rejected this whitewash were correct: It is implausible and unacceptable. If the reputation and integrity of the Army are to be restored, some other authority will need to do better.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 24, 2005:

White House Opposes Ban on Detainee Mistreatment

The Bush administration this week threatened to veto a Senate bill for $442 billion in next year’s defense programs if it tries to regulate the Pentagon’s treatment of detainees or sets up a commission to investigate operations at US operated military prisons.

The Bush Administration, internationally criticized for the indefinite detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and policies that led to terrible abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, told lawmakers it did not want them legislating on the matter.

The move came after at least 10 Republican Senators called for legislation that would block the US military from engaging in “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of detainees, including using interrogation methods not authorized by a new Army field manual, nor by the Geneva Conventions.

In a statement, the White House said such amendments would “interfere with the protection of Americans from terrorism by diverting resources from the war.”

“If legislation is presented that would restrict the president’s authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice,” the bill could be vetoed, the statement said.

Read the rest at Arab News

July 24, 2006:

'It Looked Weird and Felt Wrong'

From its first days in Iraq in April 2003, the Army's 4th Infantry Division made an impression on soldiers from other units -- the wrong one.

"We slowly drove past 4th Infantry guys looking mean and ugly," recalled Sgt. Kayla Williams, then a military intelligence specialist in the 101st Airborne. "They stood on top of their trucks, their weapons pointed directly at civilians. . . . What could these locals possibly have done? Why was this intimidation necessary? No one explained anything, but it looked weird and felt wrong."

Today, the 4th Infantry and its commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, are best remembered for capturing former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, one of the high points of the U.S. occupation. But in the late summer of 2003, as senior U.S. commanders tried to counter the growing insurgency with indiscriminate cordon-and-sweep operations, the 4th Infantry was known for aggressive tactics that may have appeared to pacify the northern Sunni Triangle in the short term but that, according to numerous Army internal reports and interviews with military commanders, alienated large parts of the population.

The unit, a heavy armored division despite its name, was known for "grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers [were] unable to figure out who was of value and who was not," according to a subsequent investigation of the 4th Infantry Division's detainee operations by the Army inspector general's office. Its indiscriminate detention of Iraqis filled Abu Ghraib prison, swamped the U.S. interrogation system and overwhelmed the U.S. soldiers guarding the prison.

Lt. Col. David Poirier, who commanded a military police battalion attached to the 4th Infantry Division and was based in Tikrit from June 2003 to March 2004, said the division's approach was indiscriminate. "With the brigade and battalion commanders, it became a philosophy: 'Round up all the military-age males, because we don't know who's good or bad.' " Col. Alan King, a civil affairs officer working at the Coalition Provisional Authority, had a similar impression of the 4th Infantry's approach. "Every male from 16 to 60" that the 4th Infantry could catch was detained, he said. "And when they got out, they were supporters of the insurgency."

The unit's tactics were no accident, given its commanding general, according to his critics. "Odierno, he hammered everyone," said Joseph K. Kellogg Jr., a retired Army general who was at Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led occupation agency.

But that criticism hasn't hurt Odierno's subsequent career. When he returned to the United States in mid-2004, Odierno was promoted to be the military assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He recently took command over III Corps at Fort Hood, Tex., and is scheduled at the end of this year to return to Iraq to become the No. 2 U.S. commander there, overseeing the day-to-day operations of U.S. forces.

In an interview, Odierno mounted a strenuous defense of his division's performance, and said any implication that "all we did was kill people wantonly and abuse prisoners -- in my opinion, that's totally false."

Odierno said that he had made detainee operations a major focus of his command after it became clear in the summer of 2003 that the division would have to hold prisoners. "That's what bothers me about this" discussion of the 4th Infantry. "I spent so much time on this. It was important to me that we did this right."

Two years ago at a meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, Odierno explained that his aggressive tactics were born of experience. "We'd go in, do a raid on a house, and we wouldn't search any of the families, and as we were leaving, they would hand weapons from under their dresses to their men, who would shoot at us."

So, he said, "yeah, initially, we probably made some mistakes." But, he continued, "we adapted quickly".

Read the rest at the Washington Post