Friday, July 23, 2004


I never realized my words would have such impact!

Just as I completed an op-ed article wondering about the lack of progress of the Pentagon’s investigations of prisoner abuse, and the low profile being kept by the usually ubiquitous Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, lo and behold, the Army’s Inspector General materialized to deliver part of his report.

He did so before a hastily convened meeting of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, whose chairman, Republican Senator John Warner, has been under immense pressure to call the first hearings on the prisoner abuse scandal since May. The hearing took place Thursday, July 22 – the same day as the September 11 Commission delivered its final report to the Congress and the President. Congress went into recess for the summer on the following day.

The Inspector General, Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek, had this to say:

The U.S. military has found 94 cases of confirmed or alleged abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan since the autumn of 2001. That number is significantly higher than all other previous estimates given by the Pentagon, which had refused until now to give a total number of abuse allegations.

Equally important, the IG found no systemic problems. In some cases, the report found, the abuse was abetted or facilitated by officers not following proper procedures. This view is sharply in contrast to a February report from the International Committee for the Red Cross, which found that  “methods of ill treatment'' were “used in a systematic way'' by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Most of the alleged abuses -- 45 of the 94 -- happened at the point where the detainee was captured. Of those 45 cases, 20 involved allegations of physical abuse and the rest were allegations of theft or other crimes. Twenty-one cases of alleged abuse happened at detention centers such as Abu Ghraib. Another 19 happened at collection points where prisoners are gathered between their capture and their transfer to long-term prisons. Eight cases happened during or surrounding interrogations.

Since autumn of 2001, overall the United States had held more than 50,000 prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, a number never before made public.

The Committee raised questions about prisons in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the deaths of detainees, as well as whether abuse was part of interrogations. Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee, testifying at the hearing, said he accepted responsibility for the abuses committed by soldiers. But ranking Committee member Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said it was “difficult to believe there were not systemic problems with our detention and interrogations operations.''

Seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit from Cresaptown, Maryland, were charged in the prisoner abuse scandal, which unfolded this past spring with the release of pictures of abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

As I wrote in my earlier article, it may not be until after the presidential election that the world gets the full story of US prisoner abuse. Or, it may be never. Because there is still a nagging question of whether the military is prepared to investigate their own, and let the chips fall where they fall, or whether an independent commission – like the 9/11 Commission – is needed to be credible.