Friday, July 15, 2005


By William Fisher

The U.S. Army general widely considered the ‘architect’ of abusive prisoner interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and in Afghanistan used “creative” and “aggressive” tactics, but did not practice torture or violate law or Pentagon policy. Despite the recommendations of military investigators, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey C. Miller will not be reprimanded – thus bringing to a close what could be the last of 15 separate investigations into detainee abuse.

Members of the team that conducted the three-month investigation told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday that Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, had overruled their recommendation of a reprimand, and will instead refer the matter to the Army's inspector general (IG).

They said Gen. Craddock had concluded that Miller’s techniques did not rise to the level of torture and did not violate any U.S. laws or policies. Their probe was looking into allegations by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who said they witnessed abusive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. The FBI allegations were contained in documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Barring future allegations of prisoner abuse, the Miller probe ends all outstanding inquiries into an issue that has inflamed Bush Administration critics for several years. In the dozen previous investigations – all carried out by military or Pentagon-appointed panels – only one high-level officer has faced disciplinary action. Army Reserve General Janice Karpinsky received an administrative reprimand for failing to properly supervise detainee treatment at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A number of lower-level officers and enlisted personnel have been reprimanded or court martialled, and other low level cases are still pending.

There have been only two congressional hearings into prisoner abuse, one in the Senate, the other in the House of Representatives. Increasingly frustrating calls for an investigation by an independent 9/11-type commission have been resisted by most Republicans, who control both bodies.

The conclusions of the Miller inquiry appear to strongly support the contention that Gen. Miller was the constant in the prisoner treatment equation, first at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later at military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, where similar interrogation techniques were employed.

General Miller was deeply involved in the handling of detainees, first at
Guantánamo in 2002 and 2003, where he earned credit for improving interrogation techniques and for the treatment of prisoners, and later in Iraq, where he was sent in August 2003 to suggest ways to improve interrogations immediately before the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. In 2004, he was appointed to oversee all detainee operations in Iraq. Multiple investigations have cleared him of wrongdoing.

Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director, said, "It is irrefutable that the government violated the Geneva Conventions and the Army Field Manual. As before, low-ranking men and women will take the full blame while the higher ups get off scot-free. Once again, we have abuse without high-level accountability.”

The chief investigator into Guantanamo practices, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, told the Senate panel of the interrogation techniques used on Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Al-Qahtani was thought to be involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Schmidt said interrogators told him his mother and sisters were whores, forced him to wear a bra and wear a thong on his head, told him he was a homosexual and said that other prisoners knew it. They also forced him to dance with a male interrogator and subjected him to strip searches with no security value, threatened him with dogs, forced him to stand naked in front of women, and to wear a leash and act like a dog.

These techniques were approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use on al-Qahtani -- the alleged "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- were used at Guantanamo in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking him down.

Investigators also described other interrogation practices used at Guantanamo, including:

A female interrogator smeared what she described as menstrual blood — it was fake — on a prisoner. The woman was disciplined, investigators said, but they recommended no further action on the allegation because it happened some time ago.

A Navy officer threatened one high-value prisoner by saying he would go after his family. This was in violation of U.S. military law, the investigation found.

A prisoner was bound on the head with duct tape, his mouth covered, because he was chanting verses from the Quran.

Interrogators used cold, heat, loud music and sleep deprivation on prisoners to break their will to resist interrogation. These techniques were approved at certain times at Guantanamo.

Detainees were chained to the floor in fetal positions. The investigation said this was not authorized, but could not confirm an FBI agent's allegation that detainees were left in this position for long periods.

Female interrogators sought to persuade male prisoners to talk, using forms of "gender coercion." These techniques were approved at the time as non-injurious, but the Schmidt investigation found that they were inappropriate. In one case, a detainee was doused with perfume.

In addition, detainees were subjected to excessive cold and heat, as well as
loud music and sleep deprivation, techniques that were approved at certain times at Guantánamo.

There have also been repeated accusations that American personnel at Guantanamo have mishandled the Quran, the Muslim holy book. A separate Pentagon investigation found five such instances

The Guantanamo investigators described the techniques they found as degrading and abusive, Gen. Schmidt said, but did not constitute torture.

"It is clear from the report that detainee mistreatment was not simply the product of a few rogue military police in a night shift," said Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee.

And Sen. Edward Kennedy, the powerful Democrat committee member from Massachusetts, said, "I am deeply concerned about the failure — indeed, outright refusal — of our military and civilian leaders to hold higher ups accountable for the repeated and reports of abuse and torture of the prisoners at Guantanamo."

Bush administration officials have said the excesses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were the work of “a few bad apples”. The Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, said investigators had found only three instances, out of thousands of interrogations, where military personnel violated Army policy.

Investigators also determined that interrogators violated the Geneva Conventions and Army regulations three times.

Edward S. Herman, professor emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, told IPS, “Internal investigations by an institution whose lies would fill an encyclopedia are hardly credible and would be laughed out of court by an honest media. They are even more laughable when we consider that the top leadership has indicated that international law is not applicable to us, that the concept of torture is infinitely flexible, and that the folks we are holding in Guantanamo are being treated like Caribbean vacationers.”

The report said the military should review how it determines the legal status of prisoners at Guantanamo, and decide what forms of treatment and interrogation techniques will be allowed.

Guantanamo holds 520 prisoners, while more than 230 others have been released or transferred to the custody of their home governments. Most were captured during the U.S. war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; only a few have been charged with any crime.

The report also recommended discipline for several low-level interrogators.

It is unclear whether General Miller could face disciplinary proceedings as a result of the Inspector General inquiry recommended by General Craddock.


By William Fisher

As a nervous Congress was voting billions to make America safer in the wake of the London bombings, a nationally recognized authority on immigration detention charged that the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and other immigrants are being ignored.

Mark Dow, author of “American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons”, told IPS, “Aside from some haggling over how many thousands more detention beds will be funded, the immigration detention system -- run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- is simply not being discussed.”

He called for appointment of an independent ombudsman to monitor DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) compliance with the law, independent monitoring of the detention system, and legislation creating a right to counsel for immigration detainees.

Earlier this week, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a major reorganization of his huge two-year-old department. In remarks delivered to an auditorium crowded with department officials, terrorism experts and others with a stake in department policy, Chertoff identified his top priorities as preparation for catastrophic attacks, information sharing with state and local partners and transportation security, along with overhauling immigration and restructuring the department's intelligence unit.

Chertoff has been a strong advocate of comprehensive immigration reform, specifically enhancing border security through a guest worker program. But Dow does not see immigration reform as essential to improving the treatment of immigrants.

“Unnecessarily jailing immigrants who are not ‘doing time’, mistreating them, and denying them legal help has nothing to do with immigration policy -- or with ‘securing the homeland’, he told IPS.

Chertoff’s strategy of coupling controversial immigration policy with ‘helping win the war on terror’, could help President Bush's stalled proposal for a guest worker program and enhanced border security. Similarly, linking the guest worker plan to calls for tougher border controls could neutralize conservative Republicans in Congress who believe that enforcement must come first.

But none of these strategies, Dow said, will do anything to eliminate what he sees as the excessive and unnecessary secrecy that shrouds the immigration detention system. “Unfortunately the prediction I made in my book that this system would move even further from scrutiny as the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was folded into Homeland Security seems to be proving accurate.”

Quoting Sec. Chertoff’s statement that that illegal border crossing "undermines respect for the rule of law," Dow said, “If he's concerned about the rule of law, he should announce his support for an independent ombudsman to monitor DHS and ICE compliance with the law. Chertoff is responsible, for example, for the fact that ICE continues to violate Supreme Court decisions ordering the release of certain long-term detainees.”

He said Chertoff should also ask Congress to “establish independent monitoring of the detention system. And I'm not talking about an audit from within the agency, or an audit by a contracted company paid by the agency it's reporting to.”

Dow recalled that in February 2005, Chertoff said, "Mistreatment of detainees . . . is wholly unacceptable." Dow called on Congress -- and community activists -- to “hold him to that. He is responsible for rampant mistreatment. He should recommend legislation creating a right to counsel for immigration detainees.”

Dow sought to debunk the notion that mistreatment of immigrants was a product of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “In the early 1990s, INS officials at the Miami airport issued a statement conflating poor people, drug dealers, and terrorists in one breath. There was been an immigration agency culture of discrimination and violence long before Chertoff headed up the post-9/11 mistreatment of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian detainees. I see DHS moving further and further in that direction, regardless of bureaucratic reorganization.”

In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, Chertoff, then a senior official at the Department of Justice (DOJ), played a major role in orchestrating the wholesale roundups and detentions of hundreds of mostly Arab and other Muslim immigrants. A report by the DOJ’s Inspector General confirmed that many were held incommunicado in jail-like settings, abused and denied access to lawyers and families.

Meanwhile, a major human rights advocacy group, Human Rights First (HRF), said it welcomed one of the few immigration proposals in the proposed DHS reorganization plan – creation of a new senior refugee policy position.

“Secretary Chertoff should be commended for recognizing the need to improve the coordination of asylum policy across the Department’s various bureaus,” said Eleanor Acer, director of HRF’s asylum program. “

The United States has a long and proud tradition of providing refuge for people who flee from persecution and oppression, and it is essential for the Department to make clear that it will protect the lives of these people as it fulfills its other important responsibilities.”

Ms. Acer added, “Ultimately however, whether or not this position will be effective will depend on how much authority this position is given.”

In announcing the DHS reorganization plan, Chertoff acknowledged that “Immigration policy is about more than keeping illegal migrants out. Our heritage and our national character inspire us to create a more welcoming society for those who lawfully come to our shores to work, learn and visit.”

He said he is working with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice “to ease the path for those who wish to visit, study, and conduct business in the United States.”

The current system, he said, “leaves a negative first impression of our nation with our new fellow countrymen. Worse yet, it causes unnecessary security risks because people enjoy temporary residence while we are completing the screening process. Restructuring this process to enhance security and improve customer service will be an important part of our upcoming agenda.”

Earlier in the week, the Senate passed a $31.8-billion Homeland Security spending bill, and Chertoff testified before a committee in the House of Representatives, where Democrats engaged him in heated exchanges regarding allocation of funds.

"The Bush administration should put forward real policy proposals to plug our homeland security vulnerabilities, instead of just moving people's offices around and changing the department's stationery," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.