President Bush blames “a few bad apples” for Abu-Ghraib Torture

Rationalization has long been a tactic used by perpetrators to explain genocide and other inhumane atrocities. One example is the irrationality of small group dynamics and routinization in the tortures that occurred at Abu-Ghraib. On April 14 2003 a governing branch of  lawyers appointed by the general counsel of the US department of Defense finalised a confidential report addressing legal constraints on the interrogation of detainees by the US military personnel. The Human Rights Watch pushed the administration to publicize the relevant government documents however, the Bush administration resisted publicly discussing the requirements for the treatment of detainees. In addition, the government also denied allegations of torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment to the detainees inclusive of the “stress and duress” technique. According to a report by the American Journal of International Law, in February 2004 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC ) submitted a written report to the United States government proclaiming that the abuse of Iraqi detainees as part of the interrogation process by US military intelligence personnel was inhumane and relatively equivalent to torture.

Based on media accounts and Human Rights Watch interviews, the US military implemented torture techniques aimed at dehumanizing the subjects as animals through degrading treatment. The Washington Post Company has pieced together information on 13 such detainees from the Abu Ghraib prison which was later used as evidence in the court martial trials.  One testimony from Haider Saber Abed Mikub Al-Abood of the Rusafa Prison Compound in Baghdad, Iraq recalls his experience “… they forced us to walk like dogs on our hands and knees. And we had to bark like a dog…” These reports of abuse of the Iraqi detainees pressured General Ricardo Sanchez to request that the US central command to appoint Major General Antonio Taguba to head an investigation. He analyzed approximately fifty witness statements by military police and military intelligence personnel, potential suspects and detainees and concluded that several US military soldiers have committed heinous acts. In his report, he recommended that steps be taken to relieve General Karpinski and several other officers of the 800th military police brigade of their duties and reprimanded for their acts. On May 19 one of the accused officers, specialist Jeremy Sivits was sentenced by a US military court to one year in prison, demoted to private and then given a “bad conduct” discharge. In an excerpt from Prison Legal News, Former Brigadier and head of Abu Ghraib General Janis Karpinski testified against former American secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld for signing a memorandum authorizing harsher techniques to be used in Afghanistan. Karpinski declared

“…Rumsfeld has allowed the release of intentionally misleading information attempting to “blame seven bad apples” when it was clear the knowledge and responsibility goes all the way to the top of the chain of command..”

Following her trial, on May 24 General Karpinski was relieved of her command indefinitely.

According to Trial International, on 14 November 2006, German lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor against several high-ranking US officials namely former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, former commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq Ricardo Sánchez as well as his deputy commander Walter Wojdakowski, Thomas Pappas as well as other senior US military and Department of Justice officials. The charges were supported by several organisations such as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Republican Attorneys’ Association (RAGA), on behalf of the 12 torture victims who had been imprisoned in Abu Ghraib under the principle of universal jurisdiction according to the Code of Crimes Against International Law, which enables the the German Federal Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute international crimes without requiring a location- or nationality-based connection to Germany. However, the Federal Prosecutor declined to prosecute the officials as she chose to exercise her discretion under Sec. 153f of the StPO (Criminal Procedure Code), which allowed for refusal of prosecution in respect of acts committed abroad, if a perpetrator is neither present in the country nor can be expected to be present. In addition she believed that the lack of legal assistance from the US local authorities would cause the case to become Orwellian.          

Commander Geoffrey D Miller who visited Abu Ghraib to advise on the interrogation of detainees was also accused of encouraging abusive tactics such as using attack dogs to intimidate detainees. In 2006, he appeared in a number of court-martial cases however he invoked his right to testify based on the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He later testified that he had instigated the use of dogs only to maintain custody and control and not for the interrogation of detainees. Later in 2011, the CCR and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) submitted an expert opinion to the court, arguing that Miller bears individual criminal liability for the war crimes and acts of torture inflicted on detainees in U.S. custody based on the evidence collected and analysed in the file. Unfortunately there has been no punitive action towards Miller. By May 2004, the US army had charged seven military police officers all from one army reserve unit temporarily attached to the 800th military Police Brigade with the physical and sexual abuse of twenty prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The Human Rights Watch reports that since the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the government has been aware of accusations of abuses including the death of approximately 30 prisoners. However, those accused of this crime against humanity have until after the exposure of the Abu Ghraib report, escaped judicial punishment as several cases are currently under investigation as possible homicides with no progress for justice. Looking back at Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil we may be able to understand how ordinary men may have committed these crimes yet it does not account for the negligence of the martial court in apprehending the higher ranked . 


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