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May 18, 2004
Testimony: Abu Ghraib Abuses Exceeded Orders

The New York Times reports briefly this morning that testimony in a preliminary hearing for Sgt. Javal Davis, one of the soldiers accused of abuses at Abu Ghraib, demonstrates that the abuses originated with the soldiers involved and were not the results of orders from above:

Interrogators from military intelligence and other government agencies told guards at the Abu Ghraib prison to deprive detainees of sleep and food, and would strip detainees and make them sleep naked in their cells, but their orders stopped well short of the abuse at the center of the prison scandal, guards and investigators have testified at a preliminary hearing for one of the soldiers accused of abuse. ...

But the testimony offered no evidence to back up what lawyers for the accused soldiers have said: that their clients were following orders when they threw naked detainees in a pile, stomped on their hands and feet, forced them to masturbate and photographed them.

"They would tell us to take away something from an inmate, like a pillow or something, to make him uncomfortable," said Sgt. William Cathcart, a guard in the 372nd Military Police Company, the accused soldiers' unit. "I would tell them to put it in writing. If I had sensed they wanted someone `roughed up,' then I would have said something."

Sgt. Cathcart was not the only Army non-commissioned officer to testify to the ludicrous notion that initiating circle-jerks and piling naked prisoners in pyramids had their origin in the Pentagon. Some policies, they noted, were communicated verbally at first, and later put into writing, but at no time did these orders include physical assault or photography. In line with approved interrogation techniques, the MPs used sleep deprivation and food "management plans," but that anything else would have been rejected by the non-coms as illegal.

No one asked us to soften or roughen up detainees," said Sgt. Hydrue S. Joyner, a guard with the 372nd. "Maybe `give them a little more attention.' "

But Sergeant Joyner said: "No one would have to tell me not to assault any detainees. No one would have to tell me to not allow masturbation. I would wholeheartedly want it to stop. ... If M.I. told me to make detainees masturbate together," he testified, referring to military intelligence, "I would cut off his air supply until he turned blue in the face. This is not acceptable instruction to me."

Compare that to the Taguba report, which the Times notes in a separate article today, where Colonel Pappas described the orders given to MPs:

The American officer who was in charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison has told a senior Army investigator that intelligence officers sometimes instructed the military police to force Iraqi detainees to strip naked and to shackle them before questioning them. But he said those measures were not imposed "unless there is some good reason." ...

The statements by Colonel Pappas, contained in the transcript of a Feb. 11 interview that is part of General Taguba's 6,000-page classified report, offer the highest-level confirmation so far that military intelligence soldiers directed military guards in preparing for interrogations. They also provide the first insights by the senior intelligence officer at the prison into the relationship between his troops and the military police. Portions of Colonel Pappas's sworn statements were read to The New York Times by a government official who had read the transcript.

In other words, Pappas ordered MPs to strip and shackle detainees prior to interrogation, but he didn't order them to turn the prisoners into sexual playthings or centerfolds. While Pappas' orders cross the line, the testimony of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib make it clear that they wouldn't have pursued that tactic any further, nor were they ordered to do so.

One other interesting note from this article: the Pentagon has refused to declare any Iraqi detainees as unlawful combatants, despite the fact that most of them were captured out of uniform. The US, probably due to international pressure resulting from the Guantanamo detention of Afghan unlawful combatants, decided to treat all Iraqi detainees as prisoners of war, complete with international access and monitoring. I believe this is a mistake. One reason for the use of the "unlawful combatant" category is to discourage the use of such tactics. This is another example of political correctness dictating war policy, a madness which will result in dead Americans.

From the testimony, though, it seems that the Pentagon didn't order naked pyramid parties or experiments in digital or video photography regardless of detainee status. As more information comes out -- like the information that all of the abuses took place during the overnight shift, where supervision would have been more lax -- the situation obviously reflects not a disciplined response to orders, but the culmination of a lack of discipline in this unit. For this, the Army bears significant responsibility, but Congress and the media have tried mightily to allow that responsibility to slip away while they pursue a partisan agenda more naked than the unfortunate prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 18, 2004 7:01 AM

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