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March 19, 2006
Returning To Camp Nama And Abu Ghraib, Again And Again

The New York Times never misses an opportunity to re-tell a story if it makes the American military or the current administration look bad, and today it rehashes an oft-told story of prisoner abuse in Iraq that attempts to do both. Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall build a strawman or two along the way as well:

The Black Room was part of a temporary detention site at Camp Nama, the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26. Located at Baghdad International Airport, the camp was the first stop for many insurgents on their way to the Abu Ghraib prison a few miles away.

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.

The story of detainee abuse in Iraq is a familiar one. But the following account of Task Force 6-26, based on documents and interviews with more than a dozen people, offers the first detailed description of how the military's most highly trained counterterrorism unit committed serious abuses.

It's a familiar story, all right. As the two reporters note, this story has appeared several times in the American media over the past two years since the abuses came to light. The Washington Post published an article about the allegations over a year ago, when the ACLU actually received the information that the Times gets around to reporting now.

Furthermore, the Times reports that the allegations have resulted in investigations -- and that those investigations have resulted in disciplinary action:

It is difficult to compare the conditions at the camp with those at Abu Ghraib because so little is known about the secret compound, which was off limits even to the Red Cross. The abuses appeared to have been unsanctioned, but some of them seemed to have been well known throughout the camp.

For an elite unit with roughly 1,000 people at any given time, Task Force 6-26 seems to have had a large number of troops punished for detainee abuse. Since 2003, 34 task force members have been disciplined in some form for mistreating prisoners, and at least 11 members have been removed from the unit, according to new figures the Special Operations Command provided in response to questions from The New York Times. Five Army Rangers in the unit were convicted three months ago for kicking and punching three detainees in September 2005.

Not only did the abuse "seem" unsanctioned, but the Times has a note from Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone to one of his direct reports telling him to "get to the bottom" of the reported misconduct. Thirty-four soldiers have been disciplined, including almost a dozen who have been transferred out of the unit, and five Rangers have been convicted on criminal charges. To the extent that the military hesitated to act on the problem, the ACLU did the heavy lifting to correct it last year.

So why is this news now? The Times says it has "new details" on the old charges. In fact, the camp itself no longer exists, and all of the allegations it prints are from 2004, and all of them have been the subject of military investigations already. When evidence and testimony substantiated charges, the military appears to have taken corrective action.

None of this excuses abuse by anyone, including American soldiers. But it's important to remember that the abuses do not constitute an official policy of the American military. Considering the nature of the war, which relies so heavily on intelligence work to flush out the enemy, one might expect soldiers in interrogation units to break the rules more often. No one in their right mind is going to claim that individual soldiers never commit abuses or that abusers never band together in groups to protect themselves. However, like with Abu Ghraib, the media uses these isolated cases to paint a picture of the overall military as inhumane and brutal towards Iraqis, and that's unfair to the 99% of our troops that conduct themselves honorably and lawfully in their service in Iraq.

Where these charges can be substantiated, I support disciplinary action. If evidence arises that the officers in charge ordered abuses, then they should get prosecuted to the full extent of the UCMJ. So far, it appears that the Pentagon agrees and has taken the proper steps to investigate credible allegations when they arise. No one has yet provided any such evidence, and instead we get rehashes of old stories with "new details" as a means of pressing a political point.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 19, 2006 7:32 AM

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