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THE ISSUE THAT WON'T GO AWAY

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As new reports detail further abuse by the U.S. military of its prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a behind-the-scenes battle is being fought between the U.S. departments of State and Defense about whether a key section of the Geneva Convention should or should not be included in new rules governing Army interrogation techniques.

The Pentagon is pushing to omit from new detainee policies a central principle of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment." Critics say such a step that would mark a further shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

The State Department is opposing the decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider.

Meanwhile, in the face of growing criticism over U.S. treatment of detainees, Pentagon officials have decided to make public all of the military's interrogation techniques. Military leaders had previously argued that making all of the interrogation tactics public would allow enemy combatants to train and prepare for specific techniques.

The Pentagon's decision came as two previously secret Army investigative reports on prisoner abuse were released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) under a Freedom of Information request.

The more than 1,000 pages turned over to the ACLU include one report by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on specials operations forces in Iraq and another by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby on Afghanistan detainees.

The Formica report reviewed only three allegations of abuse by special operations forces, but found that Iraqi detainees were held for up to seven days at a time with their eyes taped shut in tiny box-like cells so small that they had to sit with their knees to their chests while loud music blared, and detainees were fed only bread and water for up to a week.

One of the detainees said he was kept inside his tiny cell for two days, another for five days, and the third for seven days. The one kept for seven days alleged, " before he was placed in the box his clothes were cut off. He said that while held in the box, his captors duct-taped his mouth and nose, making it hard for him to breath." He charged that water was thrown on him, that he was beaten, kicked and electrocuted.

Formica concluded that overall conditions "did not comport with the spirit of the principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions," but dismissed allegations that prisoners were physically abused or humiliated. The general recommended no disciplinary action against any U.S. special operations personnel.

Formica faulted "inadequate policy guidance" rather than "personal failure" for the mistreatment, and cited the dangerous environment in which Special Operations forces carried out their counterinsurgency missions. He said that, from his observations, none of the detainees seemed to be the worse for wear because of the treatment.

The Jacoby report, carried out in May 2004, examined the treatment of detainees at facilities in Afghanistan. He found "no systematic or widespread mistreatment of detainees," but concluded that the opportunities for mistreatment and the ever-changing battlefield there demanded changes in procedures.

He said that there was "a consistent lack of knowledge" regarding the capture, processing, detention and interrogation of detainees and that policies varied at facilities across the country. Jacoby also concluded that the lack of clear standards created opportunities for abuse and impeded efforts to gain timely intelligence and that interrogation standards were "inconsistent and unevenly
applied."

The U.S. military facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan has come in for particular criticism for its detention practices, including keeping "ghost" prisoners whose presence is unrecorded, and denying access to prisoners by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations International Rapporteur.

Neither report recommended punishment of any military personnel.

Human rights groups were critical of the reports. Reed Brody, special counsel to Human Rights Watch, told IPS, "At long last, it is time for the administration to ask itself whether the humiliation, brutalization, and torture of Muslim detainees around the world is making us safer from terrorism or is in fact fanning the flames of resentment and making it easier for the jihadists to find recruits for their evil cause."

And Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, said, "Both the Formica and the Jacoby report demonstrate that the government is really not taking the investigation of detainee abuse seriously," She called the reports "a whitewash" and questioned why they only focused on a limited number of incidents, adding that there have been numerous documents showing that special operations forces abused detainees, and yet Formica only reviewed a few cases.

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http://billfisher.blogspot.com
William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 

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