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Happy Anniversary, Abu Ghraib!

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink

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This Tuesday, April 28, will mark five years since Americans got their first look at the sickening photographs from Abu Ghraib on "60 Minutes."

And a month after that, on May 28, the Department of Justice, acting under a court order, will release several thousand never-before-seen-in-public photographs of U.S. prisoner abuse from Afghanistan and from elsewhere in Iraq.

The recent "torture memos" -- which will inform our reaction to these new photos in a way not possible at the time of the Abu Ghraib scandal -- were also released as the result of what President Obama called an unwinnable lawsuit - by the same plaintiff, the American Civil Liberties Union, and under the same law, the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

We don't yet know what we'll see in these new images. Some members of Congress, who viewed them in a classified setting, have said they are far worse than the Abu Ghraib images.

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So on May 28 we will get to see these new photos. We will again be outraged. There will be cries for investigations. Politicians will make statements.  Doubtless, they will hold hearings.

But the question is "what comes next?"

To help answer that question, it might be instructive to remember what happened after Abu Ghraib.

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In what has to be one of the most iconic - and absurd - statements made since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Army Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros told the press back in 2005 that humane treatment of detainees "is and always has been the Department of Defense standard." 

Ballesteros was commenting on the so-called "Church Report," one of more than a dozen major reviews, assessments or investigations related to the detention and treatment of war-on-terror detainees.

And Ballesteros added: "None of them found that there was a governmental policy directing, encouraging or condoning abuse."

And that has pretty much been the history of all these investigations of abuse.

They are full of sentences like, "Clearly abuses occurred at the prison at Abu Ghraib. There is no single, simple explanation for why this abuse at Abu Ghraib happened.  The primary causes are misconduct (ranging from inhumane to sadistic) by a small group of morally corrupt soldiers and civilians, a lack of discipline on the part of the leaders and soldiers... and a failure or lack of leadership...."

Or try this one: "The abuses at Abu Ghraib primarily fall into two categories: a) intentional violent or sexual abuse and, b) abusive actions taken based on misinterpretations or confusion regarding law or policy."

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Or this: "Senior level officers did not commit the abuse at Abu Ghraib (but) they did bear responsibility for lack of oversight of the facility, failing to respond in a timely manner to the reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross and for issuing policy memos that failed to provide clear, consistent guidance for execution at the tactical level."

Or this "No policy, directive or doctrine directly or indirectly caused violent or sexual abuse. In these cases, soldiers knew they were violating the approved techniques and procedures."

Or this, from the investigation led by former Defense Secretary James  Schlesinger:

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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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