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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/22/09

Then Pardon The Abu Ghraib 11, Too, Mr. President

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   In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.” __U.S.President Barack Obama statement, April16, 2009. Text

 With his release of the four torture memos, President Obama granted immunity to all who applied the “Enhanced techniques” (even those who waterboarded 2 top al Qaeda suspects: Abu Zubaydah 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times) and justified the immunity by stating, "Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

 Basically, what the President decided was that those employees of the CIA should not be held accountable for applying torture because the torturers were only following orders of higher authorities: the internationally rejected Nuremberg Defense.

 United States Attorney General Eric Holder went even further by promising the CIA that the United States Justice Department will provide free legal representation in any legal proceeding or congressional investigation related to the Enhanced Interrogation Program, and pay any financial judgment assessed against CIA personnel.

 "It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.

 Essentially, CIA torturers are blameless if ordered to torture. Would it be a stretch, therefore, that the same consideration be applied to the Abu Ghraib 11 who were convicted for the horrors which took place at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003, after the United States invasion of Iraq and under the guidance of CIA? 

 The mythology of Abu Ghraib is that the cruelties inflicted upon Iraqi prisoners were perpetrated by only rogue guards at the prison. According, however, to The U.S. Report on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse: Executive Summary of Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade, by Major General Antonio M. Taguba or The Taguba Report available here, the purpose of this systematic abuse was to prepare detainees for interrogation by military intelligence and other US government agencies and that the abuse was carried out at the request of military intelligence.  Taguba concluded:

 “… Military Intelligence (MI) interrogators and Other US Government Agency’s (OGA) interrogators actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses (paragraph 2 of Assessment of DoD Counter-terrorism Interrogation and Detention) …that personnel assigned to the 372nd MP Company, 800th MP Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to ‘set the conditions’ for MI interrogations (ibid).

  Yet the immunity granted by the President to those who were “just following orders” in the CIA has not been extended to those who took orders from the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies at Abu Ghraib. As with the President’s distinction on federal aid to the most responsible for the global economic crisis (AIG, Goldman Sachs, monster financial institutions and their highly paid employees) and those least responsible (automobile manufacturers and their employees), Barack Obama finds his middle-of-the-road mercy more suited for the highest tier of torture obeying employees (CIA) and none for those in the lowest tier in the military who were ordered and manipulated by CIA to commit the atrocities at Abu Ghraib.

 Was the treatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners humiliating, disgusting, cruel and, on occasion, murder? Yes. Was the abuse less criminal when at the direct hands of CIA torturer/interrogators? Did the Abu Ghraib 11 display evil enthusiasm for making those prisoners suffer? Some did, but the record clearly demonstrates most did not. Perhaps the greatest difference between CIA and Abu Ghraib torture was instruction on what is wrong to do from what is right to do, the legal from the criminal, and compliant lawyers in the shadows. Intelligence agents are trained to know a proper order from an illegal order, but, as the Taguba report concluded, neither manuals nor instructions of Geneva Convention guidelines prohibiting and defining torture were given the guards at Abu Ghraib, leaving all without vital information on how to determine illegal orders and encouragements and knowledge of when and how to resist.

The Abu Ghraib 11 (alphabetically) are:

Santos Cardona: used his Belgian Malinois dog to threaten Iraqis in the prison and the photos were made public

Armin Cruz: was accused of forcing naked prisoners to crawl along the floor and handcuffing men together

Javal Davis: admitted stepping on the hands and feet of handcuffed detainees and falling with his full weight on top of them

Lynndie England: found guilty of inflicting physical, sexual and psychological abuse on Iraqi POWs

Ivan Frederick II: he participated in placing wires on a prisoner’s hands, telling the prisoner he would be electrocuted if he fell off a box.

Charles Graner: among other incidents, photographed giving the thumbs-up sign behind a pile of naked detainees and ordering them to masturbate; argued that he and the other Abu Ghraib guards were following orders from higher-ranking interrogators when they abused the detainees.

Sabrina Harman: was photographed smiling and hovering over a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners

Steven Jordan: a lieutenant colonel, second highest rank at Abu Ghraib, found guilty of disobeying an order not to speak with third parties about the investigation of abuses at Abu Ghraib

Roman Krol: admitted to pouring water over naked detainees, forcing them to crawl on the floor and throwing a foam football at the same detainees while they were handcuffed  lying naked on the prison floor

Jeremy Sivits: photographed nude detainees forced into a human pyramid, led one of the detainees and forced him into the pile

Michael Smith: used unmuzzled dogs to intimidate prisoners


Very bad things, indeed, but, arguably, not equivalent to the waterboarding that taints CIA. Of course there are plenty of pictures of the Abu Ghraib 11 atrocities and none being perpetrated by the CIA. Taking a lesson, perhaps, from former United States President Richard Nixon, CIA destroyed the tapes of their torture sessions.


"Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past," the President declares, overlooking a basic truth that justice denied for some and not for others is, in fact, no justice at all.


Extend immunity through pardon to the Abu Ghraib 11, Mr. President. Then your acceptance of CIA innocence by plea of “just following orders”, though in defiance of Nuremberg, may have a chance of, eventually, being judged wise instead of just politically convenient. 

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Retired, Robert Arend was president of an AFSCME local from 1997-2007.
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