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Why Obama is Fighting to Keep the Detainee Abuse Photographs Secret

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Wednesday, 10 June 2009 08:30 Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 14:39 PM

By trying to block the release of photographs depicting US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama is essentially killing any meaningful chance of opening the door to an investigation or independent inquiry of senior Pentagon officials who were responsible for implementing the policies that directly led to the abuses captured in the images.

And that may very well be his intent.

Of the 12 investigations launched in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, not one scrutinized Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or any other senior Pentagon or Bush administration official. All of the investigations were, for the most part, limited to the military police officers identified in the photographs.

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But earlier this year documents began to surface that helped to explain why.

In February, two crucial pages from an investigation into detainee abuse were finally released. The probe was conducted after the Abu Ghraib photos were revealed

The two pages, which were withheld from the public for five years, describe a pattern of "abusive" behavior by U.S. military interrogators that caused the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in December 2002, just two days after former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the torture of detainees in that country.

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The previously secret pages were part of a wide-ranging report into detainee abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay known as the Church Report, named after Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the former Naval inspector general, who conducted the investigation at the request of Rumsfeld. That 360-page report, delivered to Congress in March 2004, said there was "no policy that condoned or authorized either abuse or torture," which critics of the Bush administration believed was a cover-up.

Indeed, Vice Admiral Church, who conducted the investigation, never bothered to interview Rumsfeld because he did not believe it to be necessary.

A declassified version of Church's report released in March 2004 said the Department of Defense "did not promulgate interrogation policies . . . that directed, sanctioned or encouraged the torture or abuse of detainees."

In a rare display of criticism of the Bush administration, the Washington Post said in a March 13, 2004 editorial that the Church Report was "a blatant example of . . . Whitewashing" aimed at protecting the most senior members of the Bush administration who approved of and implemented torture against suspected terrorists.

"We suspected that these two pages [from the Church Report] related to the deaths of prisoners who were tortured to death was done only to protect the Bush administration from embarrassment and illegal activity, said Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, in an interview earlier this year.

Retired Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and issued a critical report on the matter, told New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh in a June 2007 interview that low-level soldiers were not responsible for the abuses depicted in the Abu Ghraib photographs.

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"From what I knew, troops just don't take it upon themselves to initiate what they did without any form of knowledge of the higher-ups,"  Taguba said. But Taguba said his mandate was clear. He was only authorized to investigate the military police at Abu Ghraib, and not military officials above them in the chain of command.

"These M.P. troops were not that creative," Taguba said. "Somebody was giving them guidance, but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box."

Taguba added that he eventually learned the reason for the "evasions and stonewalling by Rumsfeld and his aides." It had to do with protecting the CIA.

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
 

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