Sen. James Inhofe (R, OK) feigns”outrage that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying” (Senator Critical of Focus on Prisoner Abuse). Inhofe is always good for a self-righteous and outrageous quote and this one is especially ludicrous.
If the U.S. military in Iraq had taken seriously the International Red Cross reports outlining squalid conditions and abuse taking place in U.S. prisons in Iraq, then this scandal would never have happened. Instead, Gen. Karpinski, the nominal overseer of Abu Ghraib, claims in today’s New York Times (Officer Says Army Tried to Curb Red Cross Visits to Prison in Iraq) that “despite the serious allegations in the Red Cross report, senior officers in Baghdad had treated it in “a light-hearted manner.” It’s easy to imagine the smirks and derisive laughter that they would’ve elicited in the offices of Gens. Sanchez, Kimmitt and Miller. Nevertheless, her “light-heated” comment sounds altogether chilling. Iraqi men were dying in our prisons at the hands of our military and CIA, and the generals in Baghdad were laughing.
The hard-right also ignores the real underlying cause of the abuse scandal: the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft-Rumsfeld policy of abrogating many previously sacrosanct civil liberties priciples of our Constitution, federal law and legal tradition. Whatever happened to habeus corpus? Whatever happened to a prisoner’s right to effective counsel? Whatever happened to “innocent till proven guilty?” As far as Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, whatever happened to the Geneva Conventions? These practices undergird our entire legal system. When you remove them, you topple a system that has developed over a 200 year span. The result is chaos, our current predicament.
I’ve been following with great interest the New York Times‘ coverage of Col. Thomas Pappas, the commander of military intelligence opeations at Abu Ghraib. From a bright shining career path leading into the upper echelons of U.S. Army intelligence, Pappas’ current career trajectory will have him cleaning latrines in no time. And it seems so terribly unfortunate and sad that a man as bright, incisive and intellectually penetrating should be facing the jeopardy that he is. I think Pappas’ tragedy underscores the fact that the procedures in place for decades, if not centuries in military and civil law to protect the accused do not merely exist for theoretical or abstract reasons. When we throw them away we also throw away the institutional restraints that prevent even good men like Pappas going far off the reservation.
Pappas is providing some of the clearest evidence yet that Abu Ghraib was not an isolated incident invovling 7 low-level soldiers. In Officers Say U.S. Colonel at Abu Ghraib Prison Felt Intense Pressure to Get Inmates to Talk, we hear about the “working over” Gens. Ricardo Sanchez & Barbara Fast subjected him to in order to substantially increase the pressure on Iraqi detainees to talk:
“He likened it to a root canal without novocaine,” a senior officer who knows Colonel Pappas said of his meetings with his superiors in Baghdad. Often, the officer said, Colonel Pappas would emerge from discussions with two of them, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast and Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, without a word, but “clutching his face as if in pain.”
What do you think the generals were telling him? To add afternoon tea as an option for the prisoners’ daily routine? No, they were telling him to get tough on the prisoners. They were telling him to do the very things which brought him to the predicament he now faces. To think that Pappas faces a court martial and Sanchez and the others will remain unblemished is unconscionable. Sanchez is as guilty as Pappas or perhaps more so–after all, he browbeat Pappas into the very behavior which has now been sanctioned by the world:
I know that they were absolutely pressuring him to get more out of the intelligence teams,” a senior Army officer said of Colonel Pappas’s superiors, including Generals Sanchez, Fast and Miller. “Tom was really really smart, but he was very much — I don’t know if the right word is in awe or intimidated. But it was mostly them telling him what he was going to do.”
These seven soldiers did not think up this abuse on their own. The pressure came down from the top and the generals should be made to face the music and admit their part in this quagmire of abuse.