A Deluge of Bad Advice and Statistics

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The
cliché about bad news – “it never rains but it
pours” – was in full view the week of June 20. And the
forecast is for more of the same for the foreseeable future.

The
proverbial torrents in question were the documents and statistics
made public by the Bush administration as it tried to regain the
initiative in all things relating to Iraq and the “war on terror.”
News media calculated the White House alone had released a two-inch
thick stack of papers, with other documents coming from the Justice
Department and the Pentagon.

For
weeks, the White House and the Pentagon had been fighting perceptions
– stemming from revelations of abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib
– that they were intent on circumventing if not outright shredding
international treaties and domestic U.S. statutes regarding interrogation
techniques. But leaks to the media of parts of various documents,
plus the publication of a meticulous Defense Department memo parsing
the language of the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture,
the Constitution, U.S. Army publications on interrogation techniques,
and U.S. law, kept the issue on page one.

The
issue came to a head when Attorney-General John Ashcroft, appearing
before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 8, flatly refused
to provide a copy of two memoranda originated by his department’s
Office of Legal Counsel. A subsequent proposal by Democrats on the
Senate Armed Forces Committee to issue a subpoena for 23 documents
was blocked by Republicans, who drew up a list of “talking
points” that included charges that “an out-of-control
media and widespread hysteria” had compelled the Administration
“to reveal secret interrogation techniques just to prove our
men and women in uniform aren’t torturers and murders”
(Washington Post, June 24, 2004). Additional talking points claimed
that revealing the techniques allowed would enable opponents to
train to withstand their use and urged that Members “remember
who [U.S.] enemies are.” But the White House judged that the
controvercontroversy would not abate as long as it continued to
withhold documents.

The
Legal Evidence

In
all, twelve letters and memoranda plus one report were posted on
various media websites on June 22 (See Below). Six of these originated
in the Justice Department, one was a letter signed by President
Bush, and six – including an 85-page report – originated in the Pentagon.
There was also a one-page press briefing paper listing allowed interrogation
techniques for Guantanamo Bay detainees. These documents revealed
none of the reported ambivalence of the highest ranking military
lawyers about the new rules pertaining to permitted and prohibited
methods of interrogating detainees, whether prisoners of war or
"unlawful combatants." But among the papers released were
only three of the 23 requested by Senators, and none dealt with
techniques used by the CIA.

The
List of Documents Made Public:

  • a January
    22, 2002 memo from Department of Justice (DoJ) Assistant Attorney
    General Jay Bybee to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and
    Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel William Haynes. The
    memo held that Afghanistan was a “failed state,” that
    this status was grounds for the President to “suspend”
    U.S. obligations to Afghanistan under international treaties –
    including Geneva Conventions;
  • a February
    1, 2002 letter from Attorney General John Ashcroft to President
    Bush outlining two options justifying the position that the Geneva
    Conventions did not apply to either Taliban or al Qaeda fighters
    in U.S. custody. One option was deemed to offer more conclusive
    “protection” against interventions by U.S. courts;
  • a February
    7, 2002 DoJ memo (Bybee) to White House Counsel Gonzales stating
    that the President could issue a “determination” that
    captured Taliban were not entitled to prisoner-of-war status;
  • a February
    7, 2002 memo from the President in which he claims the right to
    withhold Geneva Convention guarantees from captured Afghan fighters
    but decides not to apply his decision “at this time;”
  • a February
    26, 2002 DoJ memo (Bybee) to DoD (Haynes) concerning applicability
    of constitutional protections in a court of law to prisoners’
    statements made during interrogation;
  • an August
    1, 2002 DoJ memo (Bybee) to White House Counsel Gonzales advising
    that interrogation methods employed against al Qaeda captives
    would not contravene the Convention against Torture and were not
    subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court;
  • an August
    1, 2002 DoJ memo (Bybee) to White House Counsel Gonzales asserting
    that under certain conditions, torture of suspected terrorists
    could be “legally defended” found that torturing terrorism
    suspects might be legally defensible. (It is worth noting that
    when these documents were made public on June 22, 2004, the Department
    of Justice disavowed this memo);
  • a December
    2, 2002 DoD memo (Haynes), approved by Secretary of Defense (SECDEF)
    Donald Rumsfeld specifying interrogation methods that could be
    employed against detainees at Guantanamo Bay;
  • a January
    15, 2003 DoD memo (Rumsfeld) to the Commander, U.S. Southern Command,
    rescinding the December 2, 2002 memo’s standing approval
    to employ some interrogation methods at Guantanamo, but permitting
    special requests to use more coercive techniques for specific
    prisoners if the request is meticulously justified;
  • a January
    15, 2003 DoD memo (Rumsfeld) to General Counsel Haynes directing
    him to assemble a working group review all policies relating to
    interrogations;
  • a January
    17, 2003 DoD memo (Haynes) to the USAF General Counsel appointing
    her as chair of the working group requested by Rumsfeld;
  • an April
    4, 2003 DoD report by the working group, including recommendations
    on what methods to allow;
  • an April
    16, 2003 DoD memo (Rumsfeld) to Commander, U.S. Southern Command
    reaffirming interrogation methods approved for routine use at
    Guantanamo and methods whose use required his specific assent;
  • an undated
    one-page list of interrogation techniques approved and employed
    at Guantanamo provided to media on June 22, 2004.

All
of these documents can be accessed online.

Patterns
of Terrorism Report

But
the revelations concerning standards of conduct in interrogations
was but one part of the week’s bad news. Almost lost in this
torrent of interrogation-related papers was the State Department’s
re-issue of a corrected Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003
report. The original version, which was released April 29, indicated
a drop in total terror incidents and overall casualties. The revised
report showed an increase in the number of 2003 incidents from even
a revised 2002 baseline, a larger increase in “significant”
incidents, and a sharp rise in the numbers injured in terror attacks.

As
with many statistical reports, the numbers in “Patterns”
reflect choices of what will be included and what excluded. Because
the report’s real subject is international terror – defined
as incidents involving different nationalities as opposed to a global
survey of all incidents labeled as terror-motivated – incidents
are not counted when perpetrator and victim(s) are of the same nationality
and the violence takes place in their country. Moreover, civilian
casualties – so-called “collateral damage” –
resulting from military action are not counted – e.g., Iraqi
and Afghan civilians killed and wounded in their countries during
U.S. and coalition operations or Palestinian casualties from Israeli
military strikes.

Secretary
of State Colin Powell and Ambassador Cofer Black, State’s counterterrorism
coordinator, said that “technical and human errors” accounted
for the mistakes in the original report. They both dismissed suggestions
that totals were manipulated to give the impression that the “war
on terror” was succeeding, which could be a political plus
for the Administration.

In
this case, unlike the interrogation controversy, some Democrats
agreed that the errors were inadvertent; others were less sure,
and no one was comforted by the thought that the Terrorist Threat
Integration Center, the government’s central clearing house
for terrorist information, botched the original report.

Other
Trends in Iraq

As
the media focused on these issues, few seemed to take much interest
in other significant statistics and trends relating to Iraq. A brief
overview based on reports from Department of Defense, Army, Marine
Corps, and U.S. Central Command briefings and data includes the
following:

  • With recent
    additions of U.S. and British troops, coalition forces in Iraq
    now total approximately 163,000 (141,000 U.S. and 22,000 from
    other countries). There are also an estimated 20,000 foreign,
    non-military armed security personnel. With five days left before
    the return of “full sovereignty” to Iraqis, the legal
    status of these forces remains unsettled.
  • Of a total
    force numbering 1,049,000 personnel, the Army has 311,000 troops
    (29.6 percent) deployed in 120 countries. (The breakdown of the
    total force is: 495,000 active duty, 343,000 Army National Guard,
    and 211,000 Army Reserves. In addition, there are 118,000 in the
    Individual Ready Reserve, a source of experienced reservists who
    have not completed their service obligation but are not assigned
    to a reserve unit for periodic drills.).
  • Of the 311,000
    deployed abroad, approximately 120,000 (38 percent) are in Iraq
    participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. An additional 30,000
    are in Kuwait or other countries supporting operations in Iraq.
    (There are approximately 21,000 U.S. Marines in Iraq with an increase
    to 26,000 planned for August.)
  • In terms
    of “units of action” – the latest euphemism for
    combat brigades – 27 of the current 34 active duty formations
    (79 percent) are deployed.
  • U.S. Central
    Command is considering whether to request assignment of three
    to five additional brigades – as many as 25,000 troops –
    to augment the current force.
  • Another
    source of personnel to bring units up to authorized strength is
    the Individual Ready Reserve. Approximately 2,300 members of the
    Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) are participating in the Iraqi
    effort. Reportedly, most volunteered, but the Pentagon may tap
    as many as 6,500 more with special skills such as military police,
    intelligence, language, and civil affairs.
  • Total National
    Guard and Reserves (including IRR) on active duty around the world
    are 168,000, of whom 144,000 (85.7 percent) are Army.
  • U.S. fatalities
    from June 1 to June 25 totaled 35, with 10 deaths recorded during
    the week of June 20. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
    conceded in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee
    on June 22 that his department had not expected the tenacity displayed
    by the Iraqi insurgents, a most significant factor in the current
    plans calling for high U.S. force levels in Iraq “for years
    to come.”
  • Two days
    later, General George Casey, nominated as the new ground force
    commander in Iraq, echoed Wolfowitz. And as if to add an exclamation
    point, on June 24, nearly 100 Iraqis were killed and more than
    300 wounded in a series of coordinated attacks and bombings by
    insurgents.

The
level and sophistication of insurgent operations virtually guarantees
that troop levels will remain high – some observers suggest
U.S. forces alone could reach 165,000. It is also apparent that
moves to return to the Marine Corps standard of six month deployments
from the current seven months rotation for Iraq are on hold. Similarly,
the Army will retain its 12 month unit rotation schedule as well
as the application of stop-loss procedures to keep force numbers
up.

There
is one ray of sunshine – relatively speaking – to which
the Administration can point. The 35 U.S. dead in June is down from
the 80 killed in May and the 135 killed in April. Unfortunately,
the month isn’t over.

July
6, 2004

Daniel
Smith is a military affairs analyst for Foreign
Policy in Focus
, a retired U.S. army colonel, and a senior fellow
on Military Affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Posted with permission from Foreign Policy
in Focus
.

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