With the worldwide revelations of the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the subsequent media upheaval and trials of the idiots who thought it "cool" to photograph their crimes, many believe the mistreatment of detainees has been curtailed, if not out and out eliminated. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The U.S. military seems to have simply changed its modus operandi when it comes to the handling and treatment of detainees.
During the Vietnam War, success by individual units morphed into the totally ridiculous yardstick that was "body count." Career-minded officers wildly inflated these numbers because body count was viewed by the command structure as an indicator of success. Today in Iraq, mid-level military commanders are practicing the same dynamic. The more detainees captured and linked to the "resistance," the more these officers are seen by the command structure as being the kind of leader worthy of promotion. Like Vietnam, this dynamic is being grossly misused.
Unscrupulous officers who see deployment in this war as just a rung on the ladder to the stars of a general have no problem seizing all the detainees they can, regardless of evidence, or lack of same, that links them to the insurgency. Once seized, then evidence can be created to justify unlimited confinement, mistreatment and brutality.
The military command structure prefers having prisoners at the brigade or battalion level than having them at a central site such as Abu Ghraib. Any revelations of mistreatment and torture are much easier to contain and refute and because of the affiliation of most "embedded" reporters, much less likely to be revealed.
Many enlisted and lower-level officers, who have seen and heard of the trials and prison sentences of soldiers at their level as opposed to higher ranking military and civilian figures, are becoming more and more concerned with what they see as blatant disregard for stated military policy in the treatment and handling of these prisoners. In increasing numbers, they have started keeping logs as a record of disregard for simple human rights by commanding officers who are more concerned with their careers than following policy and basic human rights.
Some officers randomly seize complete families, or in some cases, entire neighborhoods, and hold them indefinitely to "boost" their insurgent numbers for higher command.
Medics at these smaller command units are neither equipped nor able to provide care for many of those captured who have chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, tuberculosis and cancer. Commanders of these units are nevertheless ordering their troops to continue detaining these prisoners at their level so as not to have their numbers or "body count" reduced.
Lower-ranking soldiers have witnessed several of these mid-level commanders plant evidence on those being detained, in order to override the policy of not being able to hold a detainee without proof of connection to the insurgency. This planted evidence has included documents taken from actual insurgents and pictures of Usama bin Laden. A sizable sum of money taken from one prisoner was ordered given to other detainees to encourage them to "rat" on each other.
One Army commander destroyed vehicles belonging to two detainees with an incendiary device. There was no proof either detainee had any connection to the insurgency. Many of the detainees are kept in flexi cuffs for extended periods, sometimes as long as 30 days.
In another incident, JAG lawyers and Provost Marshal personnel ordered a large number of detainees to be released following a board of inquiry that determined there was no evidence to link them to the insurgency. After the JAG and Provost Marshal personnel left the FOB, the commander convened his own board, rescinded the JAG orders and told his personnel these detainees would not be released until they provided some useful information.
Detainees are often held past the ordered time simply because they refuse to talk. Soldiers are ordered by commanders to place "evidence" in the detainee’s files from unreliable sources, such as members of other ethnic tribes, even though that evidence cannot be documented or proved.
When soldiers concerned with activities that are in direct violation of orders and policy have complained up the chain of command, commanding officers who ordered the violations have informed the higher command that these soldiers are either lying, are disgruntled, or that they have no personal knowledge of what they are reporting.
It is obvious to most of these soldiers the higher command structure is turning a blind eye to these atrocities. One soldier stated, "If detainees are not involved in, or supporting the insurgency when they are first detained, they will be by the time they are released."
What is it going to take for the American people to see this effort in futility is creating many more terrorists than it will ever eliminate? The activities of those in mid-level command in Iraq generate another question: do we want to see these battlefield commanders become generals who administer policy in the future? What will soldiers who willingly participate in these crimes and cover-ups be like when they assume their places in the civilian world? How many murders and suicides committed by soldiers returning from this travesty are we going to witness?
Michael Gaddy [send him mail], an Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Beirut, lives in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.