Retired Brass Call for Independent Torture Probe
their voice to a steadily growing clamor, eight retired generals
and admirals have called on President George W. Bush to appoint
a bipartisan, independent commission to conduct a comprehensive
investigation of U.S. detention and interrogation practices in Iraq,
Afghanistan and elsewhere.
a letter to Bush, the former flag officers, most of whom reached
the top ranks of their services' legal divisions, said investigations
to date, including those headed by two former Pentagon chiefs and
that released their findings last month, were too limited in their
mandate and could not be considered truly independent.
we are to get to the truth of what happened and to make sure
this treatment is never repeated we need a comprehensive
investigation and conducted by those whose actions are not at issue,"
said Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (ret.), who served as the Navy's
Judge Advocate General from 1997 to 2000 and now heads the Franklin
Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire.
investigations to date have failed to address senior military and
civilian command responsibility and in doing so separate culpability
from responsibility," he said. "This is antithetical to
the way the military operates."
signers included Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Hoar, formerly head of
the U.S. Central Command; Gen. James Cullen, who served as former
Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals; Gen. David
Brahms, senior legal adviser to the Marine Corps, 1983-88; Maj.
Gen. John Fugh, the U.S. Army's former Judge Advocate General; and
Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, a former Inspector General of the Navy.
letter, which was released at a press conference sponsored by Human
Rights First (HRF), formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for
Human Rights, marks the latest in a string of calls by outsiders
for an independent investigation of the abuses that first came to
light in April when news media published photos of the abuse and
humiliation of Iraqi detainees held at Abu Ghraib prison outside
then, successive Pentagon-ordered inquiries, including the courts-martial
of seven soldiers who were allegedly involved in those abuses, have
uncovered a much broader pattern of abuses and violations of the
Geneva Conventions, stretching from the detention facility at the
U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Afghanistan.
August, 130 prominent jurists, including 12 former federal judges
and a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),
released a blistering statement against government lawyers
virtually all political appointees who had drafted memos
that appeared designed to justify torture and other ill-treatment
in the "war on terrorism."
analysts believe the memos, which have since been explicitly disavowed
by the administration, laid the groundwork for many of the abuses
most senior lawyers in the Department of Justice, the White House,
Department of Defense, and the vice president's office sought to
justify actions that violate the most basic rights of all human
beings," according to the jurists, who also included eight
past presidents of the American Bar Association (ABA).
statement was itself followed up by the approval of the ABA, which
represents some 400,000 U.S. attorneys, of a resolution that condemned
the government's treatment of detainees, which "has brought
shame on the nation and undermined our standing in the world."
resolution also noted that the public had still not been adequately
informed about the extent of prisoner abuse despite clear indications
of "a widespread pattern of abusive detention methods."
do not yet know who is being detained, where they are, what are
the conditions of their detention and interrogation," the lawyers
approval of the resolution, two other investigations one
by the Army and a second chaired by former Pentagon chief James
Schlesinger have concluded that abuses were more widespread
than the administration had previously admitted and that top civilian
leaders, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, bore at least
indirect responsibility through what the latter called a "leadership
fact, analysts who pored through the two documents, particularly
the Schlesinger report, found that the administration's memos and
its initial determination that the Geneva Conventions did not apply
to suspected members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban did indeed help
set the stage for subsequent abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq.
two reports in turn prompted the flag officers' letter, which stressed
that none of the some 100 criminal, military and administrative
inquiries launched so far, including the Schlesinger panel, were
sufficiently broad and independent to paint the kind of comprehensive
picture of the abuses and their causes that would be needed to ensure
that they do not happen again.
that are purely internal to the military, however competent, cannot
examine the whole picture," the letter stated, adding that
"by their nature [they] also suffer from a critical lack of
independence. But that has been exactly the case in many of the
abuse inquiries to date, including the investigative [Schlesinger]
'panel' that released its report in late August 2004."
panel was comprised of four members of the Secretary's own Defense
Policy Board members selected by . . . Secretary [Rumsfeld]
himself," the letter noted, adding that it also lacked subpoena
in Congress have also called repeatedly for an independent bipartisan
investigation on the level of the 9/11 Commission inquiry, but they
have been rebuffed by their Republican colleagues as well as the
administration, which had also opposed the creation of the 9/11
Commission and subsequently fought efforts to expand its powers
to gain classified information and question top officials under
which, along with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW),
has also called for an independent commission, reiterated that position
Wednesday in a new report called "Getting to Ground Truth:
Investigating U.S. Abuses in the 'War on Terror.'"
28-page report notes that the various investigations to date have
revealed striking contradictions that need to be resolved. The Army's
Inspector General, for example, was "unable to identify system
failures that resulted in incidents of abuse," while, in the
latest Army report, Maj. Gen. George Fay found that "leader
responsibility and command responsibility, systemic problems and
issues . . . contributed to the volatile environment in which the
two Army investigations found that the abuses in Abu Ghraib resulted
from the acts of a small number of soldiers and individuals and
in some cases failures of a few leaders to enforce discipline.
Schlesinger panel, on the other hand, reached the opposite conclusions,
noting that "the abuses were not just the failure of some individuals
to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of
a few leaders to enforce proper discipline. There is both institutional
and personal responsibility at higher levels" which,
however, the panel was not empowered to investigate.
resolving these issues, said HRF's Washington director, Elisa Massimino,
the relevant agencies will not be able to ensure that the abuses
will not recur.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service