Pentagon Finds Pentagon Innocent
rights groups and some senators are expressing growing frustration
over the Pentagon's failure to hold senior officers or civilian
leaders accountable for widespread abuses by U.S. forces against
detainees in Washington's "war on terror."
latest report on abuses, released at a Senate hearing Thursday,
drew new calls for Congress or the administration to set up an independent
commission. Also, calls were made for the appointment of a special
prosecutor to carry out a comprehensive investigation that would
include the responsibility, if any, of senior officers and officials.
been no assessment of accountability of any senior officials, either
within or outside of the Department of Defense, for policies that
may have contributed to abuses of prisoners," said Sen. Carl
Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services
can only conclude that the Defense Department is not able to assess
accountability at senior levels, particularly when investigators
are in the chain of command of the officials whose policies and
actions they are investigating," he added.
was joined by criticism from several human rights and civil liberties
groups who said the latest investigation, which was headed by Vice
Adm. Albert Church, had ignored the question of command responsibility
for the abuses, even as it raised new questions about the role of
civilian officials, in particular.
gaps in the Church Report underscore the need for an independent
investigation into our nation's policy on treatment of detainees,"
said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First (HRF),
previously known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
week HRF joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in filing
a lawsuit against Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld for his responsibility
in the abuse scandal and particularly in failing to stop the abuses
once they came to his attention. The report, Posner added, "reveals
an ongoing unwillingness by the civilian leadership of the military
to examine the full scope of the problem or assign responsibility
for what went wrong in order to prevent further abuse."
his part, Church, the Navy's Inspector General, defended the report
as a "thorough, exhaustive look" at 71 confirmed cases
of criminal abuse that took place in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the
U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
concluded that Pentagon policies "did not authorize or condone
abusive treatment" of detainees and that there was "no
single overarching explanation" for the abuse. He blamed the
general pressure on the military to acquire more intelligence, a
breakdown in discipline caused in part by the demoralization of
U.S. troops in Iraq, and the failure to establish clear interrogation
policies as contributing factors.
the same time, the report states that senior officers failed to
react to early reports by the International Red Cross, among others,
of abuses. As a result, opportunities to address the problem were
missed over a fairly lengthy period of time, according to Church,
who stressed to lawmakers that "I was not tasked to assess
personal responsibility at senior levels."
groups assailed Church's testimony and his report not only for their
failure to address command responsibility, but also for their superficiality
particularly in light of recent revelations, made possible
by the release of thousands of email messages and other documents
obtained by the ACLU in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This
concerned the much more widespread and serious abuses, including
at Guantánamo that had yet to be disclosed by any
the Church findings help shed further light on policy failures that
led to hundreds of cases of abuse and torture in Afghanistan, Iraq
and beyond, substantial gaps in the investigations to date remain
gaps that make it difficult to identify who bears responsibility
for the widespread torture and abuse, and make it impossible to
ensure that such abuse never happens again," said Posner.
added that Church never interviewed a single detainee or other key
officials connected to detainee interrogations. He also ignored
interrogations and detentions carried out by the Central Intelligence
and several senators also expressed incredulity that Church had
not interviewed Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA) from July, 2003, until late June, 2004, and that,
during his testimony Thursday, he admitted that he was not aware
that Bremer reported to the Pentagon, rather than the State Department.
had also failed to interview officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) who witnessed and complained about abuses at Guantánamo,
in particular. The FBI's complaints were disclosed by the ACLU,
which obtained FBI emails from its lawsuit. Church said his investigation
had concluded before the emails came to light in December.
are stunning omissions," said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed. "This
is not the thorough, complete, no-holds-barred report that many
of us expected."
particular interest was the disclosure in the report of the existence
of a previously undisclosed March 2003 memo, apparently on interrogation
policy, by Assistant Attorney General John Yoo in the Justice Department's
Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Yoo has been identified previously
as a key advocate for using aggressive methods against detainees.
to Church's testimony, the Pentagon's general counsel, William Haynes
like Yoo, a political appointee forbade military lawyers
from applying their own analysis of domestic and international laws
against torture and insisted that they rely entirely on Yoo's still-classified
memo. Haynes is currently awaiting Senate confirmation for an appeals
groups and others have called for the release of all memos bearing
on the development of the Bush administration's detention and interrogation
policies as part of an independent comprehensive investigation that
would have the power to compel current or former officials, like
Yoo, to testify about their roles. Those appeals have thus far been
the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John
Warner, showed some frustration over the failure of any investigation
to date to examine the responsibility of senior officers and officials.
has not been finality as the assessment of accountability,"
he said Thursday. "More work has to be done by this committee."
Church report appears to continue the cover-up of high-level involvement
in the abuses and torture that were carried out from Afghanistan
to Iraq to Guantánamo," the Center for Constitutional
Rights (CCR), which represents more than 500 detainees currently
and formerly held at Guantánamo.
U.S. section of Amnesty International echoed that charge, calling
for the Church Report to be "published in full, and the record
of senior officials thoroughly examined by an independent commission
of inquiry, empowered to investigate all aspects of the U.S. Detention
and interrogation policies and practices."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service