Friday, May 9, 2008

Trickle-Down Responsibility

When the pictures of American soldiers taunting and humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib surfaced in 2004, and subsequently the conditions at Guantanamo Bay came under more scrutiny, there was an immediate push to blame any perceived transgressions on "a few bad apples." In other words, sure, there may have been some incidents which crossed a boundary, but it was the effort of a few misguided souls, not a direct result of US policy.

Four years later, it has become increasingly clear that this defense bears little resemblance to the truth. President Bush, himself, recently admitted that he was aware of meetings in the White House held to plan just how far harsh interrogations were allowed to go.

This Thursday, Phillippe Sands met with Amy Goodman to discuss his recent Congressional testimony and added even more evidence to the top-down approach to torture and Guantanamo, in direct contradistinction to the administration's official position.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers?

PHILLIPPE SANDS: There were two points. Firstly, as everyone knows, the President took a decision that none of the detainees at Guantanamo would have any rights under the Geneva Conventions. It seems that General Myers was unaware of that. He was under the impression they had decided that Geneva would apply...as we went through the techniques of interrogation one by one, that he had thought that these came out of the US Field Manual guide for interrogations. They were all prohibited. And as we went down the list, his jaw literally dropped. So I got the sense that the most powerful military man in the United States, indeed probably in the world, was blissfully unaware of what had been decided.

As Sands inferred from his conversations with Myers, one of the most powerful military men in the world was seemingly unaware of the legal wranglings and positioning going on behind the scenes and above his head. That suggestion syncs with much of the other information regarding questioning at Guantanamo which indicates that most military officers were opposed to the proposed questioning techniques. A large portion of that objection was the belief--well-founded, I think--that violating the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture would put future American POWs in danger of having the favor returned.

Because of the military commanders' opposition to harsh interrogation techniques, the administration was forced to go above their heads, and the void was filled by the Bush-Cheney legal team.

Part-and-parcel of the upper-echelon approval of torture at Guantanamo and abroad is the political spin campaign by the Pentagon to ensure that public would be unaware of the true scope of the administration's policy of interrogation.

Glenn Greenwald illuminated one such example on Friday, after examining the documents released by the Defense Department.

Greenwald expounds upon the specific case of Gen. Don Shepperd, and analyst employed by CNN, and member of a chaperoned tour of Guantanamo in 2005 designed to persuade the Pentagon's analysts (read: puppets) to present a positive spin in the face of bad publicity. The tour of the facility consumed just under 3 hours. Several pertinent quotes from Shepperd appear in the released documents, one of which summarizes his purpose quite nicely:

Did we drink the government Kool-Aid? Of course, and that was the point.

When he asked how he could help, top Rumsfeld aide Larry Di Rita replied "OK, but let's get him briefed on Khatani so he doesn't go too far on that one" (Third-person because response was via forwarded e-mail.) Khatani was thought to be the 20th hijacker, and considered one of the more egregious breeches of human rights at US facilities.

Shepperd apparently took the hint:

In numerous appearances on CNN talking about Gitmo, no mention was ever made of Khatani or other specific, documented abuses.

When he was finally asked about watching an interrogation, Shepperd assured the viewers that the interrogators could not have been more cordial. Presumably, he expected to be treated to an interrogation indicative of common practices on a PR trip, which could speak to his judgment one would think.

Support of the war has no bearing on finding this program not only immoral, but illegal. Whether one agrees with the war or even cares not about torture should find the elite levels to which the torture program reached and the scope of the Pentagon propaganda campaign alarming.

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