'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Other Abu Ghraib 

A military probe has found 28 American servicemen may have been guilty of charges related to the murder of two Taliban suspects at a detention center known as the Bagram Collection Point. The two Taliban detainees were killed in December 2002. In early 2003, one of the units involved, the 519th Military Intelligence unit, was deployed to Iraq where some of its personnel was assigned to the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib -- What a coincidence!

This isn't an entirely new story; the Times reported the initial allegations and the beginning of the investigation back in May. The Times interviewed several former detainees at the Bagram Collection Point who told stories of beatings and sexual humiliation that were remarkably similar to those we heard about Abu Ghraib.

What's new is the report finding the men culpable. From the Independent:

A Pentagon report has found that army regulars and reservists may have been guilty of involuntary manslaughter, maiming, battery, maltreatment and conspiracy in the two deaths which happened days apart in December 2002, well before the Iraq abuse. The military has ruled they were homicides.

Two men were found dead in interrogation cells at Bagram, the US military's Afghan base, after being beaten on the legs. One, the 30-year-old brother of a Taliban commander, died as a result of blood clots in the legs and the other, a 22-year-old taxi driver detained after a rocket attack on US troops, suffered a heart attack after an apparent beating exacerbated an existing coronary condition.

Investigators found evidence that numerous soldiers had beaten the two Afghans, using their knees to hit the mens' legs apparently because marks would not then be obvious. Reports said both men had apparently been chained to the ceiling, one by the waist, one by the knees.

This story will probably slip though the cracks, but if someone really pressed it could cause a little ruckus -- I'd at least like to see Rumsfeld be forced to make a comment ... After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, when Rumsfeld et al. were scrambling to characterize the abuses as the action of a few bad apples, they worked hard to separate Iraqi prisoners from Afghan prisoners in the minds of those criticizing them. Rumsfeld did so because he had made a lot of specific statements about the rules, or lack of rules, that would govern the internment of Taliban fighters that he didn't want to see used as evidence that the Abu Ghraib abuses were systemic. He claimed that the Geneva Conventions applied to all detainees but when pressed would concede the case of Taliban prisoners. Here for instance is an excerpt from the The Post's coverage of Rumsfeld's Senate Hearing appearance:

During yesterday's hearing, Rumsfeld complained that the administration's policy on the Geneva Conventions has frequently been misreported. U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, are under orders to observe the conventions.

By contrast, he said, President Bush decided two years ago that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters do not warrant protection under the conventions because they belong to terrorist groups, not nations, and do not abide by the norms of regular militaries. Nonetheless, U.S. policy has been to accord those detainees treatment "consistent with" the Geneva Conventions, Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld's statements above were an attempt to dissemble and hair-split away statements like this from two years before:

They will be handled not as prisoners of war, because they're not, but as unlawful combatants. Technically unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.

So here we have a case that he can't spin away. He stood by the invention of this entity "the unlawful combatant" who has no rights, an entity that has no basis in international law. The two men who died in Bagram were by Rumsfeld's definition unlawful combatants. If Rumsfeld truly believes that they had no rights then he should defend their murder as consistent with the norms of warfare and occupation that he has offered to the American people and the world. If he believes that these two unlawful combatants had the right not to be beaten, not to be maimed, and not to be murdered, then he should take responsibility for his own culpability in their deaths, culpability that arises from his decision to revoke the protections afforded to them by international law.

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