What Did Rumsfeld Know?


U.S. officials who take part in torture, authorize it, or even close their eyes to it, can be prosecuted by courts anywhere in the world [under international law].

Kenneth Roth, executive director, Human Rights Watch, December 27, 2002

U.S. Navy documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that abuse and even torture of detainees by U.S. Marines in Iraq was widespread. . . . ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero [said] “this kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order.”

American Civil Liberties Union, December 14, 2004

The president insists that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will remain in office, and on December 19, Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card Jr., said on ABC News’ This Week that “Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job and the president has great confidence in him.”

However, on December 9, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, wrote Rumsfeld to express his “deep concern over issues related to detainees being held in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Recent reports indicate that not only were detainees mishandled and interrogated in a manner inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions, but that subsequent internal reports of abuse appear to have been suppressed . . .

“While the abuse of detainees is unacceptable under any circumstance, reports of the suppression of evidence regarding abuse are extremely disturbing. . . . Please inform me of the actions you intend to take.” As of this writing, there has been no response.

For two years—in this column, as well as from human rights groups and the press, particularly the reporting of Dana Priest in The Washington Post—there has been mounting evidence of torture of prisoners by American forces, including “ghost prisoners” in secret CIA interrogation centers.

These reports include stories of “extreme interrogation techniques” used by Special Operation Forces (Navy SEALs, Delta Force, et al.) under the direction of Donald Rumsfeld and his close associates in the Defense Department. Rumsfeld has long encouraged the use of Special Operation Forces.

But now, with the release by the ACLU of actual government documents not intended for the public to see, the president is confronted with irrefutable evidence of continued violations of not only the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture, but also our own torture statute forbidding such practices.

As for the suppression of evidence, there is this December 8 report in The New York Sun by Paisley Dodds of the Associated Press on the documents released by the ACLU:

“[U.S.] Special Forces [accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq] . . . monitored e-mail messages sent by [troubled Defense personnel in the field] and ordered them ‘not to talk to anyone’ in America about what they saw.”

U.S. Navy documents released by the ACLU include “interviews with Navy personnel [about] routine abusive treatment of detainees by U.S. Marines in Iraq. . . . In one interview, a Navy medical officer described the regular process by which Iraqis classified as Enemy Prisoners of War would be taken to an empty swimming pool, handcuffed, leg-cuffed, and have a burlap bag placed over their head.

“They would then remain in kneeling position for up to 24 hours awaiting interrogation. Despite this description, the [navy medical] officer stated that he ‘never saw any instances of physical abuse’ towards the detainees.”

And from Richard Serrano in the December 15 Los Angeles Times:

“Marines in Iraq conducted mock executions of juvenile prisoners last year, burned and tortured other detainees with electrical shocks, and warned a Navy corpsman they would kill him if he treated any injured Iraqis.”

That was one of the stories based on documents released by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was joined by Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, Veterans for Peace, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The latter organization has compiled a massively documented indictment of Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA director George Tenet, and other U.S. officials and military personnel for war crimes perpetuated against Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.

The charges have been filed at the German federal prosecutor’s office at the Karlsruhe Court in Karlsruhe, Germany, where, “under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, suspected war criminals may be prosecuted irrespective of where they are located.” (Emphasis added.) (Also see James Ridgeway’s “‘War Crimes’ Murmurs,” Mondo Washington, December 22-28, 2004.)

After the photographs of the repellent Abu Ghraib abuses were circulated around the world, the president attributed those atrocities to “a few bad apples” in the lower ranks of the military.

One of those “bad apples” is Lynndie England, the soldier smiling, pointing to the genitals of a prisoner at Abu Ghraib, and holding a naked prisoner by a leash. She could face a prison term of up to 38 years. But how long will Donald Rumsfeld and other august officials in the Defense Department, along with administration lawyers who have provided contorted permission to these crimes, avoid accountability?

How many members of Congress will join Senator Jeff Bingaman in his attempt to open the Defense and Justice departments to the rule of American law? Will we hear from New York senators Schumer and Clinton, who have been silent on the question of torture? Or will a judgment on Rumsfeld et al. be made only in Germany?

Will the president speak about an FBI agent’s account, released by the ACLU on December 20, of interrogations at Guantánamo in which detainees were shackled hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor and kept in that position for 18 to 24 hours at a time until most had “urinated or defacated [sic]” on themselves?