The Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners is a Product of Deep Seated and Long-standing Issues
By - May 17, 2004
While many Americans are expressing shock and
outrage at the recently exposed abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American
soldiers, these practices are in fact part of a long-standing history in
Not only are the techniques of abuse and
humiliation a long standing institutional part of American military and
intelligence gathering practices, but many in America have been trying
to draw attention these practices for over 30 years. During this time
the they have often been dismissed on this issue as ridiculous or even
But, there is more to this story than just that, in
fact, prior to the launch of "Operation Iraqi Freedom", extreme concerns
were raised by many about the character and fitness of those in charge,
and all along warning flags were being put up, only to be dismissed,
denounced, or ignored by the American mainstream.
For some the nature of abuse of Iraqi prisoners is
not news at all, but there is a relief that the truth has finally, after
too many years, been exposed.
What are some of the issues that have been raised
related to the prisoner abuses in Iraq? There are many, and I will go
over a few of the most directly related here.
Operation Artichoke and MKULTRA - The Cheney/Rumsfeld Connection
After World War II the American CIA began a program
with the help of "former" Nazi war criminals to study and develop mind
bending interrogation techniques using mind-altering drugs such as LSD
and other potential "truth serums."
Operation Artichoke began in 1947 and was later
expanded to become Operation MKULTRA in 1953
by CIA director Allen Dulles.
In this program the CIA conducted experiments that
included the use of torture and attempted brainwashing techniques in
order to see how much information could be extracted from individuals.
The majority of the information on these programs
was destroyed in 1972 shortly before deeper public investigations into
the program began, however a few records still remain and have been made
public via the Freedom of Information act.
In these programs radiation, LSD, heroin,
mescaline, psilocybin, scopolamine, marijuana, alcohol, and sodium
pentothal were used to try and induce the subjects to reveal their
deepest secrets and tell information that the CIA felt they could not
otherwise extract from people.
Sensory deprivation, physical torture, and hellish
mind games often accompanied the sessions while the subjects were under
the influence of mind altering drugs, most often LSD.
Who were the subjects in these experiments?
The subjects ranged from completely innocent
civilians who were drugged without their knowledge to suspected Soviet
spies, often in West Germany.
The CIA also setup and ran its own prostitution
houses where "clients" were drugged by the prostitutes without their
knowledge and were then left in the rooms and observed by the CIA
through two-way mirrors.
Other experiments included keeping subjects on LSD
continuously for many days at a time; the longest recorded duration was
77 days straight. In other case subjects were put in straight jackets in
sensory depravation chambers and given high doses of LSD, or were forced
to listen to degrading statements looped in tape recorders for hours on
end while on LSD and other drugs.
Needless to say these experiments resulted in the
death of some subjects and the permanent psychosis of many others.
One of the most well known deaths resulting from
these programs is the death of military biochemist Frank Olson. Frank Olson died in November 1953 after
having jumped out of a 13th story window a week after having been given
a dose of LSD without his knowledge by members of CIA. The official
version of the story, that was eventually given in 1973, is that Dr.
Olson suffered a mental breakdown over the event, but no reason was ever
given as to why he had ever been drugged in the first place.
The suspicion by Olson's son is that his father was
planning to leave the military and it was suspected that he might
divulge secret information about the American use of biological weapons
in the Korean War, and thus the CIA used their interrogation techniques
on him to determine what he knew and what he planned to say. His son
then suspects that his father did not suffer a breakdown, but was in
fact intentionally killed by the CIA. Frank Olson was in fact being
watched by a CIA doctor that was assigned to observe him and,
supposedly, insure his safety. The official story is that the doctor was
asleep when Frank Olson jumped.
Frank Olson's death remained a mystery for many
years after this, but in 1973 evidence of these experiments began to
surface in the public, and Congressional investigations followed. In
1975 limited details about the nature of the experiments were made
public by the Rockefeller Commission and President Ford then apologized
to the Olson family for Frank Olson's death.
There is more to the apology though than first
meets the eye however.
In 1975 both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were
members of the White House Chiefs of Staff in the Ford administration.
After the public revelations about Frank Olson's
supposedly drug induced suicide his family began perusing a lawsuit for
damages. After the family announced that they would sue for
damages and more information, the CIA met with the family and gave them
some files about their fathers death, mostly just related to autopsy
information and the like. These files didn't tell the family why their
father was ever drugged in the first place. The Olson family was then
advised that their lawsuit would not succeed and instead the Ford
administration gave them $750,000 to drop the suit.
Rumsfeld and Cheney agreed that the administration
should apologies to the family, offer the payoff, and advise them that
the lawsuit would not be successful in order to prevent a lawsuit
against the government which could result in more evidence about the
programs having to be revealed, and in order to prevent the need to
disclose exactly why Frank Olson was drugged in the first place.
On July 11th, 1975 White House Deputy Staff Director Dick
Cheney wrote to his then boss, Donald Rumsfeld, that:
There (is...) the possibility that it might be necessary to disclose
highly classified national security information in connection with
any court suit or legislative hearings.
The Iraqi Abuse Scandal is
certainly not the first time that either Rumsfeld or Cheney have been
involved in covering up State secrets related to torture and illegal
conduct, and furthermore the involvement of Dick Cheney and Donald
Rumsfeld in these events was exposed in 2002 in both a documentary that
ran on WorldLink TV, and in a Mercury News article; Scientist's death haunts family.
Fort Benning and the School of
During the Cold War the United States created a
military training facility known as the School of the Americas for South
Americans, where South Americans were instructed on insurgency,
counter-insurgency, and guerilla warfare techniques. In 1984 the School
of the Americas was moved to Fort Benning Georgia, where the training
program continued, and in 2000 the training facility was closed due to
protests, but was re-opened in 2001 under the name Western Hemisphere
Institute for Security Cooperation.
All told, the school has graduated more than
64,000 soldiers. Of these 64,000 graduates an inordinately high number
of them have been directly linked to assassinations, torture, attacks on
civilians, and general human rights abuses. This has been going on
for some 50 years.
As reported in 2001 by the Guardian in the article
Backyard terrorism, some
of the actions of SOA graduates include:
Colonel Byron Lima Estrada, once a student at
the school, was convicted in Guatemala City of murdering Bishop Juan
Gerardi in 1998. Gerardi was killed because he had helped to write a
report on the atrocities committed by Guatemala's D-2, the military
intelligence agency run by Lima Estrada with the help of two other
SOA graduates. D-2 coordinated the "anti-insurgency" campaign which
obliterated 448 Mayan Indian villages, and murdered tens of
thousands of their people. Forty per cent of the cabinet ministers
who served the genocidal regimes of Lucas Garcia, Rios Montt and
Mejia Victores studied at the School of the Americas.
In 1993, the United Nations truth commission
on El Salvador named the army officers who had committed the worst
atrocities of the civil war. Two-thirds of them had been trained at
the School of the Americas. Among them were Roberto D'Aubuisson, the
leader of El Salvador's death squads; the men who killed Archbishop
Oscar Romero; and 19 of the 26 soldiers who murdered the Jesuit
priests in 1989. In Chile, the school's graduates ran both Augusto
Pinochet's secret police and his three principal concentration
camps. One of them helped to murder Orlando Letelier and Ronni
Moffit in Washington DC in 1976.
Argentina's dictators Roberto Viola and
Leopoldo Galtieri, Panama's Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos, Peru's
Juan Velasco Alvarado and Ecuador's Guillermo Rodriguez all
benefited from the school's instruction. So did the leader of the
Grupo Colina death squad in Fujimori's Peru; four of the five
officers who ran the infamous Battalion 3-16 in Honduras (which
controlled the death squads there in the 1980s) and the commander
responsible for the 1994 Ocosingo massacre in Mexico.
More on the School of the Americas can be found at
of the Americas Watch
Iran-Contra and members of the
Bush cabinet who were involved in Iran-Contra
When I wrote This War is About So Much More
I included a profile of the Bush administration, and in that profile I
included information on John Negroponte and others who have a history of
being involved in human rights violations. In the section Introducing the Bush Administration I stated:
US Ambassador to the UN
Negroponte has had a long career as a US diplomat. What he is most known for though is his time as
Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. During that time Negroponte helped to cover up human
rights violations, including torture and executions, committed by
the US supported Honduran army.
Negroponte also played a role in the Iran-Contra affair where he
helped to funnel money from arms illegally sold to Iran to the
Contras in Honduras.
In 2001 FAIR reported that Negroponte and others
involved in the Iran Contra scandal were being nominated for
positions in the Bush administration in their article:
Scandal? What Scandal? Bush's Iran-Contra appointees are
barely a story. It was known that three men involved in the
Iran-Contra scandal, and covering up of human rights abuses, were being
pulled into the Bush administration then, yet again the warning bells
were not being paid attention to by the American mainstream.
Not only did Negroponte become the US Ambassador to
the UN in 2001, but on May 6 2004, just a few days ago and shortly
before the prisoner abuse scandal broke, he became the American
Ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte, a man who has been found guilty of
overseeing human rights abuses and covering them up, will be the
civilian overseer in Iraq when Paul Bremer leaves his post and power is
officially handed over the to Iraqi governing counsel.
The exemption of Americans from
International War Crimes Court
In 2000 the Bush administration began its efforts
to exempt Americans from the newly created International War Crimes
Court. In a 2002 article, U.S. Presses for Total Exemption From War Crimes Court
, the New York Times reported that:
John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control
and international security and the administration's point man for
the court, traveled to London and Paris last week to urge those
governments to sign broad exemption clauses before the United States
takes any military action against Iraq.
But expectations for immediate success are muted, especially
after the United States failed in a recent attempt to have American
peacekeepers automatically exempted during the annual review of
NATO's rules of engagement for the Balkan peacekeeping operations.
After weeks of tense negotiations at the United Nations last
summer, the United States won a year's exemption from prosecution by
the international court for American peacekeepers.
Alone among the industrialized nations, the United States has
refused to sign the treaty, saying the court might stage
politicially motivated trials of Americans, especially senior
leaders, who could be deprived of Constitutional protections.
Earlier in 2002 President Bush had signed into law a
measure allowing the US to completely withdraw all military aid to any
country that refused to take advantage of the International War Crimes
Article 98 clause that allows individual countries to individually
negotiate for immunity for their forces on a country by country basis.
In other words Article 98 allows an individual country to grant immunity
to another particular country for specific reasons. The law signed by
Bush effectively put virtually every country on the spot to grant
immunity to the US because the US is involved with some form of military
aid with almost every country in the world, aside from a few countries
like Cuba and North Korea.
These measures were widely condemned as coercing nations
that were considered our allies and causing unnecessary friction between
already straining international relations at the time.
The use of Private Military
Prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq concerns were
also raised about the growing use of private military contractors and
their status as civilians or military personnel, and how exactly they
would be viewed legally, and the potential of military contractors to
engage in abuses without reprimand.
In 2002 the New York Times published an article detailing
concerns about the increasing role of private military corporations in
America and their use by the Pentagon. Evidence was put forward about
the increasing role of private "contractors" as well as examples of how
private contractors have been known engage in criminal activities in the
past and escape prosecution for their acts.
America's For Profit Secret Army for example stated:
With the war on terror already a year old and the
possibility of war against Iraq growing by the day, a modern version
of an ancient practice - one as old as warfare itself - is
reasserting itself at the Pentagon. Mercenaries, as they were once
known, are thriving - only this time they are called private
military contractors, and some are even subsidiaries of Fortune 500
The Pentagon cannot go to war without them.
Often run by retired military officers, including three- and
four-star generals, private military contractors are the new
business face of war. Blurring the line between military and
civilian, they provide stand-ins for active soldiers in everything
from logistical support to battlefield training and military advice
at home and abroad...
In the House, Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois
Democrat, led the battle against a Bush administration effort to
remove the cap that limits the number of American troops in Colombia
to 500 and private contractors to 300.
"American taxpayers already pay $300 billion a year to fund the
world's most powerful military," Ms. Schakowsky said. "Why should
they have to pay a second time in order to privatize our operations?
Are we outsourcing in order to avoid public scrutiny, controversy or
embarrassment? Is it to hide body bags from the media and thus
shield them from public opinion?"...
The two employees made similar accusations: that while working
in Bosnia, where DynCorp was providing military equipment
maintenance services, DynCorp employees kept underaged women as sex
slaves, even videotaping a rape. Among the charges was that while
the DynCorp employees trafficked in women - including buying one for
$1,000 - the company turned a blind eye. Since the DynCorp employees
involved were not soldiers, their actions were not subject to
military discipline. Nor did they face local justice; they were
simply fired and sent home...
Incidents like these - sex rings, deals with dictators, misused
military training and tragic accidents - raise questions about the
use of contractors. To whom are they accountable: the United States
government or their contract? When such incidents occur, who bears
Now, as evidence of abuses and torture are coming out in
relation to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, sure enough, private military
contractors are involved, and sure enough, the body bags of those killed
are also being hidden and not counted as a part of the total US
casualties of war in Iraq.
As a recent FindLaw article, Private Contractors Who Torture, discusses,
there are a number of problems associated with the prosecution of
private contractors for their involvement in human rights violations,
which of course, is one reason why the military prefers to contract out
these positions in the first place.
But what of the civilian contractors who worked hand in glove
with the military at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison? Will the atrocities
they committed be, at most, bad for their careers - a source of
negative letters in their employment files? Or will the civilians
who shared responsibility for the criminal abuse meted out to
detainees at Abu Ghraib be tried, convicted, and sent to prison?
The most likely option, under the rules crafted by the U.S.
occupation authority, is prosecution in U.S. civilian courts.
Although the victims of abuse were Iraqi, the civilian contractors
will probably not be punished in Iraq. Under an order issued last
year, civilian contractors enjoy protection from local criminal
prosecution, even for crimes such as murder, torture, and rape.
As you can see, these are examples of just some of the
numerous red flags that have been thrown up on this issue over the
years. As these issues have been brought to light and as faithful
activists have tried their best to call attention to these problems, the
issues have been largely ignored by the mainstream, or worse, those
raising the issues have been denounced as "un-American", ridiculed, or
in the case of elected officials, had their fitness for office
challenged. However, the concerns are real, they have always been real,
and it is a tragedy that, instead of dealing with the reality of these
problems domestically and in a pro-active manner, we are now faced with
international ridicule, outrage, demoralization, and the fact that these
disturbing acts, which were preventable had the public been paying
attention, took place.
What is clear is that these acts of torture and abuse
that have been taking place in Iraq are not some off the wall case of
rogue or poorly trained soldiers who were going against the rules, these
acts are part of a pattern of behavior that extends far back in American
history, and the Bush administration in particular, as new evidence is
continuing to show, was not only involved in covering up these abuses as
they were taking place, and lying to the American public about what was
taking place in Iraq, but in fact, the Bush administration has
intentionally facilitated these actions and members of the Bush
administration have a clear history of this type of behavior. Not only
that, but these facts were made public prior to the start of "Operation
Iraqi Freedom" and concerns continued to be raised during the war as
well, yet all of these warning signs (and more) were dismissed and
ignored by the majority of people until the harsh reality came and
struck them in the face.
At this point, no one should be surprised by these
actions. The real blame here falls on American citizens for not being
diligent and for choosing to turn a blind eye to the mountain of facts
and warning signs until, tragically (for all of those involved,
ourselves as well as the Iraqis), it was too late.