It’s not Donald Rumsfeld’s colossal arrogance or his glaring misjudgments we should be focusing on. It’s his potential crimes.
The mainstream media in the U.S. is giving enormous attention to the retired generals who are demanding Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation because of his autocratic style and his bungling in Iraq.
But the mainstream media is barely discussing Rumsfeld’s alleged culpability in the abusive treatment of detainees, up to and including torture.
“The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it’s whether he should be indicted,” says Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, who directs its terrorism and counterterrorism program.
For six weeks at the end of 2002 and the start of 2003, U.S. interrogators worked al-Qahtani over.
Among other things, they forced him to “stand naked in front of a female interrogator,” and they forced him to “wear women’s underwear and to perform ‘dog tricks’ on a leash,” according to salon.com.
And Human Rights Watch says they deprived him of sleep, forced him into
painful physical positions, and made him suffer "sexual and other physical
humiliation." They also forced him to take an enema, and at one point they
forced him to take water intravenously and then refused to allow him to use
a latrine "so that he urinated on himself at least twice."
On top of that, they brought in a snarling dog.
All of these acts “were specifically intended to cause severe physical pain and suffering and severe mental pain and suffering,” says Mariner of Human Rights Watch. “That’s the legal definition of torture.”
Much of al-Qahtani’s interrogation occurred while a December 2, 2002, Rumsfeld directive was in effect. (He rescinded it, under pressure from the Navy, six weeks later.) That memo authorized sixteen controversial interrogation techniques, including the use of nudity, removal of religious items, sensory deprivation, blaring music, stress positions, and dogs.
Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in the interrogation, according to Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who investigated the incident and whose testimony is available at salon.com. Rumsfeld was in weekly contact with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was commander of Guantánamo, about the case.
According to Schmidt, Rumsfeld approved a “special interrogation plan” for al-Qahtani. Rumsfeld said “this is approved to be used in special circumstances which I will approve, and it’s for Mister Khatani, number one.” Schmidt said, “The Secretary of Defense is personally involved in the interrogation . . . and the Secretary of Defense is personally being briefed on this.”
Schmidt’s August 24, 2005, testimony to the Department of the Army Inspector General is revealing.
He mentions the “short shackling” of detainees, inappropriate strip searches, sexual humiliation, the use of cold temperatures in cells that threatened to cause hypothermia, and the use of snarling dogs in detainees’ faces, including al-Qahtani's.
“Here’s this guy manacled, chained down, dogs brought in, put [into] his face, told to growl, show teeth, and that kind of stuff,” Schmidt testified. “If you had a camera and snapped that picture, you’d been back to Abu Ghraib.”
Later in his testimony, in regards to the use of blaring music, Schmidt said, “There was no boundary, and there was no limit on all these little creative” techniques.
Schmidt’s testimony also shows how President Bush himself contributed to the problem at Guantanamo.
Schmidt makes clear that Bush’s order of February 7, 2002, to not grant Al Qaeda detainees the protections of the Geneva Conventions created confusion. Bush ordered the military to treat detainees “humanely,” Schmidt said, but “there is no definition of what is ‘humane treatment.’ . . . There is humane treatment and nobody knows what that is, but there is a general fuzzy line.”
This fuzzy line contributed to lax procedure, he said. “On the interrogations side, it was a little bit—and I don’t want to say it is out of control, but it was California Avocado Freestyle kind of a thing.” Later in his testimony, he said, “It was just a free for all.”
Schmidt interviewed Rumsfeld twice. At one point, Schmidt asked him if he had approved techniques verbally prior to the December 2 order. “I had this discussion with the Secretary of Defense, and he wasn’t happy, OK? And he could not remember—strike that about not being happy. He went around the table to all the people that he could recollect that were in the room for the period. And say did I approve that before I actually signed it? And they all went we don’t remember.”
Rumsfeld also tried to shrug off the consequences of his order.
“He was going, ‘My God, you know, did I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy’s head . . . and make him dance with another man?’ ”
Maj. Gen. Miller, who was later sent by Rumsfeld to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib, does not come off well in this testimony. Schmidt interviewed Miller twice. The first time, Miller said that he was on top of the al-Qahtani interrogation. “We are watching this. This is a very important thing. This is his most important thing he’s doing,” Miller said, according to Schmidt. “The special interrogation plan is proceeding. We are watching it meticulously.”
But the second time Schmidt took testimony from Miller, the commander denied knowing about some of the specific techniques, like “gender coercion” or the use of “menstrual blood” on the detainees, or the use of snarling dogs.
Schmidt said Miller did not commit a criminal offense but failed to properly supervise or monitor the interrogation.
Schmidt also said the techniques on al-Qahtani were “abusive and degrading,” but were not “inhumane,” and “I absolutely ruled out torture.”
Human Rights Watch disagrees. It says that Rumsfeld “could be criminally liable under federal or military criminal law for torture, assaults, and sexual abuse” for the treatment of al-Qahtani.
This is not the first time Human Rights Watch has asserted the need to indict the Secretary of Defense. In a report it released last year, “Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees,” it urged the prosecution of Rumsfeld under the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the Anti-Torture Act of 1996. Under these statutes, it is illegal to commit a “grave breach” of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment,” as well as torture and murder.
“Secretary Rumsfeld may bear legal liability for war crimes and torture by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo under the doctrine of ‘command responsibility’—the legal principle that holds a superior responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates when he knew or should have known that they were being committed but fails to stop them,” the report said.
But it also said “Rumsfeld could potentially bear direct criminal responsibility, as opposed to command responsibility.” It cited his approval of “specific interrogation plans” for two high-value detainees in Guantanamo, one of whom was al-Qahtani.He’s in jeopardy for one final reason.
“Secretary Rumsfeld has publicly admitted that . . . he ordered an Iraqi national held in Camp Cropper, a high security detention center in Iraq, to be kept off the prison’s rolls and not presented to the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the report noted. The Geneva Conventions require countries to grant the Red Cross access to all detainees.
Not listening to his generals may be the least of Donald Rumsfeld’s worries.
Answering to a prosecutor may be a lot more serious.
Donald Rumsfeld, indicted?
That’s what accountability would look like.
Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983. His McCarthyism Watch web column has chronicled more than 150 incidents of repression since 9/11.
© 2006 the Progressive