The bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report issued on Thursday -- which documents that "former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba" and "that Rumsfeld's actions were 'a direct cause of detainee abuse' at Guantanamo and 'influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques ... in Afghanistan and Iraq'" -- raises an obvious and glaring question: how can it possibly be justified that the low-level Army personnel carrying out these policies at Abu Ghraib have been charged, convicted and imprisoned, while the high-level political officials and lawyers who directed and authorized these same policies remain free of any risk of prosecution? The culpability which the Report assigns for these war crimes is vast in scope and unambiguous:
The executive summary also traces the erosion of detainee treatment standards to a Feb,. 7, 2002, memorandum signed by President George W. Bush stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections.
"The president's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment," the summary said.
Members of Bush's Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed, according to the report.
The policies which the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously concludes were authorized by Bush, Rumsfeld and several other top Bush officials did not merely lead to "abuse" and humiliating treatment, but are directly -- and unquestionably -- responsible for numerous detainee murders. Many of those deaths caused by abusive treatment have been formally characterized as "homicides" by autopsies performed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see these chilling compilations of autopsy findings on detainees in U.S. custody, obtained by the ACLU, which reads like a classic and compelling exhibit in a war crimes trial).
While the bulk of the attention over detainee abuse has been directed to Guantanamo, the U.S., to this day, continues to imprison -- with no charges -- thousands of Iraqi citizens. In Iraq an Afghanistan, detainee deaths were rampant and, to this day, detainees continue to die under extremely suspicious circumstances. Just yesterday, there was yet another death of a very young Iraqi detainee whose death was attributed to quite unlikely natural causes.
The U.S. military says a detainee has died of an apparent heart attack while in custody at a U.S. detention facility in Baghdad.
Monday's statement says the 25-year-old man was pronounced dead by doctors at a combat hospital after losing consciousness at Camp Cropper. . . .
The U.S. military is holding thousands of prisoners at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport and Camp Bucca in the southern desert.
For years, it has been common to attribute detainee deaths to "heart attacks" where the evidence makes clear that abusive interrogation techniques and other inhumane treatment -- the very policies authorized at the highest levels of the U.S. government -- were the actual proximate cause of the deaths. This deceptive practice was documented in this fact-intensive report -- entitled: "Medical Investigations of Homicides of Prisoners of War in Iraq and Afghanistan" -- by Steven H. Miles, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Minnesota:
It is probably inevitable that some prisoners who reportedly die of "natural causes" in truth died of homicide. However, the nature of Armed Forces' medical investigations made this kind of error more likely. The AFME reported homicide as the cause of death in 10 of the 23 death certificates released in May 2004. The death of Mohamed Taiq Zaid was initially attributed to "heat"; it is currently and belatedly being investigated as a possible homicide due to abusive exposure to the hot Iraqi climate and deprivation of water.
Eight prisoners suffered "natural" deaths from heart attacks or atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Threats, beatings, fear, police interrogation, and arrests are known to cause "homicide by heart attack" or life-threatening heart failure. People with preexisting heart disease, dehydration, hyperthermia, or exhaustion are especially susceptible.[11-15] No forensic investigation of lethal "heart attacks" explores the possibility that these men died of stress-induced heart attacks. There are a number of reports of "heart attack" following harsh procedures in rounding up noncombatants in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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A typically sketchy US Army report says, "Detainee Death during weekend combat .... Army led raid this past weekend of a house in Iraq ... an Iraqi who was detained and zip-locked (flexi-cuffed with plastic bands tying his wrists together) died while in custody. Preliminary information is that the detainee died from an apparent heart attack." Sher Mohammad Khan was picked up in Afghanistan in September 2004. Shortly thereafter, his bruised body was given to his family. Military officials told journalists that he had died of a heart attack within hours of being taken into custody. No investigation, autopsy, or death certificate is available.
Or consider this:
Adbul Kareen Abdura Lafta (also known as Abu Malik Kenami) was admitted to Mosul prison on December 5, 2003 and died 4 days later.[20,21] The short, stocky, 44-year-old man weighed 175 pounds. He was never given a medical examination, and there is no medical record. After interrogation, a sandbag was put over his head. When he tried to remove it, guards made him jump up and down for 20 minutes with his wrists tied in front of him and then 20 minutes more with his wrists bound behind his back with a plastic binder. The bound and head-bagged man was put to bed. He was restless and "jibbering in Arabic." The guards told him to be quiet.
The next morning, he was found dead. The body had "bloodshot" eyes, lacerations on his wrists from the plastic ties, unexplained bruises on his abdomen, and a fresh, bruised laceration on the back of his head. US Army investigators noted that the body did not have defensive bruises on his arms, an odd notation given that a man cannot raise bound arms in defense. No autopsy was performed. The death certificate lists the cause of death as unknown. It seems likely that Mr. Kenami died of positional asphyxia because of how he was restrained, hooded, and positioned. Positional asphyxia looks just like death by a natural heart attack except for those telltale conjunctival hemorrhages in his eyes.
There are countless other episodes like this of human beings in American custody dying because of the mistreatment -- authorized by Bush, Rumsfeld and others -- to which we subjected them. These are murders and war crimes in every sense of the word. That the highest level Bush officials and the President himself are responsible for the policies that spawned these crimes against humanity have been long known to anyone paying minimal attention, but now we have a bipartisan Senate Report -- signed by the presidential nominee of Bush's own political party -- that directly assigns culpability for these war crimes to the President and his policies. It's nothing less than a formal declaration from the Senate that the President and his top aides are war criminals.
* * * * *
This Report was issued on Thursday. Not a single mention was made of it on any of the Sunday news talk shows, with the sole exception being when John McCain told George Stephanopoulos that it was "not his job" to opine on whether criminal prosecutions were warranted for the Bush officials whose policies led to these crimes. What really matters, explained McCain, was not that we get caught up in the past, but instead, that we ensure this never happens again -- yet, like everyone else who makes this argument, he offered no explanation as to how we could possibly ensure that "it never happens again" if we simultaneously announce that our political leaders will be immunized, not prosecuted, when they commit war crimes. Doesn't that mindset, rather obviously, substantially increase the likelihood -- if not render inevitable -- that such behavior will occur again? Other than that brief exchange, this Senate Report was a non-entity on the Sunday shows.
Instead, TV pundits were consumed with righteous anger over the petty, titillating, sleazy Rod Blagojevich scandal, competing with one another over who could spew the most derision and scorn for this pitiful, lowly, broken individual and his brazen though relatively inconsequential crimes. Every exciting detail was vouyeristically and meticulously dissected by political pundits -- many, if not most, of whom have never bothered to acquaint themselves with any of the basic facts surrounding the monumental Bush lawbreaking and war crimes scandals. TV "journalists" who have never even heard of the Taguba report -- the incredible indictment issued by a former U.S. General, who subsequently observed: "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account" -- spent the weekend opining on the intricacies of Blogojevich's hair and terribly upsetting propensity to use curse words.
The auction conducted by Blagojevich was just a slightly more flamboyant, vulgar and reckless expression of how our national political class conducts itself generally (are there really any fundamental differences between Blagojevich's conduct and Chuck Schumer's systematic, transparent influence-peddling and vote-selling to Wall Street donors, as documented by this excellent and highly incriminating New York Times piece from Sunday -- "A Champion of Wall St. Reaps the Benefits")? But Blagojevich is an impotent figure, stripped of all power, a national joke. And attacking and condemning him is thus cheap and easy. It threatens nobody in power. To the contrary, his downfall is deceptively and usefully held up as an extreme aberration -- proof that government officials are held accountable when they break the law.
The media fixation on the ultimately irrelevant Blagojevich scandal, juxtaposed with their steadfast ignoring of the Senate report documenting systematic U.S. war crimes, is perfectly reflective of how our political establishment thinks. Blagojevich's laughable scheme is transformed into a national fixation and made into the target of collective hate sessions, while the systematic, ongoing sale of the legislative process to corporations and their lobbyists are overlooked as the normal course of business. Lynndie England is uniformly scorned and imprisoned while George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are headed off to lives of luxury, great wealth, respect, and immunity from the consequences for their far more serious crimes. And the courageous and principled career Justice Department lawyer who blew the whistle on Bush's illegal spying programs -- Thomas Tamm -- continues to have his life destroyed, while the countless high-level government officials, lawyers and judges who also knew about it and did nothing about it are rewarded and honored, and those who committed the actual crimes are protected and immunized.
Just ponder the uproar if, in any other country, the political parties joined together and issued a report documenting that the country's President and highest aides were directly responsible for war crimes and widespread detainee abuse and death. Compare the inevitable reaction to such an event if it happened in another country to what happens in the U.S. when such an event occurs -- a virtual media blackout, ongoing fixations by political journalists with petty scandals, and an undisturbed consensus that, no matter what else is true, high-level American political figures (as opposed to powerless low-level functionaries) must never be held accountable for their crimes.