Senate Report Links Bush to Detainee Homicides; Media Yawns

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).

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.

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:

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

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.

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.[16]" 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.[17]

Or consider this:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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