No Comment — May 23, 2007, 9:20 am

Pentagon Does a Poor Job Investigating Detainee Abuse

As a result of Congressional demands, the Pentagon’s inspector general took a look at the way the Pentagon investigated mistreatment of detainees in its custody. The study was completed on August 25, 2006 and was classified “secret.” It has now been declassified and is available online.

This document is revealing on a number of points, but little about it is quite so revealing as how national security classifications have been wielded. There is a consistent pattern, namely passages have been classified either to avoid political embarrassment or to avoid documentation of official sanctioning of torture. Indeed, the major rationale for security classification is apparent enough: to insure that the document would not become public during the last weeks of a highly charged national election campaign.

Here are some key conclusions:

“Allegations of detainee abuse were not consistently reported,
investigated, or managed in an effective, systematic, and timely
manner.”

“Reports of detainee abuse by special mission unit task force personnel
dated back to June 2003, but we believe it took the publicized abuse at
Abu Ghraib [in spring 2004]… to elevate the issue to the Flag Officer
level.”

“There are many well-documented reasons why detention and interrogation
operations were overwhelmed [including] … inconsistent training; a
critical shortage of skilled interrogators, translators, and guard
force personnel; and the external influence of special operations
forces and OGAs ["other government agencies," namely, the CIA].”

As is usually the case with Pentagon reports, the most interesting thing about this is what has not been considered. That would, of course, be the relationship between Donald Rumsfeld and his coterie to the process of abusing detainees. By commissioning not one, but more than a dozen separate inquiries, and by narrowly delimiting each investigation, Rumsfeld used his consummate diplomatic skills to avoid a comprehensive study of the problem and to avoid attracting any attention to himself. The other major tool he wielded was the security classification process, as investigators were repeatedly told that materials they sought were classified and were unavailable to them–particularly when the materials related to torture. Finally, as we see in this report, the Office of Secretary of Defense repeatedly intervened in the editorial process of the reports, pushing to neuter the executive summaries and conclusions.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2016

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Memoir
I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A paean 2 Prince
"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world."
Photo ©© PeterTea
Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As wacky as it sometimes appears on the surface, American politics has an amazing stability and continuity about it."
Article
Plexiglass·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Photograph (detail) by Karine Laval

Average number of pounds of pennies in an American home:

6

There were new reports of cannibalism in North Korea.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today