SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
In the period immediately following the publication in 2004 of photographs from Abu Ghraib, the Department of Defense pledged to fully investigate every allegation of prisoner mistreatment. By 2006, the department was asserting that it had opened some 842 inquiries or investigations. The reports it went on to produce were as thorough and professional as possible under the circumstances, but only a handful resulted in further action. Moreover, their existence obscured the relationship between the alleged abuses and Pentagon policymakers.
Joshua E.S. Phillips’s recent report for The Nation and PBS’s Need to Know suggests that the Rumsfeld Pentagon was keen to open a large number of investigative files on Abu Ghraib primarily to create the impression of diligence. President Obama furthered this illusion in 2009 when, in reversing his earlier position against releasing photographic evidence of torture and prisoner abuse, he insisted that “Individuals who violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and held accountable.”
In other words, Obama was suggesting, the perpetrators had been punished and it was time to move on. But interviews conducted by Phillips with people at the core of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s efforts on Abu Ghraib show persuasively that the bulk of incidents were never actually investigated or acted on. Among Phillips’s more alarming findings:
Fort Bragg is also the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which maintains its own detention facilities in both Iraq and Afghanistan. JSOC operations at Camp Nama in Iraq and at the Tor or “Black” prison in Bagram have been the subject of particularly detailed and gruesome allegations of torture and prisoner abuse. A sign posted at Camp Nama read “No Blood, No Foul,” suggesting, as the New York Times noted when the story first broke, an official policy of impunity: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.”
When I discussed the issue with Phillips, he highlighted this point: “One thing that shocked me was that the CID/DATF agents that I interviewed said there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of allegations of detainee abuse and torture that likely didn’t reach them.” The quantum of claims that led to further action and the specific problems that frustrated the DATF investigation—particularly the sense that authorized practices could not be deemed “abuse” no matter how brutal or harmful they were to a prisoner, and the widespread use of security classifications to obstruct inquiries—point to prisoner abuse as a matter of official policy. Today, curiously, the Pentagon even denies the existence of DATF. But the Phillips report amounts to a strong case that “No Blood, No Foul” was more than just a sign on the wall at Camp Nama—it was Pentagon policy.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
Length in days of the sentence Russian blogger Alexei Navalny served for leading an opposition rally last year:
Israeli researchers developed software that evaluates the depression of bloggers.
A teenager in Singapore was convicted of obscenity for posts critical of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founding father, that included an image of Lee having sex with Margaret Thatcher.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”