No Comment — May 24, 2011, 10:10 am

No Blood, No Foul

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:

  • The five CID agents who were interviewed for the article, four of whom worked on the agency’s Detainee Abuse Task Force (DATF) during 2005, said there was no consensus over what constituted abuse, especially with respect to interrogation techniques. They also said the case files they received were often missing key pieces of evidence, that they hadn’t had access to competent Arabic translators, and that they were rarely able to track down victims who had been released from detention. They further added that they were overwhelmed by the hundreds of abuse cases they’d been ordered to reopen—orders one agent speculated were given so the military could duck Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the ACLU.
  • John Renaud, the retired Army warrant officer who headed DATF for the first half of 2005, now says of the task force, “It didn’t accomplish anything—it was a whitewash.” Neither he nor his fellow agents could recall a single investigated case advancing to a court-martial hearing.
  • Some of the most serious accusations focused on covert interrogation units, which were effectively shielded from inquiry. An investigator named Julie Kuykendall (formerly Julie Tyler) recalled DATF’s attempts to follow up with one such unit, based out of Fort Bragg: “We wouldn’t get the interrogators’ real full names,” she said. “We would get their made-up, pseudonym names. Pretty much every case we had with that group of interrogators all went the same way…. We had to close them because there just wasn’t enough information to go forward.”

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.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2015

In the Shadow of the Storm

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Measure for Measure

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Israel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Camera on Every Cop

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
What Recovery?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Between 2007 and 2010, Albany’s poverty rate jumped 12 points, to a record high of 39.9 percent. More than two thirds of Albany’s 76,000 residents are black, and since 2010, their poverty rate has climbed even higher, to nearly 42 percent.”
Photograph by Will Steacy
Article
Rag Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

From a May 23 commencement address delivered at Hofstra University. Doctorow died on Tuesday. He was 84.
“We are a deeply divided nation in danger of undergoing a profound change for the worse.”
Photograph by Giuseppe Giglia
Article
The Trouble with Israel·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“We think we are the only people in the world who live with threat, but we have to work with regional leaders who will work with us. Bibi is taking the country into unprecedented international isolation.”
Photograph by Adam Golfer
Post
Greece, Europe, and the United States·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

These are tough times for parents. Not because child rearing has gotten any harder — it’s the same as it ever was — but because we are newly overrich in hand-wringing books and articles on the subject. The decision to have children, according to these panicked dispatches, is only the first in a cascade of choices that will either make or break your kid, save or ruin your life. This forum, however, is not prescriptive but descriptive: not “how you should” but “how we have,” which is probably the best kind of advice a mother or father could give. The poem and …
Photograph by Stefan Boness
Article
How to Be a Parent·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The poem and the essays that follow tell you things about being a parent that you can’t get from a jeremiad about having it all or a numbered list of sleep-training tips.”
© Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York City

Number of pages in the bills that created Social Security and the Federal Trade Commission, respectively:

29, 8

A case study was published about a man who has consumed 40,000 pills of ecstasy, a new world record. The man suffers from memory problems, paranoia, hallucinations, and depression, as well as painful muscle rigidity that keeps him from opening his mouth.

A plane carrying skydiving students landed on a busy highway in New Jersey.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“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.”

Subscribe Today