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Pentagon Does a Poor Job Investigating Detainee Abuse

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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.

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