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The Bush Era Torture-Homicides

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In a recent television appearance, one of the nation’s foremost retired military leaders, General Barry McCaffrey, said: “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” The fact of dozens of homicides is frankly acknowledged in discussions with military and intelligence experts, but the press seems to regard the subject as taboo.

Writing at the Daily Beast, John Sifton takes us on a tour of the deaths that resulted from the Bush Administration’s torture policies. The Bush Justice Department knew about these homicides and did nothing. Here’s one that resulted from a formally approved practice that Capt. Ian Fishback described as “smoking a PUC,” a person under control, or prisoner:

in December 2003, a 44-year-old Iraqi man named Abu Malik Kenami died in a U.S. detention facility in Mosul, Iraq. As reported by Human Rights First, U.S. military personnel who examined Kenami when he first arrived at the facility determined that he had no preexisting medical conditions. Once in custody, as a disciplinary measure for talking, Kenami was forced to perform extreme amounts of exercise—a technique used across Afghanistan and Iraq. Then his hands were bound behind his back with plastic handcuffs, he was hooded, and forced to lie in an overcrowded cell. Kenami was found dead the morning after his arrest, still bound and hooded. No autopsy was conducted; no official cause of death was determined. After the Abu Ghraib scandal, a review of Kenami’s death was launched, and Army reviewers criticized the initial criminal investigation for failing to conduct an autopsy; interview interrogators, medics, or detainees present at the scene of the death; and collect physical evidence. To date, however, the Army has taken no known action in the case.

This is one of dozens of such cases, involving both the military and the CIA. Many of them have been referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, but no prosecution ever results. Here’s a telling encounter, which is much like the response I’ve gotten when pressing to know what has happened with these cases:

In April 2006, a colleague of mine at Human Rights Watch and I met with Department of Justice criminal-division officials and requested information and updates on this case and several others. Justice officials were familiar with these cases, but our pleas for information were rejected…

The bottom line is that many detainee homicides in Iraq and Afghanistan were the direct result of approval and orders from the highest levels of government, and that high officials in the government are accomplices. Any meaningful investigation of those homicides would reveal the initial authorizations and their link to the homicides. Homicide presents legal issues impossible to ignore. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice cannot conclude their deliberations about Bush-era torture policies without closely investigating the homicide cases tied to them. One cannot speak glibly of “policy differences” and “looking forward” and “distraction” when corpses are involved.

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