No Comment — February 11, 2009, 11:17 pm

Tortured to Death

While Bush Administration torture-apologists continue to plead that the evidence cannot conclusively establish links between Rumsfeld Pentagon policies and the torture of detainees, the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded otherwise. It also noted that the most damning evidence had been classified as secret to keep it out of the reach of the public. (Yet again, we see that consistent tactic: use national security classifications to cloak evidence of criminal conduct.) That report has been held up as the Defense Department declassifies sensitive evidence the committee reviewed in reaching its unanimous findings. I’d heard that the review process was almost certain to lead to disclosure of highly incriminating internal documents, but that they would not be released before the Bush team left Washington. Jason Leopold suggests that process has now begun, with a Freedom of Information Act disclosure to the ACLU:

Newly declassified Defense Department documents describe a pattern of “abusive” behavior by U.S. military interrogators that appears to have caused the deaths of several suspected terrorists imprisoned at a detention center in Afghanistan in December 2002, just two days after former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques against prisoners in that country. The previously secret pages were part of a wide-ranging report into detainee abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay known as the Church Report, named after Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the former Naval inspector general, who conducted the investigation at the request of Rumsfeld. That report, released in March 2004, said there was “no policy that condoned or authorized either abuse or torture,” which critics of the Bush administration believed was a cover-up.

But the declassified Pentagon documents, coupled with a report issued last December by the Senate Armed Services Committee, tell a different story and lend credence to claims by civil libertarians and critics of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that refusal to release a fully classified version of the Church Report several years ago amounted to a cover-up. The two pages from the Church Report obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration and the Pentagon were released Wednesday. The documents state that the interrogation and deaths of detainees held at Bagram Air base in Afghanistan was “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.”

These detainee deaths were the subject of extensive investigation by the New York Times and other publications and one death formed the core of the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (in which I participated). Taxi included footage of a secret meeting at which a senior Air Force investigating officer disclosed that the treatment used at Bagram was authorized under secret Pentagon guidance.

A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal and now serves as vice president for strategy of QinetiQ North America, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-based defense contractor QinetiQ. Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.

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