Saturday, September 24, 2005

More Evidence of Prisoner Abuse

According to a story in today's New York Times, American soldiers in Iraq have been routinely abusing prisoners.

Three former members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division say soldiers in their battalion in Iraq routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004 to help gather intelligence on the insurgency and to amuse themselves.

The new allegations, the first involving members of the elite 82nd Airborne, are contained in a report by Human Rights Watch. The 30-page report does not identify the troops, but one is Capt. Ian Fishback, who has presented some of his allegations in letters this month to top aides of two senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman, and John McCain of Arizona. Captain Fishback approached the Senators' offices only after he tried to report the allegations to his superiors for 17 months, the aides said. The aides also said they found the captain's accusations credible enough to warrant investigation.

Human Rights Watch reports that prisoners were subjected to extremes of hot and cold, sleep deprivation, and stress positions. Chemical substances were sometimes reportedly used on prisoners' skin and eyes. On one occasion, a soldier broke a prisoner's leg with a baseball bat.

One of the soldiers (apparently Capt. Fishback) whose testimony Human Rights Watch used to compile its report on prisoner abuse stated, "I thought that the chain of command all the way up to the National Command Authority [President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld] had made it a policy that we were going to interrogate these guys harshly. . . . We knew where the Geneva Conventions drew the line, but then you get that confusion when the Sec Def [Secretary of Defense] and the President make that statement [that Geneva did not apply to detainees] . . . . Had I thought we were following the Geneva Conventions as an officer I would have investigated what was clearly a very suspicious situation."

It is time for Congress to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate all allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo.