Tuesday, May 1, 2007
"Make Sure This Happens!!"
By ANDREW COCKBURN
"When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld boasted, as he did frequently, of his unrelenting focus on the war on terror, his audience would have been startled, maybe even shocked, to discover the activities that Rumsfeld found it necessary to supervise in minute detail. Close command and control of far away events from the Pentagon were not limited to the targeting of bombs and missiles. Thanks to breakthroughs in communications, the interrogation and torture of prisoners could be monitored on a real time basis also.
The first prisoner to experience such attention from Rumsfeld's office, or the first that we know about, was an American citizen, John Walker Lindh, a young man from California whose fascination with Islam had led him to enlist in the Taliban. Shortly thereafter, he and several hundred others surrendered to the Northern Alliance warlord Abdu Rashid Dostum in return for a promise of safe passage. Dostum broke the deal, herding the prisoners into a ruined fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif. Lindh managed to survive, though wounded, and eventually fell into the hands of the CIA and Special Forces, who proceeded to interrogate him.
According to documents later unearthed by Richard Serrano of the Los Angeles Times, a Special Forces intelligence officer was informed by a Navy Admiral monitoring events in Mazar-e-Sharif that "the Secretary of Defense's Counsel (lawyer William Haynes) has authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted." In the course of the questioning Lindh, who had a bullet in his leg, was stripped naked, blindfolded, handcuffed, and bound to a stretcher with duct tape. In a practice that would become more familiar at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq 18 months later, smiling soldiers posed for pictures next to the naked prisoner. A navy medic later testified that he had been told by the lead military interrogator that "sleep deprivation, cold and hunger might be employed" during Lindh's interrogations. Meanwhile, his responses to the questioning, which ultimately went on for days, were relayed back to Washington, according to the documents disclosed to Serrano, every hour, hour after hour. Someone very important clearly wanted to know all the details.
Lindh was ultimately tried and sentenced in a U.S. court, but Rumsfeld was in no mood to extend any kind of legal protection to other captives. As the first load of prisoners arrived at the new military prison camp at Guantanamo, Cuba, on January 11, 2002, he declared them "unlawful combatants" who "do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention." In fact, the Geneva Conventions provide explicit protection to anyone taken prisoner in an international armed conflict, even when they are not entitled to actual prisoner of war status, but no one at that time was in a mood to contradict the all-powerful secretary of defense.
A year after Haynes, his chief counsel, had passed the message that interrogators should "take the gloves off" when questioning the hapless John Walker Lindh and report the results on an hourly basis, Rumsfeld was personally deciding on whether interrogators could use "stress positions" (an old CIA technique) like making prisoners stand for up to four hours, or exploit "individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, to induce stress," or strip them naked, or question them for 28 hours at a stretch, without sleep, or use "a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation". These and other methods, euphemistically dubbed "counter-resistance techniques" in Pentagon documents that always avoided the word "torture," were outlined in an "action memo" submitted on November 27, 2002, for Rumsfeld's approval by Haynes. The lawyer noted that Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard General Richard Myers (respectively deputy defense secretary, under-secretary for policy and chairman of the joint chiefs) had already agreed that Rumsfeld should approve all but the most severe options, such as the wet towel, without restriction. A week later, Rumsfeld scrawled his signature in the "approved" box but added, "However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"....."