[Rushtalk] The “A” Word That Terrifies Washington

Carl Spitzer lynux at keepandbeararms.com
Sun Feb 14 12:08:56 MST 2016


The “A” Word That Terrifies Washington

War crimes are for losers

My Lai

        By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review• October 13, 2015

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has declared that there will be a
thorough investigation of the recent U.S. destruction of a hospital in
Afghanistan that killed 22, including 12 of the medical staff, with more
than thirty still missing in the rubble. The hospital, run by
Geneva-based Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), had
informed the U.S. headed international military force of both its
location and its activities in order to avoid becoming a target for
either side in fighting around Kunduz but that apparently was not
enough. The U.S. military command in Afghanistan approved the bombing,
which reportedly included multiple attacks from a C-130 gunship and
lasted over half an hour, though there is some confusion over what
constituted the “threat” that was being responded to, MSF claiming that
there were no Taliban militants anywhere near their building either
using it for shelter or as a firing point. Both MSF and some senior
United Nations officials regard the attack as a war crime. President
Barack Obama uncharacteristically apologized for a “mistake” though he
took pains not to blame the U.S. military.

Ashton might be a brilliant physicist but he has never been a soldier in
spite of his long service in the Department of Defense. I don’t doubt
his good intentions when it comes to declaring United States government
willingness to let the chips fall where they may but he has no idea what
he is up against. The uniformed military will stonewall, run circles
around him and work hard to construct a narrative that ultimately blames
no one but the Afghans for what happened. In the unlikely event that
they fail in that, a soldier at the low end of the process will be
punished with a slap on the wrist to demonstrate that military justice
works while pari passu protecting the senior commanders. And the report
will not even appear until long after Kunduz is forgotten. At that point
Congress and the White House will have no stomach for going after our
valiant warriors so the buck will ultimately stop with a toothless
report that accomplishes nothing at all.

The Secretary of Defense, who reportedly had a dual major at Yale that
included medieval history, might well consider the historical precedents
for his initiating an investigation. He should appreciate above all that
the “A” word that must never be spoken inside the United States
government is “accountability,” which is by design as the government
must never be made to look bad. Without demanding accountability even
meticulous investigations into possible war crimes have no meaning and
are literally not worth the paper they are written on.

Carter’s historical review might well start with the massacre of more
than 500 civilians at My Lai during the Vietnam War, which was only
investigated by the army after journalist Seymour Hersh got hold of the
story, leading to the current practice of embedding journalists to
control the narrative. More recently there was Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi
prison operated by U.S. forces and intelligence agencies in 2003.
Systematic physical abuse of prisoners was widespread, to include rape,
anal penetration with foreign objects, being hung from hooks, and even
murder. Much of the evidence for the abuse was documented by photos and
videos made by military personnel who supervised the process. The
“enhanced interrogation” procedures used were sanctioned by Lieutenant
General Richard Sanchez, who commanded U.S. forces, and were also
endorsed by memos from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The White
House maintained that the Geneva Conventions protecting prisoners and
the International Convention Against Torture, to which the United States
was a signatory, did not apply in Iraq.

The “thorough investigation” of the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib
resulted in courts martial of a number of low ranking servicemen and
women, only two of whom received short prison sentences. At the higher
levels there were only administrative penalties and the demotion of
General Janet Karpinski, who was in charge of all the prison camps in
Iraq. Karpinski has insisted that she was scapegoated as the command
structure above her had explicitly authorized the interrogation

An after-the-fact Pentagon ordered review of the prison and its
procedures conducted by Major General Antonio Taguba concluded “That
between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement
Facility (BCCF), numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton
criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees.” For his pains,
Taguba was himself investigated after the report was leaked to the
public. He observed “I’d been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and
it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.” He was
subsequently ordered to retire, a typical response of punish the
messenger whenever the Pentagon decides that it has been embarrassed.

The White House denied and later sought to downplay the Abu Ghraib
story. In 2004 President George W. Bush finally apologized after the
evidence of war crimes became indisputable, saying that he was “sorry
for the humiliation.”

CIA interrogators, as well as Israeli “advisers,” were also involved in
the torture program at Abu Ghraib and reportedly killed at least one
prisoner. But the Agency simultaneously had its own show running at a
network of “black site” secret prisons in Europe and Asia, some of which
were operating under the same procedural rules on “enhanced
interrogation” that prevailed in Iraq. Prisoners were waterboarded,
which simulated drowning, sometimes repeatedly. At least one prisoner
died from freezing to death and others were subjected to “rectal
rehydration.” The interrogators were advised that only procedures
leading to “organ failure” were prohibited.

Jose Rodriguez, at the time CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations,
ordered destroyed the video tapes that had been made of many of the
interrogations, arguing absurdly that they could be used by enemies of
the United States to identify the interrogators. He was more motivated,
one should assume, by protecting his own circle of senior officers by
destroying the evidence, which one might consider a successful outcome
from his point of view.

The December 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee’s report reveals that no
CIA officials have ever been reprimanded or held accountable in any way
for using torture to interrogate detainees: “CIA officers and CIA
contractors who were found to have violated CIA policies or performed
poorly were rarely held accountable or removed from positions of
responsibility. CIA managers who were aware of failings and shortcomings
in the program but did not intervene, or who failed to provide proper
leadership and management, were also not held to account [and]
accountability recommendations were overruled by senior CIA leadership.
As detailed in the study, there was no accountability for personnel
responsible for the extended detention of individuals determined by the
CIA to have been wrongly detained.”

Subsequently, the only known CIA participant in the “enhanced
interrogation” regime to be punished was John Kirakou, imprisoned after
exposing the existence of the program in 2007.

George W. Bush, even defended the interrogations in advance of the
Senate report’s release last year, calling the CIA officials connected
to it “patriots.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who pledged that if
he had to do it all over again he would, reviled the report as “full of
crap,” a “terrible piece of work” and “deeply flawed.”

More recently, a gaggle of retired senior CIA officials, most of whom
were participants in the torture program, produced their own response to
the Senate allegations. It is a short book called Rebuttal: The CIA
Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention
and Interrogation Programs.

The CIA’s response goes something like this: the Senate report on
torture was written by Democrats who were out to get the Agency and is
therefore little more than a partisan hatchet job that targeted some
senior officers. The book includes multiple assertions that the senators
and their staffers willfully ignored things like “context,” which means
that anything was permissible as everyone was terrified that a terrorist
group based in Afghanistan was about to existentially threaten the
United States.

As some of the book’s co-authors, to include former Director George
Tenet, his deputies John McLaughlin, Jose Rodriguez, and Mike Morell, as
well as the current Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan, were
part and parcel of the process approving and implementing the enhanced
interrogation procedures, one would have to believe that they have a lot
to answer for. But instead of accountability we now have a book
sugarcoating how and why the United States chose the dark side, a book
written in expectation that a considerable hunk of the public will
continue to believe that torture not only works but also that it is
perfectly acceptable when a nation is “under stress” as it was after

Both the public and the authors would prefer not to consider that
opening the door to torture as official policy provides justification
for Washington’s actual enemies to do the same when they capture a U.S.
citizen, something that every American traveler abroad might consider
before setting out. And one might also marvel at a book by the CIA
(which reviewed and approved the text) propagandizing its point of view
on torture, something that is illegal as the Agency is forbidden from
seeking to influence domestic opinion in the U.S.

Only in the United States would a book justifying torture written by a
group of former senior government officials be taken seriously enough to
find a readership or publisher, which is something that Ashton Carter
should perhaps consider before he launches his investigation. No one was
held accountable for what were indisputably war crimes committed with
the complete approval of the U.S. government going all the way up to the
White House level. And today many of the perpetrators are regarded as

As it is a given that no senior official or officer in the United States
government will ever be held responsible for anything, instead of
calling for an investigation Ashton Carter might just as well respond
“Sure we bombed that hospital. What are you going to do about it?” Or
even better “Accountability? That’s just a word that begins with ‘a.’”

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