Friday, April 01, 2005

Step by Step We've Lost Our Identity

‘At some point,’ said General Cullen, “I had to say: ‘Wait a minute. We cannot go along with this.’ ”
We Can't Remain Silent
By BOB HERBERT

“Rear Adm. John Hutson, who is now president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., and Brig. Gen. James Cullen, a lawyer in private practice in New York, said they believed that both the war effort and the military itself have been seriously undermined by official policies that encouraged the abuse of prisoners.

Both men said they were unable to remain silent as institutions that they served loyally for decades, and which they continue to love without reservation, are being damaged by patterns of conduct that fly in the face of core values that most members of the military try mightily to uphold.

"At some point," said General Cullen, "I had to say: 'Wait a minute. We cannot go along with this.' "

The two retired officers have lent their support to an extraordinary lawsuit that seeks to hold Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ultimately accountable for policies that have given rise to torture and other forms of prisoner abuse. And last September they were among a group of eight retired admirals and generals who wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to create an independent 9/11-type commission to fully investigate the problem of prisoner abuse from the top to the bottom of the command structure.

Admiral Hutson, who served as the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000, said he felt sick the first time he saw the photos of soldiers abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. "I felt like somebody in my family had died," he said.

Even before that, he had been concerned by the Bush administration's decision to deny the protections of the Geneva Conventions to some detainees, and by the way prisoners at Guantánamo Bay were being processed and treated. He said that when the scandal at Abu Ghraib broke, "I knew in my soul that it was going to be bigger than that, that we had just seen the tip of the iceberg and that it was going to get worse and worse and worse."

The letter to President Bush emphasized the wide scope of the problem, noting that there were "dozens of well-documented allegations of torture, abuse and otherwise questionable detention practices" involving prisoners in U.S. custody. It said:

"These reports have implicated both U.S. military and intelligence agencies, ranging from junior enlisted members to senior command officials, as well as civilian contractors. ... No fewer than a hundred criminal, military and administrative inquiries have been launched into apparently improper or unlawful U.S. practices related to detention and interrogation. Given the range of individuals and locations involved in these reports, it is simply no longer possible to view these allegations as a few instances of an isolated problem."

Admiral Hutson and General Cullen have worked closely with a New York-based group, Human Rights First, which, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit against Mr. Rumsfeld. A report released this week by Human Rights First said that the number of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan has grown to more than 11,000, and that the level of secrecy surrounding American detention operations has intensified.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/01/opinion/01herbert.html

In a passage criticizing the vaunted President's Daily Brief, the super-secret intelligence document that Mr. Bush and his predecessors have received each morning, complaining that its "attention-grabbing headlines and drumbeat of repetition" left misleading impressions, and no room for shadings. "In ways both subtle and not so subtle, the daily reports seemed to be 'selling' intelligence," the commission found, "in order to keep its customers, or at least the First Customer, interested."
A Final Verdict on Prewar Intelligence Is Still Elusive

By TODD S. PURDUM

"It is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom," the commission said. But that understated indictment is about the extent of the commission's effort to explain the responsibilities of the nation's highest officials for one of the worst intelligence failures of modern times.

So the latest and presumably the last official review of such questions leaves unresolved what may be the biggest question of all: Who was accountable, and will they ever be held to account for letting what amounted to mere assumptions "harden into presumptions," as Judge Laurence H. Silberman, chairman of the commission, put it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/01/politics/01policy.html

A full accounting awaits the work of historians. But already some people have been judged, albeit it indirect ways, while others have been rewarded, even promoted. Some who foresaw potential disaster were punished or pushed aside, while the president and vice president were given new terms.

President Bush's election-year order creating the commission (and a schedule that assured it would report well after the election) did not authorize it to investigate how policy makers had used the intelligence they received. In the end, the commission reserved by far its sharpest criticism for the agencies that provided the intelligence, blaming them over and over again in its 601-page unclassified report for "poor tradecraft and poor management."

By comparison, the commission made a tantalizing but oblique reference to the president. It came in a passage criticizing the vaunted President's Daily Brief, the super-secret intelligence document that Mr. Bush and his predecessors have received each morning, complaining that its "attention-grabbing headlines and drumbeat of repetition" left misleading impressions, and no room for shadings. "In ways both subtle and not so subtle, the daily reports seemed to be 'selling' intelligence," the commission found, "in order to keep its customers, or at least the First Customer, interested."

Yemeni Held in Guantánamo Was Seized in Cairo, Group Says (By NEIL A. LEWIS )

Sometime in September 2002, a Yemeni businessman and intelligence officer was abducted on a Cairo street, then kept incommunicado for more than a year by United States authorities, and is now among those imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, according to an examination of his case by Human Rights Watch.

The case of Abdul Salam Ali al-Hila is an example of what human rights groups call "reverse renditions," in which a foreign government assists or cooperates in seizing someone who is then transferred to United States custody. John Sifton, the researcher at Human Rights Watch, the advocacy group - who compiled information on the Hila case from interviews with the man's family, his letters from Guantánamo and government statements published in news reports in Arab countries - said it was "another example of the United States stretching the laws of war and human rights principles to the breaking point.

"You can't just hold people incommunicado indefinitely just by declaring them enemy combatants," he added.

Mr. Sifton and officials from other human rights groups say there are dozens of such people, defined as those who are picked up far from the battlefield of the Afghanistan war and then wind up at the detention center at Guantánamo. Once there, they are considered unlawful combatants.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/30/international/americas/30detain.html

con·cept: Step by Step We've Lost Our Identity