Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Treatment of prisoners under US control in Iraq and at Guantanamo

I return, like a badly-worn record, to a topic I have not touched upon for some time. However, the article I refer to below deserves not to go unrecorded in my little blog, or by anyone who cares about where the 'war on terrorism' is taking western democracies. We need to fight terrorists, but if the methods we use undermine the very concepts and ideals we are striving to protect then our eventual victory will be hollow indeed.

The New York Times has a very interesting article concerning observations of brutal treatment of prisoners in Baghdad last June by two Defense Department intelligence officials, the subject of correspondence between the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon. Other correspondence refers to mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, in reports emanating from Federal Bureau of Investigation which expressed strong objections to the coercive techniques being employed on the grounds both of their ineffectiveness and unreliability.

Possibly there is an element of inter-departmental rivalry here, but the reports referred to do tend to strengthen my long-held view that the claims by the Administration that the cases of abuse of prisoners were isolated incidents, which were perpetrated by low-level officials acting without chain-of-command approval, are not sustainable.

This other report, in the Guardian, about disclosures to be made last evening by the first British lawyer to [be permitted to] visit Guantanamo should make interesting reading if the statements attributed to Clive Stafford Smith in the article are a guide. Indidentally, I heard Mr Stafford Smith a couple of weeks ago being interviewed by Sue Lawley in the popular and long-running BBC Radio4 'Desert Island Discs' programme; his background is most interesting. I had heard of him some years ago, but his discussion of the reasons which took him to the US many years ago to campaign and act in a legal capacity for death-row prisoners there whom he believed to have been ill-served by the US justice system, and more recently on behalf of some of the British detainees at Guantanamo Bay, makes for a salutary reminder that there remain decent and altruistic people in this world. No doubt, too, he is the most enormous nuisance to those who oppose him in his legal campaigns; a true, and heroic, English eccentric.

UPDATE: (Thursday 9DEC04 01.38 GMT) Upshot of the new reports about abuse in Iraq, referred to above, is that four members of a US special operations unit in Iraq have been disciplined for using electric Taser stun guns on prisoners. Whilst it is good to know that some of the miscreants are being punished, it seems (from the brief details given) that the punishments meted out are likely to be relatively minor and it is equally clear that the military authorities (and perhaps higher authorities) tried very hard to cover-up these cases of abuse. I strongly suspect there is a lot more that could be said if all the facts were known about this and other cases we do not yet know about (if such exist - I'd be very surprised if they don't, given the track-record of this US Administration). I know, I'm just a cynic; before the revelations about Abu Ghraib were proved beyond doubt to have substance there was a complete refusal by far too many people to believe that the possibility existed that any US citizen would ever do such a thing. I do not believe that Americans are any more likely to do such things than any other nationality (for example, the British), but given the right [i.e. 'wrong'] conditions and lack of supervision and/or scrutiny and/or training, not to mention a political leadership which tacitly seems to have given its operatives 'carte blanche', it is possible for the most surprising people to fall below the highest standards. It's called 'human nature'.

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