WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union released new Pentagon documents Feb. 18 exposing an even wider pattern of torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among this new batch of 1,000 pages obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were photocopies of reports by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) on dozens of cases of torture and abuse. Many pages were heavily redacted to remove the names of both those charged with the abuses and those bringing the complaints. The documents are available to the public on the ACLU web site at www.aclu.org/torturefoia/
“The torture of detainees is too widespread and systemic to be dismissed as the rogue actions of a few misguided individuals,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. “The American public deserves to know which high-level government officials were ultimately responsible for the torture carried out in our name.”
In one file, an Iraqi detainee charged that Americans in civilian clothing beat him in the head and stomach, dislocated his arms, “stepped on [his] nose until it [broke],” stuck an unloaded pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger, choked him with a rope, and beat his legs with a baseball bat. The CID report claims its investigation “failed to prove or disprove” the offenses.
Yet medical reports corroborated that the victim’s nose and leg had been broken, and that he had scars on his stomach. Soldiers of Task Force 20 confirmed that interrogators in civilian clothes had interrogated the individual. After initially reporting the abuse, the detainee said he was forced to sign a statement recanting his charges or face indefinite detention.
Another file reports that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posed for photographs of mock executions with hooded and bound detainees and that some of the images were destroyed to avoid “another public outrage” such as swept the nation after photos of the abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were released. “These files provide more evidence, if any were needed, that abuse was not limited to Abu Ghraib,” said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer.
The ACLU appeared in court in New York, Feb. 22, to press its lawsuit for release of other documents withheld by the Pentagon. “The Defense Department continues to stonewall and to withhold thousands of documents inappropriately,” Jaffer said.
Despite White House efforts to shrug off the charges as a “non-story,” the torture scandal keeps erupting. The U.K. Guardian reported that Hussain Abdulkadr Youssef Mustafa, a Palestinian living in Jordan, was “sodomized” in 2002 by U.S. troops during his detention at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Mustafa signed an affidavit charging that during interrogation, U.S. soldiers stripped him of his pants and forced him over on a table. “They forcibly rammed a stick up my rectum,” he said. “It was excruciatingly painful. … I could not stop screaming when this happened.”
The ACLU is demanding that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales name a special counsel to investigate and prosecute those charged with torture and abuse. Gonzales wrote memos for President George W. Bush authorizing torture and dismissing the Geneva Conventions banning torture as “quaint.”
Veterans for Peace was one of several groups that joined in the ACLU’s FOIA request. “Our mistreatment of detainees can come back and bite us,” said VFP President David Cline. “We support the Geneva Conventions because they are right and just, but also because they protect our own soldiers if they are captured.”
He accused the Bush administration of “manipulating this issue to cover up criminal activity by top officials of the U.S. government.”
“When they get caught with blood on their hands,” Cline continued, “they always find a lower-ranking scapegoat. We’re in very dangerous times with Gonzales as attorney general and John Negroponte nominated as intelligence chief. People had better pay attention. If they can strip Iraqi or Afghani people of their rights, we may be next.”