Ralp Lopez, Alternet, Sept. 20, 2011
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been stripped of legal immunity for acts of torture against US citizens authorized while he was in office. The 7th Circuit made the ruling in the case of two American contractors who were tortured by the US military in Iraq after uncovering a smuggling ring within an Iraqi security company. The company was under contract to the Department of Defense.
The company was assisting Iraqi insurgent groups in the “mass acquisition" of American weapons. The ruling comes as Rumsfeld begins his book tour with a visit to Boston on Wednesday, September 21, and as new, uncensored photos of Abu Ghraib spark fresh outrage across Internet. Awareness is growing that Bush-era crimes went far beyond mere waterboarding.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters in 2004 of photos withheld by the Defense Department from Abu Ghraib, “The American public needs to understand, we’re talking about rape and murder here…We’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We’re talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges." And journalist Seymour Hersh says: “boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has."
Rumsfeld resigned days before a criminal complaint was filed in Germany in which the American general who commanded the military police battalion at Abu Ghraib had promised to testify. General Janis Karpinski in an interview with Salon.com was asked: “Do you feel like Rumsfeld is at the heart of all of this and should be held completely accountable for what happened [at Abu Ghraib]?"
Karpinski answered: “Yes, absolutely." In the criminal complaint filed in Germany against Rumsfeld, Karpinski submitted 17 pages of testimony and offered to appear before the German prosecutor as a witness. Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, who participated in the hearings on Abu Ghraib, said of Rumsfeld: “There was no way Rumsfeld didn’t know what was going on. He’s a guy who wants to know everything."
And Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the official Army investigation into Abu Ghraib,said in his report:
“there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
Amazingly, the two American contractors in the 7th Circuit decision were known by the military to be working undercover for the FBI, to whom they had reported witnessing the sale of U.S government munitions to Iraqi rebel groups. The FBI in Iraq had vouched for Vance and Ertel numerous times before they nevertheless disappeared into military custody. They were held at Camp Cropper in Iraq where the two were tortured, one for 97 days, and the other for six weeks.
In a puzzling and incriminating move, Camp Cropper base commander General John Gardner ordered Nathan Ertel released on May 17, 2006, while keeping Donald Vance in detention for another two months of torture. By ordering the release of one man but not the other, Gardner revealed awareness of the situation but prolonged it at the same time.
It is unlikely that Gardner could act alone in a situation as sensitive as the illegal detention and torture of two Americans confirmed by the FBI to be working undercover in the national interest, to prevent American weapons and munitions from reaching the hands of insurgents, for the sole purpose of using them to kill American troops. Vance and Ertel suggest he was acting on orders from the highest political level.
The forms of torture employed against the Americans included “techniques" which crop up frequently in descriptions of Iraqi and Afghan prisoner abuse at Bagram, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib. They included “walling," where the head is slammed repeatedly into a concrete wall, sleep deprivation to the point of psychosis by use of round-the-clock bright lights and harsh music at ear-splitting volume, in total isolation, for days, weeks or months at a time, and intolerable cold.
The 7th Circuit ruling is the latest in a growing number of legal actions involving hundreds of former prisoners and torture victims filed in courts around the world. Criminal complaints have been filed against Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials in Germany, France, and Spain. Former President Bush recently curbed travel to Switzerland due to fear of arrest following criminal complaints lodged in Geneva. "He’s avoiding the handcuffs," Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
And the Mayor of London threatened Bush with arrest for war crimes earlier this year should he ever set foot in his city, saying that were he to land in London to “flog his memoirs," that “the real trouble — from the Bush point of view — is that he might never see Texas again."
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief-of-Staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson surmised on MSNBCearlier this year that soon, Saudi Arabia and Israel will be “the only two countries Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest will travel too."
What would seem to make Rumsfeld’s situation more precarious is the number of credible, former officials and military officers who seem to be eager to testify against him, such as Col. Wilkerson and General Janis Karpinsky.
In a signed declaration in support of torture plaintiffs in a civil suit naming Rumsfeld in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Col. Wilkerson, one of Rumsfeld’s most vociferous critics, stated: “I am willing to testify in person regarding the content of this declaration, should that be necessary." That declaration, among other things, affirmed that a documentary on the chilling murder of a 22-year-old Afghan farmer and taxi driver in Afghanistan was “accurate." Wilkerson said earlier this year that in that case, and in the case of another murder at Bagram at about the same time, “authorization for the abuse went to the very top of the United States government."
The young farmer’s name was Dilawar. The New York Times reported on May 20, 2005:
“Four days before [his death,] on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, Mr. Dilawar set out from his tiny village of Yakubi in a prized new possession, a used Toyota sedan that his family bought for him a few weeks earlier to drive as a taxi.
On the day that he disappeared, Mr. Dilawar’s mother had asked him to gather his three sisters from their nearby villages and bring them home for the holiday. However, he needed gas money and decided instead to drive to the provincial capital, Khost, about 45 minutes away, to look for fares."
Dilawar’s misfortune was to drive past the gate of an American base which had been hit by a rocket attack that morning. Dilawar and his fares were arrested at a checkpoint by a warlord, who was later suspected of mounting the rocket attack himself, and then turning over randam captures like Dilawar in order to win trust.
“Guards at Bagram routinely kneed prisoners in their thighs — a blow called a “peroneal strike"…Whenever a guard did this to Dilawar, he would cry out, “Allah! Allah!" Some guards apparently found this amusing, and would strike him repeatedly to show off the behavior to buddies.One military policeman told investigators, “Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny. … It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."”
Dilawar was shackled from the ceiling much of the time, with his feet barely able to touch the ground. On the last day of his life, after 4 days at Bagram, an interpreter who was present said his legs were bouncing uncontrollably as he sat in a plastic chair. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
The New York Times reported that on the last day of his life, four days after he was arrested:
“Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar’s face."Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. “Drink!"
At the interrogators’ behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
“Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying."
The next time the prison medic saw Dilawar a few hours later, he was dead, his head lolled to one side and his body beginning to stiffen. A coroner would testify that his legs “had basically been pulpified."The Army coroner, Maj. Elizabeth Rouse, said: “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus." She testified that had he lived, Dilawar’s legs would have had to be amputated.
Despite the military’s false statement that Dilawar’s death was the result of “natural causes," Maj. Rouse marked the death certificate as a “homicide" and arranged for the certificate to be delivered to the family. The military was forced to retract the statement when a reporter for the New York Times, Carlotta Gall, tracked down Dilawar’s family in Afghanistan and was given a folded piece of paper by Dilawar’s brother. It was the death certificate, which he couldn’t read, because it was in English.
The practice of forcing prisoners to stand for long periods of time, links Dilawar’s treatment to a memo which bears Rumsfeld’s own handwriting on that particular subject. Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request, the memo may show how fairly benign-sounding authorizations for clear circumventions of the Geneva Conventions may have translated into gruesome practice on the battlefield.
The memo, which addresses keeping prisoners “standing" for up to four hours, is annotated with a note initialed by Rumfeld reading: “"I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" Not mentioned in writing anywhere is anything about accomplishing this by chaining prisoners to the ceiling. There is evidence that, unable to support his weight on tiptoe for the days on end he was chained to the ceiling, Dilawars arms dislocated, and they flapped around uselessly when he was taken down for interrogation. The National Catholic Reporter writes “They flapped like a bird’s broken wings"
Contradicting, on the record, a February 2003 statement by Rumfeld’s top commander in Afghnanistan at the time, General Daniel McNeill, that “we are not chaining people to the ceilings," is Spc. Willie Brand, the only soldier disciplined in the death of Dilawar, with a reduction in rank. Told of McNeill’s statement, Brand told Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes: “Well, he’s lying." Brand said of his punishment: “I didn’t understand how they could do this after they had trained you to do this stuff and they turn around and say you’ve been bad"
Exhibit: A sketch by Sgt. Thomas V. Curtis, a former Reserve M.P. sergeant, showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell
Exhibit: Dilawar Death Certificate marked “homicide"
Dilawar’s daughter and her grandfather
Binyam Mohamed was seized by the Pakistani Forces in April 2002 and turned over to the Americans for a $5,000 bounty. He was held for more than five years without charge or trial in Bagram Air Force Base, Guantánamo Bay, and third country “black" sites.
In his diary he describes being flown by a US government plane to a prison in Morocco. He writes:
“They cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a brave face. But maybe I was going to be raped. Maybe they’d electrocute me. Maybe castrate me…One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. “I told you I was going to teach you who’s the man," [one] eventually said.
They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists. I asked for a doctor."
I was in Morocco for 18 months. Once they began this, they would do it to me about once a month. One time I asked a guard: “What’s the point of this? I’ve got nothing I can say to them. I’ve told them everything I possibly could."
“As far as I know, it’s just to degrade you. So when you leave here, you’ll have these scars and you’ll never forget. So you’ll always fear doing anything but what the US wants."
Later, when a US airplane picked me up the following January, a female MP took pictures. She was one of the few Americans who ever showed me any sympathy. When she saw the injuries I had she gasped. They treated me and took more photos when I was in Kabul. Someone told me this was “to show Washington it’s healing".
The obvious question for any prosecutor in Binyam’s case is: Who does “Washington" refer to? Rumfeld? Cheney? Is it not in the national interest to uncover these most depraved of sadists at the highest level? US Judge Gladys Kessler, in her findings on Binyam made in relation to a Guantanamo prisoner’s petition, found Binyam exceedingly credible. She wrote:
“His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one foreign prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in plots to imperil Americans. The government does not dispute this evidence."