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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Fuck 'Em If You've Got 'Em 

There are a couple of items worth noting at Human Rights Watch, one treating matters foreign, one domestic. The first, a report on the systematic torture of detainees in Iraq, tells us very little that we didn't already know (for example, the "bad apple" theory does not obtain; are you shocked?). It has nonetheless been picked up by Time magazine and is the subject of much discussion in bloglandia:
Residents of Fallujah called them “the Murderous Maniacs” because of how they treated Iraqis in detention. They were soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury) in Iraq. The soldiers considered this name a badge of honor.

One officer and two non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of the 82nd Airborne who witnessed abuse, speaking on condition of anonymity, described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief. One soldier raised his concerns within the army chain of command for 17 months before the Army agreed to undertake an investigation, but only after he had contacted members of Congress and considered going public with the story.

According to their accounts, the torture and other mistreatment of Iraqis in detention was systematic and was known at varying levels of command . . . .

The officer and NCOs interviewed by Human Rights Watch say that torture of detainees took place almost daily at FOB Mercury during their entire deployment there, from September 2003 to April 2004. While two of the soldiers also reported abuses at FOB Tiger, near the Syrian border, the most egregious incidents allegedly took place at FOB Mercury. The acts of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment they described include severe beatings (in one incident, a soldier reportedly broke a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat), blows and kicks to the face, chest, abdomen, and extremities, and repeated kicks to various parts of the detainees’ body; the application of chemical substances to exposed skin and eyes; forced stress positions, such as holding heavy water jugs with arms outstretched, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness; sleep deprivation; subjecting detainees to extremes of hot and cold; the stacking of detainees into human pyramids; and, the withholding of food (beyond crackers) and water.

Detainees in Iraq were consistently referred to as PUCs [for "Persons Under Control" -- S.]. This term was devised in Afghanistan to take the place of the traditional designation of Prisoner of War (POW), after President Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply there. It carried over to Iraq, even though the U.S. military command and the Bush administration have continually stated that the Geneva Conventions are in effect. Although not all persons captured on a battlefield are entitled to Prisoner of War (POW) status, U.S. military doctrine interprets the Geneva Conventions as requiring that all captured persons be treated as POWs unless and until a “competent tribunal” determines otherwise.

Detainees at FOB Mercury were held in so-called “PUC tents, which were separated from the rest of the base by concertina wire. Detainees typically spent three days at the base before being released or sent to Abu Ghraib. Officers in the Military Intelligence unit and officers in charge of the guards directed the treatment of detainees. Soldiers told us that detainees who did not cooperate with interrogators were sometimes denied water and given only crackers to eat, and were often beaten. There was little done to hide the mistreatment of detainees: one of the soldiers we interviewed observed torture when he brought newly captured Iraqis to the PUC tents.

The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers. Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC tent on their off-hours to “Fuck a PUC” or “Smoke a PUC.” “Fucking a PUC” referred to beating a detainee, while “Smoking a PUC” referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. The soldiers said that when a detainee had a visible injury such as a broken limb due to “fucking” or “smoking,” an army physician’s assistant would be called to administer an analgesic and fill out the proper paperwork. They said those responsible would state that the detainee was injured during the process of capture and the physician’s assistant would sign off on this. Broken bones occurred “every other week” at FOB Mercury.
The second, less-publicized item has to do with our enlightened treatment of homegrown detainees, such as the unfortunates who happened to be temporarily domiciled in the NOLA drunk tank when Katrina struck:

As Hurricane Katrina began pounding New Orleans, the sheriff's department abandoned hundreds of inmates imprisoned in the city’s jail, Human Rights Watch said today.

Inmates in Templeman III, one of several buildings in the Orleans Parish Prison compound, reported that as of Monday, August 29, there were no correctional officers in the building, which held more than 600 inmates. These inmates, including some who were locked in ground-floor cells, were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level.

“Of all the nightmares during Hurricane Katrina, this must be one of the worst,” said Corinne Carey, researcher from Human Rights Watch. “Prisoners were abandoned in their cells without food or water for days as floodwaters rose toward the ceiling.”

Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the conduct of the Orleans Sheriff's Department, which runs the jail, and to establish the fate of the prisoners who had been locked in the jail. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, which oversaw the evacuation, and the Orleans Sheriff’s Department should account for the 517 inmates who are missing from the list of people evacuated from the jail . . . .

Many of the men held at jail had been arrested for offenses like criminal trespass, public drunkenness or disorderly conduct. Many had not even been brought before a judge and charged, much less been convicted.

(Graphic from WhiteHouse.org, courtesy of Zemblan patriot C.K.D.)

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