John Glaser, July 13, 2011
The case of Manadel al-Jamadi, the Abu Ghraib prisoner who in 2003 was hung from his arms twisted behind his back, beaten, and tortured to death at the hands of U.S. interrogators in Iraq, is in the news again. AP reports:
A CIA officer who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and pushed for approval to use increasingly harsh tactics has come under scrutiny in a federal war crimes investigation involving the death of a prisoner, witnesses told The Associated Press.
Steve Stormoen, who is now retired from the CIA, supervised an unofficial program in which the CIA imprisoned and interrogated men without entering their names in the Army’s books.
The so-called “ghosting” program was unsanctioned by CIA headquarters. In fact, in early 2003, CIA lawyers expressly prohibited the agency from running its own interrogations, current and former intelligence officials said. The lawyers said agency officers could be present during military interrogations and add their expertise but, under the laws of war, the military must always have the lead.
Yet, in November 2003, CIA officers brought a prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, to Abu Ghraib and, instead of turning him over to the Army, took him to a shower stall. They put a sandbag over his head, handcuffed him behind his back and chained his arms to a barred window. When he leaned forward, his arms stretched painfully behind and above his back.
This is the first I’ve heard of any significant, even somewhat high-level prosecutions against those interrogators who committed crimes and oversaw the torture regimes in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, or Bagram. This is an interesting case because the particulars make it easy for the government and military to employ their time honored “bad apple” routine (clear themselves from blame or prosecution by isolating their crimes within a set of “bad apples” who went their own way to commit crimes despite the path of righteousness that the superiors took). Apparently, under the umbrella of CIA officer Mr. Stormoen, a system of torture and inhumane treatment took place that circumvented officially sanctioned CIA/U.S. government policy. It is convenient, to say the least, for the politics of the situation because to the extent this is true it will appear to absolve Bush (and Obama) administration officials implicated in the post-9/11 torture regime, as well as make them seem like card-carrying-rule-of-law types.
It is important to note that, while the case of al-Jamadi is one of the most well-known cases of homicide at U.S. prison sites (partially due to the famous picture of U.S. soldiers and interrogators smiling and flashing thumbs up next to Jamadi’s lifeless, swollen body) it is hardly the only case. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani all died at Guantanamo on June 9, 2006. Commanders at Guantanamo as well as a subsequent U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service report claimed they were all suicides, despite the evidence that these authorities were engaged in a massive cover up to hide the fact that these three men, who had never been charged with any crime, were murdered in U.S. custody. Indeed, an estimated 100 detainees have died during interrogations, in many cases showing signs of brutal torture which led to their passing. This is just one of many pieces of the puzzle which illustrate just how systematic and officially sanctioned were these policies.
The pity of this case is that it again draws attention to the fact that the extra-legal torture and abuse was perpetrated by high-level officials and approved by our highest governing authorities, as opposed to this shopworn “bad apple” excuse. At the very least those authorities instituted a murky legal environment where such treatment was inevitable. This warrants a serious investigation and prosecution of the highest reaches of the Bush administration. But not only has Obama decreed such “looking back” not take place, he has continued the abuse and outlawry himself.
Some will view this prosecution of Stormoen as a first step or as some commendable victory for human rights accountability and so forth. But the way it is being prosecuted and framed will reinforce the impenetrable protective legal bubble surrounding the highest officials most responsible for such crimes. That any prosecution is taking place at all will simply lead to more praise and impunity for the Bush and Obama administration officials.