A few bad apples?

When the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib came to light, the Bush Junta quickly asserted it was the fault of a few "bad apples" at the bottom of the hierarchy. Those at the top were ignorant of such acts, they claimed. Given such documents as the infamous CIA torture manual and the goings on at Guantánamo Bay, the chances of this were pretty low. As usual, those who obeyed the orders were made solely responsible. These tactics are too widespread in use for them not to be known about and authorized at the top.

Yet the real source of the abuse is coming to light. In late December the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a document which suggests that top officials of the Bush Junta give permission for the abusive interrogation techniques which horrified the world. Bush himself apparently issued an Executive Order authorising the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said the documents meant top officials could no longer avoid public scrutiny and blame low-ranking troops acting on their own.

The document is a two page FBI email which refers to a Presidential Order directly authorizing inhumane interrogation techniques. It was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials. Here is a key extract:

"Although we have no reason to believe any of our personnel disobeyed our instructions and participated in interrogations that utilized techniques beyond the bounds of FBI practice but within the parameters of the Executive Order (eg sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud music, etc), some of our personnel were in the general vicinity of interrogations in which such tactics were being used, and because of their proximity to the sites of these interrogations, heard or saw things which would be indicative of interrogations utilizing the techniques authorized by the Executive Order.  Examples are loud music interrogators yelling at subjects, prisoners with hoods on their heads, etc."

The email refers again to "interrogation techniques made lawful by the Executive Order" and notes that the "things our personnel witnessed (but did not participate in) were authorised by the President under his Executive Order." In total Bush's order was mentioned 10 times. The email notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President authorized. Another e-mail, dated December 2003, describes an incident in which Defense Department interrogators at Guantánamo Bay impersonated FBI agents while using "torture techniques" against a detainee. Other records include a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.

The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. "The methods that the Defense Department has adopted are illegal, immoral, and counterproductive," said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer. "It is astounding that these methods appear to have been adopted as a matter of policy by the highest levels of government."

The released documents were obtained after the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. They can be found at: http://www.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/fbi.html


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