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ICG Risk Blog - [ A survey of US POW interrogation and Abu Ghraib in particular, Part I ]

A survey of US POW interrogation and Abu Ghraib in particular, Part I


As interrogation is the word of the moment, I thought it useful to review the comments by US military and civilian sources as well as a view from abroad (all citations at bottom):

The Post's Pentagon Approved Tougher Interrogations notes the highly refined and legally reviewed and approved processes in place at Guantanamo. A classified list of approved techniques were "tightly controlled, limited in duration and scope, used infrequently and approved on a case-by-case basis." Whether you approve or disapprove of the steps approved, my point is that they were rigorously constructed, reviewed, and enforced on both prisoner and guard to the point that two guards were disciplined for less serious infractions that at Abu Ghraib.

While "similar guidelines have been approved for use on Iraqi "high-value detainees,"" the unclass press does not indicate "whether similar guidelines were in effect at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison. Any in and out of government want to determine if the excesses at Abu Ghraib was this or a similar aggressive interrogation posture taken to extreme or was it a local product of the mix of unsupervised and unaccountable command by both military intelligence and civilian contractors, and utterly untrained reservists inexperienced in the task.

It should be remembered that in 2002, the Washington Times' Army General Shamelessly Caters to Guantanamo Terrorists and BBC's 'Too nice' Guantanamo chief sacked chronicled the removal of the Brigadier General in charge of the Guantanamo Camp Delta prison for being "too nice" to the prisoners and interfering with the Major General in charge of interrogation. One of the mentioned faults was a "decision to allow the Red Cross to put up posters advising detainees they need only provide their name, rank and number during questioning." If I read correctly, there was a desire to keep the prisoners in an 'enemy combatant' status in order to give interrogators greater leeway.

The Times' Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S. Is a window into the treatment of prisoners in domestic state prison that included physical and sexual abuse similar to what has occurred in Abu Ghraib. It is common knowledge in the justice system that perps will usually plead out to a federal crime over a state offence as the federal prison system has by far the better treatment. Treatment of state prisoners is not secret or hidden. It has just passed below the level of public concern. Texas, for example, entered into a consent decree over crowding and guard violence against inmates to include permitting "inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex." It is an understatement to say that in "some jurisdictions in the United States there is a prison culture that tolerates violence, and it's been there a long time."" What the article does not make clear is that the federal and military prisons (for serving military convicted under the UCMJ) are regularly held up as models of prisoner treatment.

In my note Linear connection from Abu Ghraib to the Stanford Prison Experiment I addressed what can happen -- will happen is a better phrase -- in an unsupervised environment of unskilled guards. I maintain that virtually any similar 'experiment' will collapse into treatment that mimicked Abu Ghraib, i.e., how "effortless it is even for the trained to become prison monsters (the untrained have almost no hope of escaping the downward spiral). A now famous simulated prison experiment was carried out just a few years later (1971) in a Stanford University basement. Called the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE), a group of 24 young men were randomly selected as guard and prisoner… The transformation occurred within 24 hours: acting guards became genuine, even sadistic, guards while acting prisoners became genuine passive or rebellious prisoners." I believe that the treatment seen in many state prisons is right in line with this default condition.

On to Part II

Pentagon Approved Tougher Interrogations
By Dana Priest and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 9, 2004; Page A01

'Too nice' Guantanamo chief sacked
BBC News
Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK

Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S.
New York Times
May 8, 2004

Israeli lessons for the US in Iraq
By Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank
Al Jazeera
Friday 07 May 2004, 2:48 Makka Time, 23:48 GMT

In Abuse, a Portrayal of Ill-Prepared, Overwhelmed G.I.'s
New York Times
May 9, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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