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In the context of

In the context of these recent revelations, these couple-month-old claims from British nationals released from Guantanamo Bay appear in a new light.

This article in tomorrows

This article in tomorrow's Guardian suggests that some of these sexual humiliation methods apparently practiced at Abu Ghraib are taught to various special <$NoAd$> forces and military intelligence troops in the US and the UK, both to use them and also to prepare themselves to withstand them.

What's now happening in Iraq is that the same methods are being passed down to untrained and unsupervised reservists; and the whole situation spirals out of control.

I'm not sure this is the whole story. But it has a ring of truth to me, mixing, as it does, ugliness with disorganization and a spiralling cycle of unaccountability.

The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.

The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.

One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: "It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn't know what they were doing."

He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in these techniques, which were taught at the joint services interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former US base at Chicksands


Many British and US special forces soldiers learn about the degradation techniques because they are subjected to them to help them resist if captured. They include soldiers from the SAS, SBS, most air pilots, paratroopers and members of pathfinder platoons


"The crucial difference from Iraq is that frontline soldiers who are made to experience R2I techniques themselves develop empathy. They realise the suffering they are causing. But people who haven't undergone this don't realise what they are doing to people. It's a shambles in Iraq".

The British former officer said the dissemination of R2I techniques inside Iraq was all the more dangerous because of the general mood among American troops.

"The feeling among US soldiers I've spoken to in the last week is also that 'the gloves are off'. Many of them still think they are dealing with people responsible for 9/11".

Not an excuse, certainly, but here I think we can start to see the contours of the perfect storm -- hideous methods, at least reserved for restricted cases, parcelled out to unsupervised amateurs, abetted by what might be generously termed high-level indifference. Marathon Man? Lord of the Flies?

If theres a pattern

If there's a pattern here -- and I'm not sure we know <$NoAd$>enough yet to discern patterns -- it's one of military intelligence officers giving untrained and unsupervised soldiers vague instructions to 'soften up' prisoners to get them to talk in subsequent investigations.

That's a recipe for ugly results.

Here's a snippet from a new story from ABC News ...

The photographs show a 52-year-old former Baath Party official, Nadem Sadoon Hatab, who died at the detention center last June after a three-day period in which he was allegedly subjected to beatings and karate kicks to the chest and left to die naked in his own feces.

Abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Camp White Horse was allegedly carried out by U.S. Marine reservists. The accused reservists have told their lawyers they were given orders to "soften up" the men in their custody for interrogation by what were known as human exploitation teams from military intelligence.


According to testimony in the case, Hatab was targeted for especially harsh treatment because he was believed to be in possession of Jessica Lynch's 507th Army Battalion weapon and suspected of involvement in the ambush of her unit.

In this case, thankfully, a criminal prosecution is apparently well underway.

Among the more buck-passing

Among the more buck-passing and diversionery arguments proffered to explain what's emerged from Abu Ghraib is this truly far-fetched column by Linda Chavez, which seeks to lay the blame on having women in the ranks of the American military.

Now, you do have to sort of center yourself for a moment to be able to take such ridiculousness seriously. But here goes ...

Chavez's argument is that having women in integrated units is bad for good order and discipline. But more specifically she argues that "putting young men and women at their sexual prime in close proximity to each other 24 hours a day increases sexual tension [and that] military service has become heavily sexualized, with opportunities for male and female soldiers, sailors and Marines to engage in sexual fraternization, which, though frowned upon -- and in certain circumstances, forbidden -- is almost impossible to prevent."

Now, I don't think it makes much sense to draw any social policy lessons from this -- not about women in the military, gays in the military or anything else. The real issue is some ugly mix of poor oversight, abetting policy and the darker, more malleable side of human nature. Let's also note that the issue is not the nature of the sexual dimension of this, but the fact that it is coerced and punitive.

Yet who can ignore that the subtext of all this is homoerotic? And just how does having women in the armed forces contribute to this? If you're going to draw a social policy lesson from this, I'd say Chavez's is hardly the most logical. More plausible, though not the most probable explanation, would be the homophobia that is unfortunately quite entrenched in the US military and indeed throughout much of American society. Let's be frank, if there's an issue of 'sexual tension' involved when men try to humiliate other men by calling them 'fags' and forcing them to simulate homosexual acts, I'd say it's an issue of sexual tension between men, rather than between men and women.

A bunch of readers

A bunch of readers have asked me what it was Sen. Joe Lieberman said this morning that made me react so negatively. It was his words right out of the gate this morning at the Senate hearings ...

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Secretary, the behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge, immoral, intolerable and un-American. It deserves the apology that you have given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military.

I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security have never apologized.

And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never received an apology from anybody.

So it's part of -- wrongs occurred here, by the people in those pictures and perhaps by people up the chain of command.

But Americans are different. That's why we're outraged by this. That's why the apologies were due.

Ugly, pandering, a display of the cheapest tendencies <$Ad$>of the man.

Our moral superiority to mass murderers and people who desecrate people's bodies in town squares is, while thankfully true, simply not relevant to this issue.

This is the sort of subject-changing our parents try to wean us from when we're in grade school. (Okay, I did that. But look what Tommy did!) And of course there's the side-issue that Lieberman is playing to the notion that there's some sort of 'they did this to us and now we did this to them' issue here. And (how many times does it have to be said?) these folks in Abu Ghraib weren't the 9/11 planners.

Nothing Lieberman said is untrue precisely. It does set us apart from fascists and mass-murderers that Americans are outraged by this and that there will be investigations and accountability. But talk about defining deviance down!

In cases like this, emphasis is everything. And his was all wrong.

For Mr. Responsibility and Morality, what a disappointment.

He can take a lesson not only from John McCain but from Lindsey Graham too.

Ive only seen portions

I've only seen portions of today's testimony. From what I've seen the Pentagon needs new civilian management. But then we knew that. Or at least that's long been my judgment. Yet take note of this snap poll from ABC which says that very few Americans seem to think Rumsfeld's head should roll over this.

Secondly, I've always had a love/hate feeling (I'd say love/hate relationship but obviously he has no idea who I am) about Joe Lieberman. After his statement today, no love.

You know things havent

You know things haven't reached anything near the equilibrium phase for Don Rumsfeld when you see something like this. Yesterday afternoon or evening -- I don't remember precisely when -- the headline on MSNBC was something to the effect of 'Rumsfeld to go on offensive'.

I remember reading that and thinking, offensive against who? Who's he going to attack?

This morning the headlines everywhere read 'Rumsfeld to apologize.' So the ground is moving under their feet. All the normal signs point to Rumsfeld being history. But I still can't get myself to think that this White House, at this political moment, will kick him overboard.

On a lighter note, this might be an apt time to review that classic book of maxims Rumsfeld's Rules -- here in .pdf and here in html.

Some points now make for interesting reading ...

In the execution of presidential decisions work to be true to his views, in fact and tone.

If you foul up, tell the president and correct it fast. Delay only compounds mistakes.

Stay tuned ...

From an article in

From an article in the Post: "Some U.S. officials said Rumsfeld was resistant to repeated warnings from Iraq governor L. Paul Bremer -- delivered as early as last fall -- that the United States was detaining too many Iraqis for too long and in poor conditions. Bremer told Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials that if the problem persisted, the political fallout in Iraq would be serious, the officials said."

And following up on Thursday's post about the prohibitive political costs of canning Rumsfeld, this from the same article in the Post: "A White House official said that it is the view of a number of people close to Bush that getting rid of Rumsfeld would be 'a self-inflicted political and policy wound disproportionate to the secretary's responsibility for this human failure on the part of a small number of soldiers.'"

Finally, the same Post article suggests something I'd heard from a source on Wednesday: that the Miller report from last October -- the one that seemed to recommend more Gitmo-style rules for interrogations and imprisonment in Iraq -- was itself ordered because of reports of problems with the detention of prisoners in the country. As for myself, I still have some question whether Miller was sent out there -- remember he went in August and September -- because the insurgency was heating up at the time and it was felt that ... well, more needed to be done.

Heres an idea or

Here's an idea or something possibly to consider (and I have to thank a reader --JS -- for reminding me of this connection).

In many of the articles on this emerging Iraqi prisoners story, it has been claimed that some of the key instigators or enablers of bad acts were military intelligence officers.

Now, who's the head of military intelligence? 'Head' is too vague. There's no such post per se. But what comes pretty close is the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

And who's that? Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin.

Remember him? He's the one who got in trouble last year for describing his battle with a Muslim Somali warlord by saying "I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol", saying President Bush was chosen by God, and generally that the war on terror is an apocalyptic struggle between Christianity and Satan.

Last fall, after Boykin's efforts to channel Charlemagne or perhaps Urban II became known, he asked Don Rumsfeld to initiate an 'investigation' into whether his comments "violated any Pentagon rules or procedures" whatever that might mean. Just this week it was reported that the 'investigation' still continues; and Boykin has not been disciplined in any way.

In any case, I doubt very much that all this mess we've gotten ourselves into is attributable to this one man. But at what point in this scandal does someone ask whether some of this might have some connection to the fact that the guy running military intelligence believes the war on terror is a literal holy war pitting Christian America against Satan and his Muslim minions?

And then there's another possibility, perhaps distinct, perhaps overlapping.

An article in the Guardian -- this piece is truly gripping, a must-read -- there is an interview with a military intelligence officer who served at Guantanamo and then later served at Abu Ghraib as a contractor for CACI.

The upshot of the piece is that the place is so mismanaged and there's so much pressure for contractors to produce people to fill slots as interrogators that they end up sending people with no experience whatsoever. "If you're in such a hurry to get bodies," he says, "you end up with cooks and truck drivers doing intelligence work."

The intelligence officer, who was involved in processing people at Guantanamo, thinks that more than a third of the people in custody there had no ties to terrorism at all.

And then there are passages like this that are at once entirely predictable and yet leave you wondering what things have come to ...

"A unit goes out on a raid and they have a target and the target is not available; they just grab anybody because that was their job," Mr Nelson said, referring to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq. "The troops are under a lot of stress and they don't know one guy from the next. They're not cultural experts. All they want is to count down the days and hopefully go home.

"I've read reports from capturing units where the capturing unit wrote, 'the target was not at home. The neighbour came out to see what was going on and we grabbed him'," he said.

According to Mr Nelson's account, the victims' very innocence made them more likely to be abused, because the interrogators refused to believe they could have been picked up on such arbitrary grounds. Interrogators "weren't interested in going through the less glamorous work of sifting through the chaff to get to the kernels of truth from the willing detainees; they were interested in 'breaking' tough targets", he said

Then there's the matter, reported some time ago, that one contractor working in Iraq was employing Apartheid-era paramilitaries, some of whom had had to seek amnesty from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission for war crimes, terrorism and murders they'd committed under the old regime.

It gets deeper and darker.