Away with Torture?
Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse
It has now been one year since the appearance of the first pictures
of U.S. soldiers humiliating and torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq. Shortly after the photos came out, President
George W. Bush vowed that the “wrongdoers will be brought
In the intervening months, it has become clear that torture
and abuse have taken place not solely at Abu Ghraib but rather
in dozens of U.S. detention facilities worldwide, that in many
cases the abuse resulted in death or severe trauma, and that
a good number of the victims were civilians with no connection
to al-Qaeda or terrorism. There is also evidence of abuse at
U.S.-controlled “secret locations” abroad and of
sending suspects to third-country dungeons around
the world where torture was likely to occur.
To date, however, the only wrongdoers being brought to justice
are those at the bottom of the chain-of-command. The evidence
demands more. Yet a wall of impunity surrounds the architects
of the policies responsible for the larger pattern of abuses.
Evidence is mounting that high-ranking
U.S. civilian and military leaders — including Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the top U.S. commander
in Iraq, and Major General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander
of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — made
decisions and issued policies that facilitated serious and widespread
violations of the law. The circumstances strongly suggest that
they either knew or should have known that such violations took
place as a result of their actions. There is also mounting data
that, when presented with evidence that abuse was in fact taking
place, they failed to act to stem the abuse.
The coercive methods approved by senior U.S. officials and widely
employed over the last three years include tactics that the United
States has repeatedly condemned as barbarity and torture when
practiced by others. Even the U.S. Army field manual condemns
some of these methods as torture.
Although much relevant evidence remains secret, a series of
revelations over the past twelve months already makes a compelling
case for a thorough, genuinely independent investigation of what
top officials did, what they knew, and
how they responded when they became aware of the widespread nature
of the abuses.