Only an independent 9/11-style commission will be able to shed full light on U.S. treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
“Two and a half months after the first pictures from Abu Ghraib, only a few low-ranking soldiers have been called to account,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “There is growing evidence of a high-level policy of abuse. The world is still watching and waiting to see how the United States deals with these crimes.”
Important issues related to the treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” and in Iraq remain unanswered. These include: why inquiries into deaths in custody in Afghanistan and Iraq were so lackluster and late; why detainees were “rendered” to countries such as Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia where torture is systematic; how the administration justifies holding detainees incommunicado in 'undisclosed locations' in light of the United States’ historical condemnation of forced 'disappearances' in other countries; what interrogation techniques were in fact approved for detainees held in Iraq, Afghanistan, and by the CIA (and whether they differed from those authorized at Guantanamo); and how senior officials square the coercive interrogation they have acknowledged authorizing with treaties barring cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
In addition, the administration has failed to answer key questions from members of Congress regarding the stepped-up hunt for “actionable intelligence” among Iraqi prisoners just before the most severe abuses at Abu Ghraib. Who in the Pentagon ordered Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander at Guantanamo, to Abu Ghraib to overhaul interrogation practices, and with what instructions? What were Gen Miller’s recommendations? What practices were then approved for Abu Ghraib by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq? Which interrogation practices from Afghanistan were brought to Abu Ghraib? Who in the Pentagon knew of the interrogation practices put in place in Abu Ghraib?
Human Rights Watch called for Congress to create a special commission, along the lines of the 9/11 commission, to investigate the issue of prisoner abuse. Such a commission would hold hearings, have full subpoena power, and be empowered to recommend the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal offenses. The commission would examine, among other things, the link between the administration policy discussions and memos and actual practices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo.
Human Rights Watch said current investigations, carried out by the Department of Defense, will not be able to fully pursue the abuse allegations, particularly in light of allegations that top U.S. officials may have ordered, condoned or willfully ignored the torture of detainees.
“None of the investigations now under way has the independence or the breadth to get to the bottom of this scandal,” said Roth. “How is a panel appointed by Secretary Rumsfeld going to determine if Rumsfeld is responsible for torture? How can an inquiry run by uniformed military personnel investigate decisions made by civilian policy makers?”
There are at least seven probes underway. Almost all of them involve the military investigating itself, however, and each is focused on only one aspect or another of the treatment of detainees. None of the military probes is aimed higher up the chain of command than Gen. Sanchez. None of the investigations has the task of examining the role of the CIA or of civilian authorities.
In addition, the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to continue its investigation after receiving an army report into Abu Ghraib, calling such figures as L. Paul Bremer III, until recently the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes Jr.
The Department of Defense documents released on June 22 stop in April 2003 and do not cover practices at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons in Iraq. They also do not cover memoranda to or from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department.
Human Rights Watch called on the administration to release all documents relating to the treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” and in Iraq, including the key September and October 2003 memoranda from Sanchez, authorizing coercive interrogation techniques in Iraq. These techniques reportedly include the use of military dogs, painful stress positions, temperature extremes, sleep and sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water.
In June, Human Rights Watch published a 36-page report, “The Road to Abu Ghraib,” which examined how the Bush administration adopted a deliberate policy of permitting illegal interrogation techniques – and then spent two years covering up or ignoring reports of torture and other abuse by U.S. troops, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.