Rightly or wrongly, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez will forever be connected to the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal.
How does he explain what happened while he was in command? In his autobiography, Sanchez seems to buy in to the "torture narrative" whereby detention and interrogation policies hatched in the White House, Justice Department and Pentagon are believed to have led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. At the rotting, poorly secured Iraqi prison, intelligence personnel used non-standard interrogation practices, and military police were enlisted to "set the conditions" for interrogation. The results were displayed for the world to see on April 28, 2004, when 60 Minutes II aired photographs taken by military personnel during the abuses.
Sanchez writes on pages 144-146 of his book about the effect on the military of government decisions about interrogation:
This presidential memorandum [of February 7, 2002] constituted a watershed event in U.S. military history. Essentially, it set aside all of the legal constraints, training guidelines, and rules for interrogation that formed the U.S. Army's foundation for the treatment of prisoners on the battlefield since the Geneva Conventions were revised and ratified in 1949. Our current detention and interrogation doctrine had been rendered obsolete and invalid in the war with Al-Qaeda. According to the President, it was now okay to go beyond those standards with respond to al-Qaeda terrorists. And that guidance set America on a path toward torture.
In the early days of GTMO, many self-confessed members of al-Qaeda were brought into the detention facility. Still only a few months after the horrendous events of 9/11, tremendous pressure was placed on interrogators to obtain information from these prisoners. Government leaders wanted to gain intelligence for two main reasons: to prevent another possible terrorist attack in the United States, and to identify al-Qaeda cells so they could be wiped out. But that was not an easy thing to do, because these prisoners were hard-core fanatics who were willing to die for their cause. And if forced to operate within the constraints of the Geneva Conventions, interrogators were not likely to gain any substantive information, especially since the enemy was trained to resist interrogation.
President Bush's February 7, 2002, directive did not fix limits on interrogation approaches, nor did it specifically order any new methods to be used. That crucial step was left up to the Department of Defense. . . .
Prior to the invasion of Afghanistan, the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of War provided limits on authority and prevented abuse of prisoners. President Bush's February 2002 memorandum established new guidance that allowed suspected al-Qaeda prisoners to be tortured.
Later, on page 150, Sanchez goes into more detail about the effects of this memo:
During the last few months of 2002, while the higher levels of the U.S. government were sparring with Saddam Hussein and setting up its case for an invasion of Iraq, there is irrefutable evidence that America was torturing and killing prisoners in Afghanistan. It occurred at the coalition's Bagram collection point located at Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul. This was the central detention and interrogation center for prisoners captured throughout Afghanistan during the conduct of coalition operations.
Because of the U.S. military orders and presidential guidance in January and February 2002, respectively, there were no longer any constraints regarding techniques used to induce intelligence out of prisoners, nor was there any supervisory oversight. In essence, guidelines stipulated by the Geneva Conventions had been set aside in Afghanistan -- and the broader war on terror. The Bush administration did not clearly understand the profound implications of its policy on the U.S. armed forces. In essence, the administration had eliminated the entire doctrinal, training, and procedural foundations that existed for the conduct of interrogations. It was now left to individual interrogators to make the crucial decisions of what techniques could be utilized. Therefore, the articles of the Geneva Conventions were the only laws holding in check the open universe of harsh interrogation techniques. In retrospect, the Bush administration's new policy triggered a sequence of events that led to the use of harsh interrogation tactics not only against al-Qaeda prisoners, but also eventually prisoners in Iraq -- despite our best efforts to restrain such unlawful conduct.
In concert with this colossal mistake, the administration also created an environment of fear and retribution that made top military leaders hesitant to stand up to the administration's authoritarianism. The result was total confusion within the ranks in the execution of interrogations. The Army, as the executive agent, did nothing to clarify the policy, update doctrine and procedural guidelines, or revise the training programs for interrogators and leaders. Having eliminated the Conventions, it was the responsibility of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army (as the executive agent) to publish new standards to steer our soldiers away from techniques that could be deemed torture. The fact that this was not done constitutes gross neglience and dereliction of duty.
Sanchez, however, doesn't exactly have clean hands here. As I'll discuss in my next post, as commanding general, he signed at least a couple memos that had a profound effect on detention and interrogation operations at Abu Ghraib.
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