“What you're saying is it was part of a legitimate cell extraction, you're saying it was legitimate?”, judge Colonel James L. Pohl asked Private Charles Graner, and then turned to the defense: “If Private Graner is to be believed, he was not violating any law, so you could not be violating any law.” Pohl then told Private Lynndie England, “If you don't believe you were guilty, doing what Graner told you, you can't plead guilty.”
In a shocker Colonel Pohl threw out the guilty plea of Private England. Despite photographs showing her holding a leash around an Iraqi prisoner’s neck, pointing to the genitals of prisoners and pointing to a pyramid of naked Iraqis, Pohl could not accept England's guilty plea if she thought she was following lawful orders.
It gets messy pleading guilty to torturing Iraqi prisoners being held at Abu Ghraib when you think you are acting consistently with the policy of the United States that seems to allow torture.
Even the fall guy -- or fall girl in this case -- cannot plead guilty!
Just a week ago the Army Inspector General closed the files on investigations of officers in regard to the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The investigations were closed without even investigating the liability of President Bush or his senior aides.
But now the prosecution of Private England may undo the damage control done by DoD to protect its officers and hold only a handful of scapegoats responsible.
If England, who was facing up to 16˝ years when she was charged with nine counts of mistreating prisoners, is forced to go to trial to defend herself, she may choose the aggressive route: bring in officers who approved various approaches to humiliate, degrade and threaten Iraqi prisoners to prove that she had a basis to believe she was obeying a lawful order.
There is a paper trail of approval of prison abuse as well as inaction when reports of abuse were brought to the attention of officers and senior Administration officials, including:
* The top general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez’s signature on an order dated September 14, 2003, authorizing the use of attack dogs.
* Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the senior intelligence officer on Gen. Sanchez's staff, responsible for intelligence gathering at Abu Ghraib, who received, and failed to act on reports of abuses in the fall of 2003.
* Documents related to Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Gen. Sanchez's deputy, responsible for detention operations, who reportedly approved interrogation plans involving the use of dogs, and failed to respond to a Red Cross report about the systematic abuse of prisoners in November 2003.
* The report of General Antonio Taguba who found “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” constituting “systematic and illegal abuse of detainees.”
* Reports of the American Red Cross describing hundreds of cases of torture of prisoners going back to May 2003 and the failure of top Administration officials to act on them.
* Letters to President Bush and senior officials in his Administration describing abuse of Iraqi prisoners and stating: “For over a year, the undersigned organizations and others have repeatedly asked you and senior officials in your Administration to act promptly and forcefully to publicly repudiate the statements of intelligence officials and to assure that the treatment of detainees is consistent with international humanitarian law.”
And those are just some of the documents we know about -- who knows what else might come out in England’s defense. This is a Pandora’s Box the government may not want to open. So, when the case is returned to General Metz, the convening authority, the government may decide to work out a deal rather than let more information come out into the public.
If so, it will be another time leaders of the Bush administration have evaded responsibility. Just this week in the Netherlands peace activists demanded that Bush be arrested or a court order issued to block his entry to the Netherlands due to “numerous, flagrant breaches of the Geneva Convention.” The activists focused on the torture of prisoners and killing of civilians. The judge avoided dealing with the substance of the claim by deciding the lawsuit raised a political matter that the court could not rule on. The court was concerned that granting the request would have “far reaching consequences for relations between the Netherlands and the US.”
More and more reports of prisoner abuse are coming out. Just this week 60 Minutes featured a whistleblower who was a translator at the Guantánamo Bay prison facility. He described abuse of prisoners in that facility as well.
The drip, drip, drip of information is further undermining the position of the United States in the world and no doubt adding to the breeding of anti-Americanism. It is time for members of Congress to say enough is enough -- let’s get it all out in the open and hold those responsible who are responsible.
When the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public, leading Republican Senators John Warner, Lindsay Graham and John McCain promised that everyone culpable would be held accountable, no matter how senior. Hopefully they meant what they said and will restore the reputation of the United States by appointing a special prosecutor to fully investigate allegations of U.S. torture of prisoners.
Other Articles by Kevin Zeese
Interview with Patrick Resta of Iraq Veterans
Against the War