Setting the conditions


Geraldine Sealey
May 11, 2004 1:38AM (UTC)

President Bush today stuck with the administration's "few bad apples" theory when he said of the Abu Ghraib scandal during his I'm-still-chummy-with-Rummy Pentagon appearance: "I know how painful it is to see a small number dishonor the honorable cause in which so many are sacrificing."

But the more information revealed about this scandal -- and the word "scandal" seems inadequate when you're discussing torture and death -- the more difficult it seems to get for Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to blame renegade troops for going off the handle.

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The man sent to Baghdad to rev up the interrogation process in detention facilities late last summer -- as the anti-U.S. insurgency mounted and coalition forces lacked information about the perpetrators of attacks against them -- was Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who oversaw the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. During his trip to Baghdad he reportedly told Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, then commander of the Iraq military prison system, that he was going to "'Gitmoize' the detention operation" there. What does that mean? Answer: To turn the Iraq facilities into information-extraction factories. Miller was, after all, an expert on this subject.

Miller's advice for the Iraqi operation was that it was "essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees." His group said interrogations in Iraq were being hindered by a lack of "active control" of prisoners.

It may be no surprise then that some of those who meted out prisoner abuse say their conduct was consistent with Miller's recommendation for "setting conditions" for interrogations by military intelligence officers. "Although abuses of prisoners have been denounced as aberrations, former detainees describe humiliation, pain and discomfort as commonplace," the Washington Post said.

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On another note, O. Lane McCotter, a former prison director in Iraq from May through September 2003, has a history of controversy with inmate abuse. McCotter is perhaps best known in Utah for resigning as state prison director in May 1997 after a mentally ill inmate died in the system after spending 16 hours strapped naked to a restraining chair. The inmate died from a blood clot that blocked an artery in his lung, apparently caused by prolonged immobilization. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the while some called the chair a torture device, McCotter defended it: "You have to have a way to deal with violent inmates," he said. McCotter expressed disgust at the images from Abu Ghraib, which include, among other things, inmates being shackled naked to beds and bars for extended periods of time. "I don't think anybody in our business would ever condone what we saw taking place in those pictures," McCotter said.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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