Prisoner Torture Numbers Fuzzy; Differences of Opinion Blur Lines on Abuse

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 26, 2006 | Go to article overview

Prisoner Torture Numbers Fuzzy; Differences of Opinion Blur Lines on Abuse


Byline: Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The military has nearly completed investigating and trying hundreds of soldiers accused of mistreating detainees in the war on terror, yet it is still not clear how many prisoners were actually tortured as various human rights groups have claimed.

Torture is not a black-and-white issue. What is torture to the American Civil Liberties Union was permitted interrogation techniques to investigators questioning "enemy combatants" at the military's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

There is no official government count of torture cases and the U.S. Army, which has processed more than 56,000 prisoners since the war began and is holding about 15,000 detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, declined to estimate a number at the request of The Washington Times.

"We're the most investigated army in history and we are investigating ourselves and we take allegations of detainee abuse seriously," said Maj. Wayne Marotto, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

"The Army does not tolerate detainee abuse," said Maj. Marotto. "Army policy requires that all detainees are treated humanely. ... The Army does not determine what conduct reaches 'the level of torture.' Instead, soldiers' misconduct is evaluated through the military's criminal statute."

The Army has conducted more than 600 criminal investigations resulting in charges against 251 soldiers who went before courts-martial or faced administrative punishment. It says three courts-martial remain, plus a smattering of administrative cases of which 174 have already been concluded.

Human rights groups such as the liberal ACLU are not as shy about using the term "torture." The group filed a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last year that repeatedly accuses him of condoning torture. The suit says soldiers "tore out detainees' toenails, administered electric shocks [and] beat detainees with hard objects."

Maj. Marotto told The Times that the Army investigated complaints from the eight Iraqis and Afghans named by the ACLU as plaintiffs and concluded the charges were unfounded.

William Schulz, director of Amnesty International USA who has contributed money to Democratic candidates, has called Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials "architects of torture."

Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who headed a special Pentagon review, said his staff met with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its representatives contended that mixing interrogation and detention operations "has become psychological torture," he said.

Maj. Marotto says the human rights groups "throw around the word 'torture' freely.

"There are basic philosophical differences on both sides," he said.

Charles Gittins, a defense attorney who is representing Charles A. Graner Jr., the Army Reserve soldier whose guard shift committed the much-photographed abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, said he does not consider as torture what his client's men did to inmates. Photos showed the guards forcing detainees into humiliating positions. Army reports told of beatings.

Graner, a former corporal, was convicted at court-martial and sentenced to 10 years in prison - the stiffest sentence handed out to any of the 251 implicated soldiers, even those tied to detainee deaths.

"I don't think any of the military police engaged in torture," Mr. Gittins said. "I think whatever mistreatment of detainees occurred was suggested by senior officers and military intelligence personnel. They softened up prisoners for military intelligence interrogation just as they had been instructed to do."

Hina Shamsi, a senior counsel at Human Rights First, which has joined the ACLU in its Rumsfeld suit, said that "a beating on its own, it may not meet the definition of torture."

She said her group commenced a joint project to compile data on the number of detainees abused and will release a report soon.

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Prisoner Torture Numbers Fuzzy; Differences of Opinion Blur Lines on Abuse
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