The View From Abu Ghraib

|

Minnesota Public Radio just ran an interview with Roger Brokaw, a retired Army reservist who was at Abu Ghraib. Worth reading in full; some summarized lowlights:

* Recounts several incidents of reporting abuse to non-plussed superiors; eventually gave up trying.
* Says he was leaned on for being "too soft."
* Describes the hide-the-prisoners-from-the-Red-Cross game.
* Says he'd like to tell his story to investigators, but they're not interested.
* Money (if stunningly obvious) quote: "[Y]ou know you get a lot of bad information when you torture people because they'll say anything they can to get away from the pains."

In a related story, Lynndie England just gave birth.

Advertisement

NEXT: Maybe They Should Increase it to $20 Million

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I want to know if the first photo of the new baby has the mother, cigarette dangling from her mouth, grasping the umbilical cord as the baby lies naked on the floor.

    It would be so precious.

  2. …or with her pointing at the baby’s tiny little winky and giving an enthusiastic thumbs up.

  3. You realize of course, that none of this is true, and even if it were, which it ain’t, those towelheads had it comin’! Why aren’t you supporting our president (genuflect) and the troops, you, you, unsupportive anti-American you!?! You’re just a traitor! YOU’RE ALL TRAITORS! TRAITORS, ALL OF YOU!

    …I need a drink…

  4. Dittohead,

    I see that you are filling in for thoreau while he is way. 🙂

  5. yes, you need a drink.

  6. It appears as though Welch is running another one up the Seymour Hersh flagpole, with more “smoking gun” evidence from Brokaw’s (very appropriate name) interview that the abuse was more widespread or more tolerated and therefore it must have been Tommy Franks, Donald Rumsfeld and some administration neocons who knew about or personally ordered the torture.

    And I love how anti-war lefties and libertarian isolationists are experts on interrogation techniques.

  7. Call me snake,

    Do you have anything substantive to say about the man’s statements or not? Apparently not.

    Also, how dare you attack the integrity of an American soldier. 🙂

  8. Call Me Snake:
    1) Seymour Hersh had nothing to do with this story.
    2) The phrase “smoking gun” was never used, by me or in the piece I linked to.
    3) As the linked story suggests, there actually isn’t much of in the way of new allegations in Brokaw’s interview; just his own private eyewitness testimony.
    4) Neither I nor Brokaw said anything about Franks, Rumsfeld or administration neocons.
    5) I am neither an anti-war lefty nor libertarian isolationist.
    6) Other than that, spot-on, etc.

  9. Jesus, Pliskin. Do you have some kind of anti-liberal rant stored up in a macro? You’re aware, I assume, that nobody mentioned Rumsfeld’s name before you did, that you have offered no reason whatsoever to disbelieve an eyewitness, that you’ve provided no reason to believe that you’re an expert on interrogation techniques (and the neighbors cat doesn’t count), and that Escape for LA was one of the most godawful films ever pinched off by Kurt Russell (among a fine stable of competitors).

  10. Call me snake,

    Hit & Run linked to Schlesinger Report when it first came out. Have you read it?

    Let me know if you can’t find it. I have the .pdf and I’ll be happy to e-mail forward it.

  11. Whoops. Escape from LA. I’d hate to sully the name of that cinematic achievement.

  12. First re: the denigration of Kurt Russell and John Carpenter…people have died for less. Yes, Escape from LA was perhaps a bit shoddy, but “New York” is a classic…Isaac Hayes as “The Duke”…enough said.

    Secondly, I’m glad you excepted the neighbor’s cat…he surrendered some quality information.

    Third, I’m glad Welch clarified that the only possible goal of this MPR interview was to hear Brokaw’s firsthand account, period. I feel much better with his assurance that this interview was not intended as corroboration for some of the more extravangant claims of high-level administration involvement from prominent anti-war liberals like Hersh.

    (That’s where the Hersh reference came from, Welch)

    Also, never, ever have massively agenda driven news organizations (like NPR, Fox et al) used a story to imply a that a larger conclusion should be drawn by the listener.

    For example, when All Things Considerded does those heart-rending stories about childhood poverty, they’re not trying to drive more support for increases in programs like headstart. They’re just telling the stories of the children, you see.

    So this MPR interview was just Roger Brokaw and his personal story about Abu Ghraib, three weeks before the election.

  13. “And I love how anti-war lefties and libertarian isolationists are experts on interrogation techniques.”

    I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1998 as an interrogator, and I’ll go ahead and assume I know about as much as anyone else on this board about interrogation techniques. I’m also a libertarian. And from my experience in the military, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to take Brokaw’s story at face value – it’s far more likely to be true than not.

    Abuse of prisoners is systemic in the military. I’m amazed it doesn’t happen more often (actually, I’m sure it does; it just doesn’t get *reported* more often).

    But by all means, Snake, please fill us all in on your own undoubtedly vast knowledge of interrogation techniques.

  14. I never did figure out why Carpenter and Russell made the exact same movie twice in different locations.

  15. Boonie, I am as much of an expert on interrogation as the people who read publicly available documents on the subject and then claim on-air what “works” and what “doesn’t work” in terms of interrogation techniques.

    This is to whom I refer.

  16. “But by all means, Snake, please fill us all in on your own undoubtedly vast knowledge of interrogation techniques.”

    But if he fills us in, then we’ll just be “people who read publicly available documents on the subject and then claim on-air what “works” and what “doesn’t work” in terms of interrogation techniques.”

    It’s like a teacher insulting the students because they obviously aren’t smart enough to be teachers. So the teachers are never wrong and therefore can’t possibly be prone to organizational/ideological bias.

  17. Call me Snake,

    It doesn’t take an expert in interrogation to realize that torturing prisoners is disgracefully wrong.

    It doesn’t take an expert in interrogation to realize that the torture of prisoners at Abu Gharib probably wouldn’t have happened if Rumsfeld hadn’t abandoned the Geneva Conventions on December 2, 2002. Indeed, even Rumsfeld seems to realize that; otherwise, he wouldn’t have reversed himself on April 16, 2003.

  18. I never did figure out why Carpenter and Russell made the exact same movie twice in different locations.

    Formula.

    It doesn’t take an expert in interrogation to realize that torturing prisoners is disgracefully wrong.

    Wrong is such a subjective thing. One people’s hero is another people’s butcher.

    the torture of prisoners at Abu Gharib probably wouldn’t have happened if…

    You could insert about a thousand possibilities here. I think ultimately it was boredom and the desire to be seen as useful to the interrogators that gave the snowball its first little push. Neither prison guards nor soldiers are generally considered the intellectual creme de la creme, in fact, the general lack of intelligence among the latter is likely the most important factor in one’s ability to be an effective soldier. Unfortunately we’re looking at this problem very cerebrally, as though all of the abuse at Abu Ghraib had a common goal. Some of it was perhaps for interrogation, but I think the photographed and popularized routines we’ve seen were more for entertainment value, like pulling wings off of flies. I have to admit, the electrode routine certainly entertained me.

    if Rumsfeld hadn’t abandoned the Geneva Conventions on December 2, 2002.

    He reversed himself for political expediency. The Geneva Conventions are more like guidelines than anything else. They are popular as tools for propaganda, but only as a law when there’s some dethroned dictator to be tried. Don’t put too much stock in the written word of law…even our own Constitution has lost most of its meaning these days, having given way to case law and outright violation. Who’s gonna drop the hammer? You?

  19. Now that we’ve established that Call me snake is a stuffed shirt, can we actually discuss Brokaw’s statements?

  20. I would rather stuff my shirt with bras.

  21. Funny, I thought Adrienne Barbeau had the stuffed shirt!

  22. “Well afterwards, after my shift was over, I was outside of our billeting area and Colonel Pappas and Lt. Colonel Jordan and two or three other officers were in a gaggle there talking and I overheard them talking about how they you know, they says well we’ll keep these guys hidden until they leave, til the Red Cross leaves you know. So I figured, ‘Oh, they’re hiding them from the Red Cross,'” says Brokaw. “And then some woman, I think it might have been Captain Wood, but I’m not sure, she was saying, ‘Well, won’t they wonder where they’re at if they see their name on the list?,'” says Brokaw. “They said, ‘Well these guys aren’t on a list. These are nobodies. They’re ghosts’ or something like that.”

    Not being on a list is one thing, but hiding prisoners from the Red Cross speaks directly to intent, doesn’t it? They knew that what they were doing was wrong, and they tried to hide it. It’s like the difference between first and second degree murder. It’s hard to blame it all on a few bad apples when people higher up the food chain are going out of their way to hide what’s goin’ on.

  23. And I love how anti-war lefties and libertarian isolationists are experts on interrogation techniques.

    Is it possible to be an anti-war libertarian hippy wannabe?

  24. Matt,
    Are Colonel Pappas and Lt. Colonel Jordan currently under investigation? If we have a witness who heard them talk about hiding prisoners, then that’s gotta be grounds for a conspiracy charge.

  25. Just answered my own question by re-reading. So these are Colonels under investigation. I didn’t know we had direct knowledge of it at that level. And Colonels report to…

    Generally speaking, a good investigator should be able to piece together what happened if they’ve got any kind of corroboration of malfeasance at that level

  26. RST-

    If I recall correctly, the Military folks are generally average if not above average intelligence compared to the US population. This point, of course, is one of the cornerstones of the arguments against a draft.

  27. Gentlemen,

    This may or may not interest you, but …

    Soldiers routinely abuse prisoners because war and the power given to soldiers during war bring out the worst in some people. Always has done, always will. Doesn’t make it right.

    Our Army tries to hold itself to a higher standard than the Red Army, SS, NKPA, etc. When the Congress has declared war, the Army has known to conduct operations in accordance with the law of land warfare and has done reasonably well. When the Congress has not done so, we have done less well, especially when fighting resistance and/or terrorist organizations.

    If there had been declarations of war against the Afghans and the Iraqis there would have been less of these abuses because it would have been clear to most officers and men what the rules were. Then we could have held our prisoners until we made an agreement with the new governments of those countries and we would have known how to treat them. There would still have been abuses, though. Soldiers are human, with all that entails.

    All this being said, most of our soldiers have behaved well enough, as I know by personal observation. They’re not saints (they’d hardly make good soldiers if they were) so if you want them to be on their best behavior you have to tell them unequivocably what the rules are. That means having the courtesy to declare war.

  28. if Rumsfeld hadn’t abandoned the Geneva Conventions on December 2, 2002.

    The willful ignorance about the Conventions continue. To summarize – we have not violated the Conventions in our treatment of prisoners at AG or Gitmo because those people are not entitled to the protections of the Conventions, which apply only to lawful combatants (wearing uniforms, not using civilians as shields, etc.).

    There is a policy argument about whether we should pretend that the Conventions apply to unlawful combatants that reasonable people can disagree on, but really, its pretty clear that the Conventions do not, by their terms, apply to these prisoners.

  29. Willful ignorance indeed!

    I’m not making a legal point; I’m talking about what’s in the best interest of the country.

    Rumsfeld…not Ken Shultz…Rumsfeld, in his wisdom, went back to complying with the Convention on Torture.

    That’s from the Schlesinger Report, which I will be happy to forward to you if necessary.

    We never should have abandoned the Geneva Conventions. Thank God, we’re complying now.

  30. Remember folks, American Special Forces ops in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the ones with the beards and turbans – DON’T have to be treated according the Geneva Conventions. If the Taliban capture them, they may be forced to labor, denied medical treatment, paraded in a humiliating manner, and kept from the Red Cross, for the reasons RC outlines above.

    Oh wait a minute, I didn’t mean THAT.

  31. Arguing that prisoners of war shouldn’t be covered by the Convention on Torture if they’re fighting for a regime that wasn’t a signatory is like suggesting that immigrants aren’t covered by the Bill of Rights if they aren’t American.

  32. whatever happened to cyanide caps?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.