It's Like a College Fraternity Prank

|

Andrew Sullivan points to a report on an ACLU investigation of 44 deaths of detainees in U.S. custody. They conclude that 21 should be classed as homicides, at least eight of which resulted from abusive interrogation tactics. You can check out the ACLU press release and archive of autopsy reports obtained by FOIA request.

Advertisement

NEXT: Truth Hurts (Ann Coulter Unintentionally Persuasive Edition)

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. Good work, Cathy. Now this is the kind of stuff that keeps the blogosphere focussed on the truth like good journo’s should.

  2. This is the most important story for our time. Is the US a pro-torture country in the same league as totalitarian regimes (one we just replaced). If John McCain bends to the will of the administration and gives the CIA authority to torture he is simply un-electable.

  3. People sometimes die during fraternity pranks. When that happens, the frat gets nailed to the wall. Perhaps we should continue this analogy.

  4. I always wondered how long Flounder would hold up under interrogation. He didn’t seem to handle Niedermeyer very well.

  5. following on sixty years of deterioration beginning with fdr and the new deal — given the insights of wilkerson onto the autocratic mechanisms of the cheney/rumsfeld “cabal” in making national policy — then observing the rapid american descent following a relatively mild crisis like 9/11 into open torture, obvious police state lawmaking like the patriot act and mccain-feingold, and obvious public deceit and propagandizing involving intelligence fabrication in the runup to war (soon to result in indictments which probably won’t get far enough up the chain to get the guiltiest parties) — i think it’s safe to say that this question

    is the US a pro-torture country in the same league as totalitarian regimes[?]

    has been answered definitively. now it’s only a matter of time before the public at large saws through the grade-school indoctrination of what their representative government is supposed to be and understands what their imperial government actually is.

  6. Second term scandals usually distract from the more substantive failings of administrations. But I think this one demonstrates a number of the systemic defects that characterize this administration. The mix of hubris and ignorance, the self serving piety, perpetuating evil in the name of righteousness, no question this is the worst presidency ever. The only problem with executing Bush and Rumsfeld for war crimes, is that would let them off the hook for their fiscal irresponsibility.

  7. gaius,

    Do you have a post on your blog that explains what gaiustopia would look like? In your perceptive rants on the failure of Democracy and the drawbacks of Individualism, I’ve yet to ascertain the governmental structure that you believe should be in place to overcome our current “imperial goverment”. Or do you just think that people suck and that there is no reasonable organizational structure that would keep sucky people from ruining the stew?

  8. This is a serious issue and those deaths in US custody should be fully investigated. The asphyxiation deaths are particualrly disturbing as that only happens accidentally when something wrong is already occurring.

    It’s also important not to inflate the numbers to try to make the problem seem more widespread. Going through the autopsy summaries, there are 14 classified as homicide (others pending to bring it up to 21).

    4 of these 14 are gunshot deaths of prisoners on the same day, August 18th, 2004. A quick google check showed there was a prison riot that day. These may indeed be homicides, but were they unjustified? I don’t know. But they weren’t torture.

    There’s a couple more questionable ones that you notice if you actually, you know, read more than the press release. Judge for yourself.

    “Iraqi male was shot in a firefight and lived to be transported to a US hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries. Cause of death: gunshot wound of the abdomen; manner of death: Homicide”

    “44 year old Iraqi male; apprehended by US Forces in Kirkuk, Iraq after he fired on coalition forces with rocket propelled grenades and small fire arms on April 10, 2004. Detainee sustained gunshot wounds during the firefight and was transported to the Combat Support Hostipal in Balad for surgery. He was later transported to Abu Ghraib where he died on April 28, 2004. Cause of Death: Multiple gunshot wounds with complications. Manner of Death: Homicide.”

    The other eight seem a lot more worrisome, various combinations of blunt force and asphyxiation. These are the ones to be focused on. Lumping these in with those shot in riots and those that died on the operating table after firefights weakens the chance of more people taking this seriously.

  9. What bothers me is that there are lots of people out there who will blame the ACLU (an organization that annoys even me, a libertarian, quite often) for the fact that government records show that we murdered people in our custody. I understand that it’s rough out there and that war isn’t always as neat and easy as we’d like it to be, but some things are almost always wrong. This really is a big deal and saying so does not make one anti-American, partisan, etc. These things happened in our name, and we have a right to demand higher standards of our government and of our military.

    I suppose there may be some rational explanations for all of this that don’t involve torture and murder; if so, I’d love to hear them. For the record, a “rational explanation” doesn’t include the statement, “9/11 changed everything”. No, it didn’t–we’ve never bought that kind of explanation from terrorists, so why should we start offering it ourselves? We’re way too powerful to have to stoop to such methods, anyway.

  10. I agree with chthus. The investigation and the hue and cry about this should be focused on what actually happened. Of course we killed some people–that’s war, for good or for ill. But this isn’t about how awful Republicans are or any other nonsense. It’s about stopping a trend towards oppressiveness that must be stopped to keep Gaius Marius’ predictions from coming true–I’m afraid he’ll just be insufferable if his predicted collapse actually occurs 🙂

  11. A quick google check showed there was a prison riot that day.

    No. Reports say there was a prison riot that day. the info may or may not be credible. We certainly wouldn’t want to set up a system where the warden merely has to instigate a prison riot every time she has some inconvenient deaths with which to deal.

  12. Dave W.

    Reports also say every bit of info we have on these deaths. How are you discerning which you believe wholeheartedly and which you cast aside?

  13. gaiustopia

    there is no such thing. there’s only the hope of a society that isn’t actively destroying itself, mr mp.

    I’ve yet to ascertain the governmental structure that you believe should be in place to overcome our current “imperial goverment”.

    there is no replacement, mr mp — rather, i don’t think that my “should be” counts for anything. i think that this is our time for decadent empire. while we are persons blessed of free will, i don’t think it’s very likely that the citizens of the united states are suddenly going to realize that, in executing with the best of intentions the divorce of government from both corrupted elites and the passion of religion, that we in the west created a government and a society that is by definition completely amoral and vacuously if meticulously managerial. nor are we, it seems, going to realize anytime soon that the passion of religion, which we took such pains to abdicate from the management of our affairs, returned with a vengeance through the people in the surrogate religion of nationalism and has been destroying us from within — politically, militarily, morally — ever since, leaving us with the worst of both worlds, being amoral and impassioned.

    i think we’re faced with a sense of decline, sin and frustration which 99.99% of people here cannot put these causes to — that frustrated passions are being funneled into ever more draconian and senseless idealisms which only aggravate our condition and encourage the abandonment of all that came before — and, deprived of a sense of history, institution and tradition to orient and right ourselves with, we have entered a deleterious cycle that can only result in a slide into chaos punctuated by periods of radical authoritarianism.

    Or do you just think that people suck and that there is no reasonable organizational structure that would keep sucky people from ruining the stew?

    i think people can be beautiful but are often not, are often sinful (to use the christian word for the concept). and i think that we, while creatures of will, are also subjects of our environment. and, at times, our circumstances conspire with our weaknesses to make our situation virtually irresolvable without a disaster to precipitate a catharsis.

  14. Reports also say every bit of info we have on these deaths. How are you discerning which you believe wholeheartedly and which you cast aside?

    If somebody has a clear motivation to lie, then I am skeptical of their testimony until such testimony is corroborated by credible evidence.

    How many LA cops does it take to push an African American suspect down the stairs?

    None, he fell.

    The conflicts of interest should be apparent here. If there really was a prison riot, then they should have plenty of video. Show me the vid (I think Cathy is working on that FOIA now!!!!!) and I will be putty in yr hands.

  15. chthus:

    “Reports also say every bit of info we have on these deaths. How are you discerning which you believe wholeheartedly and which you cast aside?”

    Cupie doll for you, sir. This is the difference between skepticism and conspiracy theory. Libertarians of a certain flavor tend to find the latter more compelling.

  16. Dave W:

    So every accusation is assumed to be valid until the accused proves himself to your satisfaction? Every accused party has a reason to lie in your formulation.

  17. Once again, quick google search. The majority of sites you find metioning the riot are those critical of the US treatment of prisoners. In addition to referencing the riot through a number of newspaper agencies, their lack of skepticism was an indictation to me that there wasn’t a whole lot to be skeptical about.

    Now, you mentioned you were skeptical of the reports of riots, and I explained why I was not. What you didn’t answer is what leads you to take some reports with no skepticism. In other words, why wasn’t there a hint of skepticism at your first comment, and it only arose when info was mentioned that you seemed not to like. ALL of the info in the autopsy report, on which the ACLU based its report, came from the US military, the same source you question when it comes to their reporting of a riot.

  18. this is a war, whether we like the war or not. when did a group dedicated to the “civil liberties” of “americans” become a general international human rights watchdog? obviously at some point AFTER saddam killed 500,000 of his own. but i guess 44 is more than 500,000.

  19. The ACLU says its murder, clearly we need to start locking people up. In fact, why don’t we just summarily execute a few of the people involved. Indeed, when soldiers were (gasp) aquitted in some of the Afghanistan cases, Andrew Sullivan had kittens over it because we were “not even scapegotting people anymore”, as if that is a proper course of action. I really think this whole thing is being run by Karl Rove. If Democrats think they are going to get back into power by being the party that defends the life and rights of terrorists, they really are hopeless. Its a war, bad things happen. It must suck to be the guys who died, but it sucks to be on the wrong end of a bomb in Madrid or Bahgdad too.

  20. I suggest we go back a little and prosecute all those former GIs who may have murdered German prisoners of war and what about those horrible Marines;what did they do to those Japanese pows dumb enough not to commit suicide?How about Korea and Viet Nam?Sending men to war changes them.All you self righteous goody goodies should think about that for a moment.

  21. So every accusation is assumed to be valid until the accused proves himself to your satisfaction? Every accused party has a reason to lie in your formulation.

    Correct. That is why:

    1. prison riots (and prisons generally) are highly videotaped;

    2. when there is a dispute, a suspicious death or the like, we roll tape first and discuss later; and

    3. every time somebody gives us a hard time about getting the tape, we accordingly increase our suspicion level and commensaurately increase our efforts to see the truth (with Cathy’s help!) for ourselves.

  22. I suggest we go back a little and prosecute all those former GIs who may have murdered German prisoners of war and what about those horrible Marines;what did they do to those Japanese pows dumb enough not to commit suicide?How about Korea and Viet Nam?Sending men to war changes them.All you self righteous goody goodies should think about that for a moment.

    Thought about it. Sounds good. Let’s get going on this.

  23. John, you had been doing so well lately. But I see you are still a torture apologist.

    I agree with chthus…someone who was shooting at our boys and gets blasted himself, then dies on the table, I don’t feel sorry for, even in the slightest. In fact, if I knew the fucker had no good information to give (impossible to know, of course, but just for the sake of argument), I’d have no problem letting him die on the field of battle.

    But for people to be choked to death under our care is not acceptable. 1) do we know for sure that this or that person is a terrorist? 2) has toture actually been demonstrated to provide reliable information? 3) Are we terrorist assholes who purposely kill and maim innocent people?

  24. Lowdog,

    I am not a torture apologist. I do not beleive a word of what the ACLU says. I know for a fact that the military takes this stuff very seriously and has prosecuted numorous cases for abuse and gotten conviction. There have also been aquitals in these cases where it turned out that there was more to the story than just a dead detainee. What drives me crazy is people like Andrew Sullivan who just want to see someone hang and assume that every report of abuse is true and everyone accused of abuse is guilty. Everyone has rights in their view except for the people trying to fight and win the war. I have yet to see a specific case of abuse or torture that has not been prosecuted by the Military. What else is the military supposed to do other than tell people not to do it and hang them if they do?

  25. David W:

    Some problems with your approach jump out at me. You know, like the difficulty in proving a negative?

    It can’t be that every accusaton levelled against anyone is just assumed to be accurate. Our justice system isn’t designed that way, for one.

  26. I just want to thank “kevin kilduff” and “jimmy” for being out there on the front lines protecting us from the hordes of Arab terrorists coming to kill us. WHICH I’M SURE THEY ARE.

  27. John – fair enough. I understand your sentiments to someone like Mr Sullivan, if he said what you quoted him as saying. We don’t need scapegoats just for the sake of having a scapegoat.

    It’s just when you make statements like “…defends the life and rights of terrorists…” you sound like you’re saying we have no moral obligation to not toture terrorists, whether we actually know they’re terrorists or not.

    I believe we do have a moral obligation not to toture anybody for at least the three questions I asked above, among other reasons.

  28. You are right lowdog we do have an obligation not to torture people. Sullivan really sends me over the edge occasionally.

  29. Some problems with your approach jump out at me. You know, like the difficulty in proving a negative?

    when videotapes exist, this problem usually disappears as if by magic. So, let’s defer this portion of the discussion til Cathy gets us the videotape and we can see if we have a problem or not. If the tape shows a bona fide prison riot (and I am sure it might), then we will have no problem here at all and can refocus more tightly on the other 40 deaths.

  30. (and I am sure it might),

    That, my friends, is what you call “going out on a limb”. 🙂

  31. I do not beleive a word of what the ACLU says.

    I understand being skeptical of any organization, but what has the ACLU done in the past to merit a reflexive dismissal of their report? I mean, I think they can be pretty clumsy and all too often inconsistent in their causes, but have they been outright dishonest in the past?

  32. this is a war

    the greatest lie of all.

  33. what has the ACLU done in the past to merit a reflexive dismissal of their report?

    controverted some beloved ideas.

  34. I know for a fact that the military takes this stuff very seriously and has prosecuted numorous cases for abuse and gotten conviction.

    i don’t understand, mr john, how you can spend day after day berating government bureacracies for their incompetence — until you get to the largest one of them all, which you then presume to be not just efficient but noble, even holy.

    aren’t you simply betraying an abject fealty to military machinery and an abject distaste for anything that questions its heroism?

  35. Gaius,

    Because I worked in the military justice system and know how it works. More importantly, the same people who claim that the government bureaucracy is so incompetent also claim that there is this vast conspiracy in the military to cover up detainee abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish the military were that good.

  36. This is not a war?

    Gaius I will be sure to tell that to the families of the thousands of people who have been murdered by radical Islamists over the last few years. I am sure they will find that conforting. Or, are all those deaths fictious lies made up by the government?

  37. This is not a war?

    you may be confused, mr john, but that’s not unusual.

    Gaius I will be sure to tell that to the families of the thousands of people who have been murdered by radical Islamists over the last few years.

    you really ARE a hubristic fraud, mr john! i can’t believe you have the brazen balls to make such a terribly specious claim in full daylight!perhaps you’d care to give an accounting? i’d love to see what stretches of the imagination you’ve made to sum such numbers under “radical islamists” that we are “at war” against.

    to the point, even if we reduce the numbers to something like actuality — even if we’re generous and say 10,000 have been killed that would not have been for reasons other than religious fundamentalism alone — do you imagine that because people are dying, we must be at war? is your understanding of what war is really so flaccid?

    Because I worked in the military justice system and know how it works

    therefore, it cannot be criticized as the pathetic wasteful failure and corrupting force underpinning the decay of american government that it is? no offense, mr john, but rarely is one person working in a mid-level somewhere in the machinery ever going to have a reliable picture of what is going on overall based on his personal experience.

  38. Of the 66 already substantiated cases of abuse, eight occurred at Guantanamo, three in Afghanistan and 55 in Iraq. Only about one-third were related to interrogation, and two-thirds to other causes. There were five cases of detainee deaths as a result of abuse by U.S. personnel during interrogations. Many more died from natural causes and enemy mortar attacks. There are 23 cases of detainee deaths still under investigation; three in Afghanistan and 20 in Iraq. Twenty-eight of the abuse cases are alleged to include Special Operations Forces (SOF) and, of the 15 SOF cases that have been closed, ten were determined to be unsubstantiated and five resulted in disciplinary action.

    —-The Schlesinger Report .pdf p. 15 of 126

    The Schlesinger Report came out in August of 2004. Since August of 2004, is anyone aware of disciplinary action taken regarding five cases of detainee, “…deaths as a result of abuse by U.S. personnel during interrogations”?

  39. but rarely is one person working in a mid-level somewhere in the machinery ever going to have a reliable picture of what is going on overall based on his personal experience.

    it was a nice forthright disclosure of apparent bias on John’s part tho. Kudos for John’s honesty. It takes a brave man to willingly sustain that kind of hit on the ol’ cred.

  40. but rarely is one person working in a mid-level somewhere in the machinery ever going to have a reliable picture of what is going on overall based on his personal experience

    Whatever that picture is, it beats complete ignorence, which is what Gauius shows on a daily basis. His daily denials of the existence of radical islam. His apologetics for the killing of 1000s and his undying belief that such deaths are the result of legitimate grievences.

    In answer to the question above, yes there are and continue to be court-martial actions taken against people for detainee abuse. I have several friends who are defense attornies on the cases. It was when one of these cases resulted in an aquital that Andrew Sullivan made the infamous “we are not even scapegoating people anymore” statement.

  41. gaiustopia – Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

    Executive Department Hierarchy:

    Department of Lies
    Bureau of Deceit
    Office of Deception
    Office of Fraud
    Bureau of Betrayal
    Office of Treason

    Department of Decline
    Bureau of Decay
    Office of Failure
    Office of Corruption
    Bureau of Individualism
    Office of Techne
    Office of Idealism

    Department of Gloom
    Bureau of Desolation
    Office of Frustration
    Office of Despair
    Office of Hopelessness
    Office of Helplessness

    Department of Doom
    Bureau of Fate
    Office of Torture
    Office of Human Sacrifice
    Office of Dogs and Cats Living Together
    Office of Mass Hysteria

  42. Whatever that picture is, it beats complete ignorence, which is what Gauius shows on a daily basis. His daily denials of the existence of radical islam. His apologetics for the killing of 1000s and his undying belief that such deaths are the result of legitimate grievences.

    GMAFB. Calling gaius ignorant is like calling GWB a war hero. Anyhow, if you believe that the WOT is an actual War, then you have streched the definition of the word beyond any useful meaning. I agree with gaius.

  43. gaiustopia – Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

    The argument that we’re declining is a compelling one. …Sometimes the truth isn’t all lollipops and butterflies. If we want to make things better, the first step is proably seeing things as they are. Maybe the future is gloomy as all hell.

    That said, I disagree with G. on a number of issues. …there are several regular commenters–and posters–that I often disagree with but whose intelligence and knowledge I admire.

    …I can only hope to be as ignorant as G. someday.

  44. I’ll chime in with support for gaius.

    While I think he’s nuts with his pining for a time when people died young from disease and science was still struggling to bring us from the dark ages, he’s one of those people who make me realise that I’m nowhere near as smart as I thought I was.

  45. Because I worked in the military justice system and know how it works.

    John, what exactly did you -do- in the military justice system?

    I hope you weren’t counsel or anything even approaching it, because your prose is terrible. Not to be a bitch or anything, but you seem to have a staggering inability to write.

  46. “But this isn’t about how awful Republicans are or any other nonsense. It’s about stopping a trend towards oppressiveness that must be stopped to keep Gaius Marius’ predictions from coming true”

    Well Bush administration Republicans ARE aweful. Still this is correct, it needs to be about principles before partisanship, or otherwise we’ll end up facing the same wolves in Democratic (capital D) clothes next time.

  47. “when did a group dedicated to the “civil liberties” of “americans” become a general international human rights watchdog?”

    Because, it’s not that far down the slippery slope at all, from torturing foreigners, to applying that same principle to their own citizenry.

  48. “Because, it’s not that far down the slippery slope at all, from torturing foreigners, to applying that same principle to their own citizenry.”

    If this is the concern of the ACLU, perhaps it would be a good idea to additionally scratch the white-out off #2 on their copies of the civil rights they try to protect.

  49. I appreciate the comment on the ACLU’s apparent selective reading of the Bill of Rights. Still, I like knowing that someone’s doing something short of armed resistance to nip this kind of thing in the bud.

    …And it’s a good question for torture apologists, isn’t it? If torturing foreigners is okay to save American soldiers, etc., why isn’t it okay to torture a convicted criminal to save a child?

  50. That’s why I said additionally, never hurts to have a back up plan.

  51. It’s about stopping a trend towards oppressiveness that must be stopped to keep Gaius Marius’ predictions from coming true–I’m afraid he’ll just be insufferable if his predicted collapse actually occurs 🙂

    amen, mr liberate. i’d rather be proved wrong by a reversal of the course of events. 🙂

  52. “Sometimes the truth isn’t all lollipops and butterflies.”

    I should hope not. That would be an awful, sticky mess.

  53. So gaius. I read all that and I still don’t know what you are advocating as a desirable state of affairs. The assertion that we are in decline implies that in a previous state we were better off. My questions are:

    1) What elements made us better off? Didn’t we trade those for a reason.

    2) Who was better off? Was it those at the top of the heirarchy of tradition that kept us constrained, or was it everyone?

    3) If we say that tradeoffs have been made with the acknowledgement that old structures were stabilizing but fundamentally illiberal, what would you propose in the modern era as a stabilizing force that we could live with? There is a lot of talk about rule of law, which is fine, but we’ve not seen a lot of details about what this means or how law should properly attain legitimacy.

  54. mr ligon, i submit that it isn’t difficult to sift the literature and observe the arts of the earlier west and not understand that the sense of angst, fear, fatalism and antagonism that pervades postmodern life was then absent. it’s a difficult concept for we thirtysomethings to grasp, especially if we haven’t been particularly well instructed in our history, but there it is. in no insignificant way, what we have traded away was a happiness with our state of being.

    a postmodernist might argue that such happiness was merely naivite, that satisfied masses were merely pawns of exploitative elites (as fits the new view) and that trading eden for the fruit of the tree of knowledge was indeed the only intelligent decision made in the history of man. i find that view one of stupefying condescension, if entirely typical of the postmodern flight from history.

    Was it those at the top of the heirarchy of tradition that kept us constrained, or was it everyone?

    society was at an earlier point a far more cooperative venture between elite, pleb and a meritocratic clergy which transited the two, all of whom felt (and attested to) a real moral responsibility toward one another under the law of christ. this is not a utopian fantasy — of course not every instance of its history was one of blissful perfection. but the general consensus among the parties making up the west was simply that they were all in the same boat, to the point that papal law under a christian republic that stretched from byzantium to moscow to scotland to portugal was upheld without a significant army. a profound contentment with the state of society is the reason it was possible.

    that time is over, and has been for some centuries now — really since the ossification of papl meritocracy in inveterate simony around the 14th c. our western society has since spent most of its effort fracturing — into a diaspora of churches, into competing parochial states, into warring classes, finally into atomized unresponsive and irresponsible individuals — and inventing technologies to ameliorate the symptoms of (but which can never resolve the root conflicts that fuel) fracturing.

    the acknowledgement that old structures were stabilizing but fundamentally illiberal,

    to say this, then, is to not fully read the cause of fracturing. the old medieval structures had been quite satisfactory and indeed oversaw the elevation of western civilization from a loose defensive alliance of primitive frankish domains under imminent threat of destruction and assimilation at the hands of islamic armies at poitiers to a growing organ of social cohesion that assimilated willing and admiring peoples in scandinavia, eastern europe and ireland — places where the roman empire had never been able to tread.

    it was the decay of those institutions and the consensus on which they functioned that necessitated then the development of an inwardly-turned militancy in a misguided attempt to restore the old order, a la the counterreformation.

    so what would be needed? in short, a reestablishment of the consensus that we are all best served not by opportunisitcally competing against and exploiting one another but by living together under a universal law we all deeply believe in.

    that, to me, seems unattainable in any other manner than that which our frankish originators came by it — the endurance of immense centuries-spanning social disaster and implosion, fostering in us a general sense of total failure and humility. only then, so i suspect, will we be capable of the kind of cooperation that makes societies healthy and organic.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.