Tixeire, whose organization is defending some of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, said that while US officials may have had a point in accusing the Iraqi military of violating the Geneva Conventions over the TV interviews, the way the US treated Iraqi captives was much worse.
“It’s clear to me these actions came down from the very top,” Tixeire said. “Denying prisoners of war humane treatment is the greatest breach of the Geneva Convention. It’s a war crime. They put US troops at risk for being treated inhumanely if they were captured.”
When asked recently about the past statements about Iraqi violations of the Geneva Conventions, representatives for Clarke, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld said the now-former officials would not comment for this story.
The actions of the Bush administration also flouted the 1984 “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” which was approved by 145 nations, including the United States. It declares that:
“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Moreover, the convention says individuals who resort to torture cannot defend their actions by saying they were acting on orders from superiors and it mandates that torturers be prosecuted wherever they are found.
The United States signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan, who hailed it as “a significant step” in preventing torture, which he called “an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.”
In a May 20, 1988, message to the US Senate, Reagan noted that “the core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.'”
According to that provision, “each state party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
It was this Convention, ratified by the Senate in 1994, that Bush administration officials sought to bypass with legal memos, many drafted by John Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
The administration memos argued that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees in the “war on terror” and that President Bush’s commander in chief powers allowed him to ignore laws in the interest of protecting the nation.
The record now shows that during the same week in March 2003 – when Rumsfeld was publicly berating Iraq for violating the Geneva Conventions by broadcasting footage of American POWs – he was engaged in drafting a top-secret plan that would give military interrogators at Guantanamo wide latitude to use harsher techniques to obtain information from prisoners.
Rumsfeld signed off on the plan on April 2, 2003, according to documents declassified and turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Though some of the more extreme techniques were dropped as the list was winnowed down to 24 from 35, the final set of interrogation methods Rumsfeld approved still included tactics for isolating and demeaning a detainee, known as “pride and ego down.”
Such degrading tactics would appear to contravene the Geneva Conventions, which bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives.
Reports of Abuse
Weeks after the Iraq invasion, human rights groups started receiving information about the abuse of dozens of Iraqi prisoners at Camp Cropper, Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib, and the deaths of two prisoners, one of whom died of a crushed larynx, and the other with a hard blow to the head.
Amnesty International sent a letter to the head of the US occupation, Paul Bremer, on June 26, 2003, raising concerns about abuses during house searches, treatment during arrest and detention, people being forced to lie face down on the ground, use of hoods or blind folds, exposure to sun and heat for hours, limited amount of water supplied and lack of proper washing and toilet facilities.
One month later, Amnesty International released a report, “Iraq: memorandum on concerns relating to law and order,” warning of allegations of torture and abuse in US prisons, including Abu Ghraib.
“Regrettably, testimonies from recently released detainees held at Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib Prison do not suggest that conditions of detention have improved,” the report said.
There are “a number of reports of cases of detainees who have died in custody, mostly as a result of shooting by members of the Coalition forces.” A Saudi national “alleged that he was subjected to beatings and electric shocks.”
Photographs backing up these allegations would surface a year later in two investigative news reports, one by Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker and the other by “60 Minutes II,” which detailed the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.