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Will the Senate Ask McChrystal About Torture Under His Command?

Camp Nama Special Ops used
detainees as paintball targets.

On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the confirmation of Lt. General Stanley McChrystal to take over command of Afghanistan – but as Spencer has reported, the hearings are being stage managed to generate a swift confirmation by combining it with the hearings for two others.

While the media focuses on McChrystal’s involvement with the Tillman case (in which he was cleared of wrongdoing), there are other questions that need to be answered.

All too conveniently, the recent decision by President Obama to block the publication of the torture photos may also be a way to smooth his appointment.

At the least, an uproar caused by the release of those photos would likely lead the Senators to ask some pointed questions about actions under McChrystal’s earlier command – at most, those very photos might contain direct documentation of the abuses uncovered by Human Rights Watch and others at Camp Nama, the detention center he commanded in Iraq.

But even without that photographic evidence, there are serious grounds to question this appointment.

The discussions of the use of torture – and that torture goes way beyond waterboarding – have focused on the culpability of Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rumsfeld, et al. Yet, there is another group who are open to prosecution for these actions – and they are right now sitting in the highest positions of command of our military forces.

According to both US and international law, commanding officers face legal war crimes charges if they "order, induce, instigate, aid, or abet in the commission of a crime" as well as being “criminally liable not for their actions, but rather for the crimes of those under their command.” Our current military leadership have all held command in Iraq and Afghanistan during the period of time when torture and detainee abuse occurred. If Petraeus, Odierno and the proposed new commander of the Afghanistan theater, McChrystal, amongst others, covered up crimes such as rape and torture under their command, their actions too should be investigated and prosecuted under the well recognized doctrine of command responsibility.

One of those commanders was identified as the prime lobbyist asking Obama to block the release of the photos which may provide evidence of those very crimes:

For weeks, Army Gen. Ray Odierno had passionately pressed his point with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates: President Obama’s plan to release photographs depicting the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners would be a costly mistake.

Last week, when Odierno was in Washington for a meeting with the president, the top U.S. commander in Iraq was pleased and grateful when Obama revealed that he had changed his mind and would oppose release of the photos.

Let’s remember that Ray Odierno, before he became a COIN convert, was the commander of the 4th Infantry that, as Tom Ricks reported in 2006:

was known for "grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers [were] unable to figure out who was of value and who was not," according to a subsequent investigation of the 4th Infantry Division’s detainee operations by the Army inspector general’s office. Its indiscriminate detention of Iraqis filled Abu Ghraib prison, swamped the U.S. interrogation system and overwhelmed the U.S. soldiers guarding the prison.

Ricks also reported that “In language unusual for an officially produced document, the history of the operation produced by the Marines 1st Division is disapproving, even contemptuous, of what it calls the 4th Infantry Division’s "very aggressive" posture as the unit came into Iraq.”

The 4th Infantry under Odierno also was involved in a number of murders of Iraqi citizens which Odierno helped to sweep under the rug as described by Ricks — and there are numerous reports that detainees faced frequent beatings on their way to Abu Ghraib.

Odierno is not, however, the only one of the Petraeus Generals with a possible personal interest in quashing calls for investigations and prosecutions – or hoping the photos do not come out any time soon. After all, the confirmation of Lt. General Stanley McChrystal might be very difficult if serious questions were raised about his command of the forces at Camp Nama in Iraq.

NAMA (aka "Nasty Ass Military Area") was a secretive detention facility run by “elite American Special Operations forces. The main purpose of the camp was to interrogate prisoners for information about Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. . . . [T]he elite unit, known as Task Force 6-26, used the facility to torture and abuse prisoners both before and after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal."

It was so secretive that a military witness told a Human Rights Watch investigator:

the colonel told them that he "had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in…they just don’t have access, and they won’t have access, and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating. Even Army investigators."

Secretive or not, an Esquire article, noted by Andrew Sullivan who has been doing intensive reporting on McChrystal’s record, reports that McChrystal visited the facility and at least one witness said that orders on how to treat the detainees came from “a two-star general. I believe his name was General McChrystal. I saw him there a couple of times."

A groundbreaking New York Times report from March 2006 provides a disturbing account of that treatment of detainees at NAMA:

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, ”NO BLOOD, NO FOUL.” The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: ”If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. ”The reality is, there were no rules there,” another Pentagon official said.

For all the secrecy, the abuse at Nama was well known amongst intel and military leadership. As John Richardson reported in Esquire:

Formed in the summer of 2003, it quickly became notorious. By August the CIA had already ordered its officers to avoid Camp Nama. Then two Iraqi men died following encounters with Navy Seals from Task Force 121 — one at Abu Ghraib and one in Mosul — and an official investigation by a retired Army colonel named Stuart Herrington, first reported in The Washington Post, found evidence of widespread beatings. "Everyone knows about it," one Task Force officer told Herrington. Six months later, two FBI agents raised concerns about suspicious burn marks and other signs of harsh treatment. Then the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that his men had seen evidence of prisoners with burn marks and bruises and once saw a Task Force member "punch [the] prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention."

The NYT report picks up the DIA story:

. . . in written responses to questions, General Ennis said he never heard about the numerous complaints made by D.I.A. personnel until he and his boss, Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, then the agency’s director, were briefed on June 24, 2004.

The next day, Admiral Jacoby wrote a two-page memo to Mr. Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence. In it, he described a series of complaints, including a May 2004 incident in which a D.I.A. interrogator said he witnessed task force soldiers punch a detainee hard enough to require medical help. The D.I.A. officer took photos of the injuries, but a supervisor confiscated them, the memo said. . . .

Within days after Admiral Jacoby sent his memo, the D.I.A. took the extraordinary step of temporarily withdrawing its personnel from Camp Nama.

Admiral Jacoby’s memo also provoked an angry reaction from Mr. Cambone. ”Get to the bottom of this immediately. This is not acceptable,” Mr. Cambone said in a handwritten note on June 26, 2004, to his top deputy, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin. ”In particular, I want to know if this is part of a pattern of behavior by TF 6-26.”

General Boykin said through a spokesman on March 17 [2006]that at the time he told Mr. Cambone he had found no pattern of misconduct with the task force.

I don’t know if those NAMA photos still exist or if they are on the ACLU’s radar but none of this is new information – these reports have been available since at least 2006 – yet these Generals have been promoted and given charge of Obama’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now they are pressuring the president to assist in a further cover-up of actions under their command – and so far, he is going along.

This week, we’ll see if the Senate Armed Services Committee goes along as well.

Update: The New York Times has questions as well for McChrystal.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com