An Early Victory In BushCo’s War On Humanity

2 comments January 25th, 2009at 01:55pm Posted by Eli

Shorter Rummy: What part of “don’t feel bound by the Geneva Conventions” didn’t you understand?

The story begins in the first week of January 2002, when Joint Task Force 160, led by Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, dutifully landed at Guantanamo Bay….

…[I]t wasn’t the logistics that most worried Lehnert. It was the policy vacuum into which he and his troops had been thrown. “We are writing the book as we go,” one officer said at the time. Lehnert said he had been told by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Geneva Conventions would not technically apply to his mission: He was to act in a manner “consistent with” the conventions (as the mantra went) but not to feel bound by them….

In the absence of new policy guidance about how to treat the detainees, Lehnert told me that he felt he had no choice but to rely on the regulations already in place, ones in which the military was well schooled: the Uniform Code of Military Justice, other U.S. laws and, above all, the Geneva Conventions. The detainees, no matter what their official status, were essentially to be considered enemy prisoners of war, a status that mandated basic standards of humane treatment….


But there were early signs of trouble. Lehnert told me that his request to bring representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Guantanamo — something international law requires for all prisoners being held in war-related situations — was, as he heard it, shunted aside somewhere up the chain of command. “The initial request,” he recalled, “was turned down.” He persisted….  [H]e wanted advice from ICRC professionals to help him ensure the prisoners’ safety and dignity.

Exasperated by repeated attempts to find out which guidelines to apply to the detainees, Col. Manuel Supervielle, the head JAG at Southern Command, picked up the phone and called the ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva. As one member of the Southern Command staff remembers the episode, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had warned the Gitmo task force that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s office opposed getting involved with the ICRC. But now, according to Supervielle, a U.S. officer was asking the ICRC to help out at Guantanamo. The ICRC answered with an immediate “Yes.”


Brig. Gen. Lehnert had built his own Guantanamo, one with ICRC oversight, a Muslim chaplain and an overriding ethos that stressed codified law and the unwritten rules of human decency. Lehnert’s team let the detainees talk among themselves; it provided halal food, an additional washing bucket inside cells that lacked toilet facilities, a Koran for each detainee, skullcaps and prayer beads for those who wanted them, and undergarments for the prisoners to wear at shower time, in accordance with Islamic laws that proscribe public nakedness.

Perhaps Lehnert’s Guantanamo could have been sustained. But Rumsfeld wanted something else: He expected to get valuable, actionable intelligence from the detainees. By late January 2002, according to Brig. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, Lehnert’s chief contact at Southern Command, the defense secretary told officers on a video conference call with Southern Command that he was frustrated by the absence of such information.

A displeased Rumsfeld seems to have decided to create a second command, one that would exist side by side with Lehnert’s. It would be devoted solely to gathering intelligence and would be headed by a reservist major general, a former U.S. Army interrogator during the Vietnam War named Michael Dunlavey. Jackman told me that he considered the idea of two parallel commands a “recipe for disaster.”….

As Dunlavey’s command took shape in late February and early March, the fabric of prisoner’s rights that Lehnert had woven was beginning to unravel. By the end of February, nearly 200 detainees had mounted a hunger strike to protest their treatment….


Thanks in large part to Lehnert’s efforts, the hunger strike dwindled to a couple of dozen fasters by the first week of March. But as much as he might have championed the need to respect the detainees as individuals — albeit allegedly dangerous terrorists — Guantanamo’s future had been decided. As the hunger strike wound down, Lehnert said, he and his unit were given notice that they would soon be leaving.

Once Lehnert’s troops departed, a new Guantanamo took shape — the Guantanamo that an appalled world has come to know over the past seven years. Inmates were kept in isolation, interrogation became the core mission, hunger strikers were regularly force-fed, and above all, the promise of a legal resolution to the detainees’ cases has eluded hundreds of prisoners.

It’s a little hard to believe that “actionable intelligence” was really a goal when Gitmo’s recordkeeping was such a mess – more likely that torture was an end in itself, or valued only as collective punishment, or a tool for extracting propaganda in the form of fake terror plots.

It’s not like we needed any further proof that concepts like human decency and the rule of law are completely anathema to Bush and his creatures, but it just keeps coming.  Even now, they’re still fighting a desperate rearguard action against them, trying to block Obama from closing Gitmo and giving the detainees proper trials.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Prisoners,Republicans,Terrorism,Torture


  • 1. Cujo359  |  January 25th, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Torture almost never produces useful intelligence, anyway. There have been two diaries over at FDL this week demonstrating that the way professional interrogators work can yield useful results. These people worked for Rumsfeld. He certainly could have known better if he’d asked.

    It’s also interesting how this situation parallels the Abu Ghraib situation. There, too, a separate “intelligence” command was set up parallel to the prison administration command. Both situations seem to have produced identical results – lousy intelligence and resentment.

  • 2. Eli  |  January 25th, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Believe me, I know.

    The only question in my mind is whether they were stupid and ignorant and brutal enough to believe that torture was the only way to extract useful information, or if they knew perfectly well that it didn’t work and were using it for other purposes (i.e., payback and/or propaganda).

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