Monday, September 13, 2004

Bush team 'knew of abuse' at Guantánamo

Oliver Burkeman in Washington
Monday September 13, 2004
The Guardian

Evidence of prisoner abuse and possible war crimes at Guantánamo Bay reached the highest levels of the Bush administration as early as autumn 2002, but Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, chose to do nothing about it, according to a new investigation published exclusively in the Guardian today.

The investigation, by the veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, quotes one former marine at the camp recalling sessions in which guards would "fuck with [detainees] as much as we could" by inflicting pain on them.

The Bush administration repeatedly assured critics that inmates were granted recreation periods, but one Pentagon adviser told Hersh how, for some prisoners, they consisted of being left in straitjackets in intense sunlight with hoods over their heads.

Hersh provides details of how President George Bush signed off on the establishment of a secret unit that was given advance approval to kill or capture and interrogate "high-value" suspects - considered by many to be in defiance of international law - an officially "unacknowledged" programme that was eventually transferred wholesale from Guantánamo to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Hersh, who broke the story of the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam war, makes his revelations in a new book, Chain of Command, which leaves senior figures in the Bush administration far more seriously implicated in the torture scandal than had been previously apparent.

A CIA analyst visited Guantánamo in summer 2002 and returned "convinced that we were committing war crimes" and that "more than half the people there didn't belong there. He found people lying in their own faeces," a CIA source told Hersh.

The analyst submitted a report to General John Gordon, an aide to Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush's national security adviser.

Gen Gordon was troubled, and, one former administration official told Hersh "that if the actions at Guantánamo ever became public, it'd be damaging to the president".

Ms Rice saw the document by autumn of the same year, and called a high-level meeting at which she asked Mr Rumsfeld, to deal with the problem.

But after he vowed to act, "the Pentagon went into a full-court stall", a former White House official is quoted as saying. "Why didn't Condi do more? She made the same mistake I made. She got the secretary of defence to say he's going to take care of it."

The investigation further suggests that CIA and FBI staff had already witnessed incidents at Guantánamo just as extreme as those that would subsequently be alleged by freed inmates.

A senior intelligence official told Hersh: "I was told [by FBI agents] that the military guards were slapping prisoners, stripping them, pouring cold water over them and making them stand until they got hypothermia."

The secret "special access programme" facilitating much of the mistreatment of prisoners, widely held to have contravened the Geneva convention, was established following a direct order from the president.





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