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human rights first


Getting to
Ground Truth

Investigating U.S. Abuses in
the "War on Terror"

September 2004

About Us For the past quarter century, Human Rights First (the new name of Lawyers Committee for Human Ferts, has worked in the United States and abroad to create a secure and humane world by advancing justce human dignity and respect for the rule of law. We support human nghts activists who fight for tresac freedoms and peaceful change at the local level protect refugees in flight from persecution and repression; help build a strong international system of justice and accountability, and make sure human rights laws and principles are enforced in the United States and abroad.

This report was written by Deborah Pearlstein, Director of the U.S. Law and Security Program at Human
Rights First
Others who contributed to the report are: Eric Biel, Cynthia Burns, Avi Cover, David Danzig, Andrea
Evans, Kenneth Hurwitz, Elisa Massimino, Priti Patel, Michael Posner, and Jill Savitt.

This report is available online at www. Human Rights First org.

For more information about the report conted
Human Rights First Communications Department at Tel: (212) 845-5245

Printed in the United States

2004 Human Rights First All Rights Reserved.

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I can assure you that no stone will be left unturned to make sure that
justice is done and to make sure that nothing like this ever happens

Secretary of State Colin Powell
Remarks at the United Nations
May 4, 2004

The graphic images of torture and other abuse by U.S. forces that emerged from Iraq last spring have prompted increased attention, both in the United States and around the world, to US. detention and interrogation operations in the 'war on terror.” When the photos from Abu Ghraib prison came to light, senior U.S. officials were outspoken and unanimous in condemnmg the bchavior they revcalcd. And both Congress and the cxccutive branch pledged to conduct thorough investigations into what happened. why, and how to ensure that such abuses never happen again Just over four months later, US authorities have indccd launched more than 300 official investigations criminal, military, and administrative in nature - into U.S. practices since September 2001 in detaining and interrogating foreign nationals.' The investigations have been aimed both at addressing individual instances of wrongdoing, and at inquiring into whether systemic failures contributed to the torture and abuse of U.S.-held dctainccs. Among other things, these inquines have revealed a problem far greater in scope than that reflected in the pictures of a handful of U.S. soldiers torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib. Since the fall of 2001. there have been approximately 300 reported alleged instances of torture or other abuse by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba To date, about two-thirds of these have been investigated by the military, which thus far has verified 66 cases of detainee abuse by U.S. forces (three in Afghanistan, eight at 2- Getting to Ground Truth




Guantanamo, and 55 in Iraq).' There are still nearly 30 pending investigations into detainee deaths in U.S. custody; the military has determined thus far that five of these were the result of torture or other abuse. (Many more than 30 detainees have died in U.S. custody, but the military reports the additional dcaths were the result of natural causes or enemy attacks.) Human Rights First has welcomed the investigations both completed and still underway into the circumstances surrounding the abuses that occurred during U.S. detention and interrogation, Even so, months after thc Abu Ghraib photos were published – and ncarly two ycars after the first abuse-related deaths in U.S. custody in the “war on terror” - we are still not in a position to say that we know how to ensure that such abuses never happen again. As evidence of the scope of the problem has increased, so has the need for a comprehensive, independent investigation into U.S. dctcntion and interrogation operations in the "war on tcrror" an investigation ncither organized nor conducted by an agency that itself is the focus of the abuse allegations. Each one of the major investigations to date, as discussed in this report, has suffered from both structural and particular failings that have prevented either full identification of the widespread abuses, or meaningful recommendations to address them. For exanple, the scope of the investigative reports by Lt. Gen. Anthony Joncs, and Maj. Gens. Antonio Taguba and George Fay, were circumscribed narrowly. Maj. Gen. Taguba's report looked only at the role of U.S. military policc at Abu Ghraib. Maj. Gen. Fay's report looked only at the role of military intelligence forces at that facility. And Lt. Gen. Jones was tasked only with looking at “organizations or personnel” involved in events at Abu Ghraib “higher than the 2054" Military Intelligence Brigade chain of command."»? These investigators also have been limited by their respective places in the chain of command, by the nature of the inquiry (Army investigations like thosc of Taguba and Fay generally do not require swom statements or provide subpoena power), and by their institutional inability to inquire beyond the four walls of the military itself. Yet cach of their accounts has suggested that a critical part of what went wrong at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was the relationship - and failures in command structurc - between military intelligence and police operations, and between military personnel and personnel from other agencies outside the Department of Defense. The two broader military investigations conducted to date - one by the Army Inspector General, and one by a panel led by former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger suffer from structural constraints of their own. They also were limited to the role of military forces in detention and interrogation; indccd, both reports cxprcsscd frustration with their inability to inquire into the role. and relationship with the Army, of other U.S. actors, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Thc Inspector General's report in particular was designed to be, in its terms, “a functional analysis“ of Any operations, "not an investigation of any specific incidents or units And the Schlesinger panel's report, written without the benefit of subpoena power and lacking a single intemal citation or footnote, suffers badly from an absence of real independence – the pancl having been handpicked by the current Secrctary of Defense. In addition to flaws inherent in thcir design, somc or all of the investigations suffer from particular flaws, which are surveyed in this report. These include failures to investigate all rclcvant agencics and personnel; cumulativc reporting (increasing the risk that crrors and omissions may be perpetuated in successive reports); contradictory conclusions: questionable use of security classification to withhold information; failures to address senior military and civilian command responsibility; and, perhaps above all, the absence of any clear plan for corrective action.


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