Not just a few bad apples

The ICRC report on US interrogation practices in Iraq makes it clear the problem went wide, which means responsibility runs high.

Here’s the Reuters story on the report from tne International Committee of the Red Cross.

Update: The Smoking Gun has part of the ICRC report.

GENEVA (Reuters) – The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday there had been widespread abuse and violations of human rights law in U.S.-controlled Iraqi detention centres.

It has not released the confidential 24-page report it made following visits to jails between March and November 2003. But U.S. financial daily the Wall Street Journal published some excerpts, which the ICRC confirmed as genuine.

The report was handed to U.S. authorities in February 2004.

The ICRC said it drew the attention of the coalition forces “to a number of serious violations of international humanitarian law. These violations have been documented and sometimes observed while visiting prisoners of war, civilian internees and other protected persons by the Geneva Conventions.”

Violations listed in the report in the Journal include:

— Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury.

— Physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to secure information.

— Prolonged solitary confinement in cells devoid of daylight.

— Excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment.

Some excerpts from the Wall Street Journal report:

“According to allegations collected by ICRC delegates during private interviews with persons deprived of their liberty, ill-treatment during capture was frequent.

“While certain circumstances might require defensive precautions and the use of force…the ICRC collected allegations of ill-treatment following capture which took place in Baghdad, Basrah, Ramadi and Tikrit, indicating a consistent pattern with respect to times and places of brutal behaviour during arrest.

“The repetition of such behaviour…appeared to go beyond the reasonable, legitimate and proportional use of force required to apprehend suspects or restrain persons resisting arrest or capture, and seemed to reflect a usual modus operandi by certain coalition forces’ battle groups.

“According to allegations collected by the ICRC, ill-treatment during interrogation was not systematic, except with regard to persons arrested in connection with suspected security offences or deemed to have an ‘intelligence’ value.

“In these cases, persons deprived of their liberty under supervision of military intelligence were at high risk of being subjected to a variety of harsh treatments ranging from insults, threats and humiliations to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture, in order to force cooperation with their interrogators.”

The ICRC said it had also “started to document what appeared to be widespread abuse of power and ill-treatment by the Iraqi police, which is under the supervision of the occupying power, including threats to hand over persons in their custody to the CF so as to extort money from them.

“In the case of ‘High Value Detainees’ held in Baghdad International Airport, the continued internment, several months after their arrest, in strict solitary confinement in cells devoid of sunlight for nearly 23 hours a day constituted a serious violation of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.

“Since the beginning of the conflict, the ICRC has regularly brought its concerns to the attention of the coalition forces. The observations in the present report are consistent with those made earlier on several occasions orally and in writing to the coalition forces throughout 2003.

“In spite of some improvements in the material conditions of internment, allegations of ill-treatment perpetuated…against persons deprived of their liberty continued to be collected by the ICRC and thus suggested that the use of ill-treatment against persons deprived of their liberty went beyond exceptional causes and might be considered as a practice tolerated by the coalition forces.”

Methods of ill-treatment during interrogation included: “hooding a detainee with a bag, sometimes in conjunction with beatings thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would come”; handcuffing so tight that they caused skin lesions and nerve damage; beating with pistols and rifles; threats of reprisals against family members; and stripping detainees naked for several days in solitary confinement in a completely dark cell.”

And here’s the ICRC press conference.

“… what appears in the report of February 2004 are observations consistent with those made earlier on several occasions orally and in writing throughout 2003. In that sense the ICRC has repeatedly made its concerns known to the Coalition Forces and requested corrective measures prior to the submission of this particular report.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com