In US stand on torture, more trials to come
The sentencing of Charles Graner for Abu Ghraib abuse is one chapter in a larger terror-war saga.
The speedy court-martial conviction of the ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Spc. Charles Graner, may have closed out one chapter in the US military's most infamous use of torture. But the book is far from finished. The number of complaints and investigations of alleged abuses continues to mount, even as the government struggles to clarify its definition of torture.Skip to next paragraph
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In fact, several former military officers and legal experts say the numbers of complaints will probably multiply as long as the United States maintains a presence in Iraq, and as long as the definition of what constitutes torture remains somewhat ambiguous - in a global war on terror that is amorphous itself.
"Conflicts like the one in Iraq make it tougher for a soldier to figure out for himself who's friendly and who's the enemy," says Mary Hall, a former military judge now in private practice. "When that line starts to blur, you increase the chance that some soldier is going to be tempted to take matters into his own hands. It's not like World War I, where you knew the enemy was wearing a different color uniform."
The possibility of more problems surfacing comes as revelations indicate that past prisoner abuses have been more widespread and happened earlier than originally thought. Last month, for instance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a number of FBI documents that indicated its agents complained of military abuses of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as early as late 2002. This was about a year before the scandal broke at Abu Ghraib.
More recently, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine alleged that US Army doctors violated the Geneva Conventions by developing and executing "aggressive counter-resistance plans" for detainees at Guantánamo.
More charges could well be coming. While two Pentagon-ordered reports looking into abuses have already been completed, several more are still pending. They are examining allegations of prisoner mistreatment in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo. So far, the Pentagon says 137 members of the military have either been disciplined or face courts-martial for abusing detainees.
Mr. Graner, the most notorious of the Abu Ghraib abusers was convicted of assault, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts, dereliction of duty, and one count of battery. He was sentenced to serve 10 years in a military stockade, his rank was reduced to private, and he was dishonorably discharged from the Army.
He was the first to be court martialed. Three others who served with him have pleaded guilty, and three more face courts-martial. Investigations of higher-level officers remain under way. None has yet been charged. Yet the two studies commissioned by the Pentagon - the Taguba report and the Schlesinger report - both found responsibility, although not culpability, lay with higher-level officers.
"Washington continues to establish policies that are very important as guidelines," says a former Army general who still works for the Pentagon. "But it is almost always impossible to draw a straight line from a Washington policy to a specific act or series of acts in a prison in Iraq. In order for a policy to be executed, it must be determined to be lawful at each echelon of the chain of command and by the individual soldier carrying out the act."