- WASHINGTON -- The US bowed
yesterday to international outrage over prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan
by abandoning its bid to secure a United Nations exemption for its soldiers
from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court (ICC).
- The about-turn at the UN came less than 24 hours after
the White House released secret internal documents on the treatment of
enemy prisoners - again in an attempt to dispel suggestions that it condoned
the abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
- The decision not to seek a new resolution exempting US
personnel from overseas prosecution is an astonishing climbdown for an
administration that had vowed to have no truck with the ICC, and had previously
threatened to veto all UN peacekeeping missions to get its way.
- But opposition on the 15-member Security Council was
overwhelming, especially after Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, declared
last week that a resolution sent "an unfortunate signal at any time
- but particularly at this time".
- The two moves underline how, despite the punishment being
meted out to the Abu Ghraib guards involved in the abuse, the scandal continues
to damage the Bush administration.
- Documents released in Washington set out harsh interrogation
techniques for terrorist and enemy prisoners but - the White House claims
- make clear that outright torture has never been permitted.The documents
contain elaborate lists of permissible, relatively innocuous sounding,
methods of interrogation. But they also reveal that harsher techniques,
including stripping prisoners, placing them in hoods and using dogs to
terrify them, were approved for several months, before apparently being
revoked in April 2003.
- In a memo five months after the September 2001 terrorist
attacks on the US, Mr Bush declared that "new thinking into the law
of war" was needed, and that the Geneva Conventions did not apply
to al-Qa'ida prisoners in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
- But Mr Bush instructed that prisoners be treated "humanely,"
and in accordance with the conventions "to the extent appropriate
and consistent with military neccessity". Bush/Cheney campaign managers
hope that the unprecedented release of secret material will draw a line
under the controversy.
- But last night Democrats signalled they had no intention
of dropping the issue. Nor do the disclosures answer the underlying question
of whether the administration tacitly condoned tougher techniques that
amounted to torture.
- The insouciant mood at the Pentagon is captured in a
November 2002 "action memo" in which Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence
Secretary, approved the stripping of prisoners and intimidation by dogs.
Authorising detainees to be kept in "stress positions" including
standing, for periods of up to four hours, Mr Rumsfeld scribbed at the
bottom of the page, "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing
limited to 4 hours? DR."
- The release of the documents failed to allay the concerns
of Democrats on Capitol Hill. The White House had provided only a "a
small subset" of the relevant documents, Patrick Leahy, the senior
Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, declared, saying: "Much
more remains held back and hidden away from public view".
- The documents, for instance, shed no light on the question
that has haunted the administration since the establishment in autumn 2001
of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - whether the administration
gave a tacit green light to torture to extract information.
- Early last year, the commander at Guantanamo Bay was
sent to Baghdad with the mission of making interrogations of suspected
Iraqi insurgents at Abu Ghraib more "productive". Moreover some
prominent US lawyers, as well as government officials, have argued that
in cases where the information obtained could avert a planned attack, torture
was justifiable. Others contend that this "anything goes" approach
contributed to what happened at Abu Ghraib. Nor does the new material make
clear whether the official policy, as it evolved, applied to the CIA.
- As the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted in May, it emerged
that senior al- Qa'ida figures have been threatened with shooting or drowning
under secret rules approved by the agency and the Justice Department.
- Some of the methods used are so harsh, counter-terrorism
officials told The New York Times last month, that the FBI has instructed
its agents to steer clear.
- Whether or not the latest disclosures put an end to the
controversy, the damage to Mr Bush may be lasting. A president who has
touted his moral values now risks seeing these values discredited.
- * British soldiers accused of mistreating Iraqi civilians
could face public courts martial in Iraq, Ministry of Defence officials
- Martin Howard, the director general of operational policy
at the MoD, said: "The courts martial would ideally be done near the
scene of the crime."
- METHODS SANCTIONED BY PENTAGON Hooding Forcing detainees
to adopt 'stress positions' for up to four hours Removal of clothing Inducing
stress by using dogs Forced shaving of detainees 20-hour interrogations
Isolation for up to 30 days
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=534639