WSJ again falsely touted Schlesinger report as proof Abu Ghraib abuses were not related to interrogations


Repeating a false assertion made eight days earlier, a May 4 Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that the Schlesinger report on prison abuse at Abu Ghraib concluded that the abuses were not related to interrogations. The Journal then cited this false conclusion as evidence that there was no "systematic" abuse of prisoners by the American military. In fact, the Schlesinger reportPDF file explicitly states that some abuses did occur during interrogations. While the Schlesinger report did not use the term "systematic," it did criticize both civilian policymakers and military commanders for approving abusive interrogation practices. Beyond the Schlesinger report, a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and recently released FBI documents provide additional evidence of systematic abuses of detainees.

The Journal claimed that "the independent review panel headed by former Carter cabinet secretary Jim Schlesinger concluded that the abuses at Abu Ghraib weren't related to interrogations, or even to subjects of interrogation." This statement reprised the Journal's claim in an April 27 editorial that the Schlesinger report concluded that the abuses at Abu Ghraib "weren't related to interrogations at all." In fact, while the report stated that the photographed abuses at Abu Ghraib were "not part of authorized interrogations," it also found that other, non-photographed abuses "did occur at interrogation sessions." [p. 5]

On May 4, the Journal used this false claim to conclude: "perhaps it's time to stop slandering the American military by falsely accusing it of 'systematic' abuse." But substantial evidence suggests that abuses were indeed systematic. Moreover, it was apparently decisions by senior Bush administration civilians, not "the American military," that left the impression among military commanders that abusive interrogation practices were permissible, as Media Matters for America noted in response to the Journal's earlier false claim.

The ICRC report determined that "The ill treatment by the CF [Coalition Forces] personnel 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 such cases, the report found that a variety of "methods of ill-treatment" were employed during interrogations, such as "hooding," handcuffing, and beatings. The ICRC concluded: "These methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information or other forms of co-operation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offences or deemed to have an 'intelligence value'."

The ICRC report went on to describe other methods of coercion employed by interrogators in the "isolation section" of Abu Ghraib, such as "the practice of keeping persons deprived of their liberty completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness, allegedly for several consecutive days." According to the report, "The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was 'part of the process.'"

Moreover, an August 2004 email from an FBI agent who had recently visited Guantánamo Bay, Cuba -- which the American Civil Liberties Union obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request -- described abusive treatment he witnessed and suggested that such treatment was part of standard interrogation procedure.

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far, and the temperature in the room was so cold in the room, that the detainee was shaking with cold.When I asked the M.P.'s what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occasion ... the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

(Newsweek quoted the email in its January 6 issue.)

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.