Anti-terrorism turf wars

For a break from all the Abu Ghraib news, check out this Los Angeles Times report on the after-action turf battles between the FBI, LAPD and L.A. airport police. The row concerns an incident on Monday where an airport police SWAT team stormed a Singapore Airlines jet whose hijacking transponder had gone off.
The decision to allow a SWAT team to storm a Singapore Airlines jet Monday after it had transmitted a computerized hijack alert sparked a debate Wednesday among law enforcement officials in Los Angeles on whether the action had violated protocol and jeopardized the safety of those on board.

Several law enforcement sources, including some from the Los Angeles Police Department, complained that Los Angles International Airport police had overstepped their authority by sending SWAT officers onto the plane after it landed at the airport Monday afternoon. The hijack alert turned out to be false.

But airport officials said it was necessary to board the plane right away because they weren't certain whether a hijacking was underway.

The quarrel underscores the jurisdictional complexities that involve protecting the airport, aircraft and passengers at what the state has ranked as California's No. 1 terrorist target. At least six agencies are charged with security at the airport. Among them are the FBI, Transportation Security Administration, LAPD and the independent airport Police Department.

"Every addition to the alphabet soup of agencies at the airport potentially adds to confusion in times of crisis," Councilman Jack Weiss said.

* * *
On Wednesday, Mayor James K. Hahn sent a two-page letter to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, calling on the FAA to work with the TSA and other agencies to determine why local officials had not been alerted about Flight 20.

"Given the events of Sept. 11, the close coordination between agencies and existence and use of a tight notification process is critical," Hahn wrote. "Monday's events were a very poor example of that."

* * *
Federal officials and the LAPD said airport police should have waited for more FBI personnel before storming the aircraft. Under federal law, the FBI is charged with taking control of aviation incidents on the ground that may involve terrorism.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Bosley said agents were told that the hijacking was a false alarm shortly after the FBI had been notified of the problem about 4:50 p.m. Still, Bosley and others said, FBI procedures required that the FBI's SWAT team verify that there was no threat.

When the FBI SWAT team arrived at LAX, according to one source who asked not to be named, its agents were "incensed" that airport police had stormed the plane.

Airport officials disagreed that they had violated procedures. "There's a whole protocol for how this should work and [airport police] went right down the checklist," said Paul Haney, an airport spokesman.
Analysis: First of all, you have to account for some amount of inter-agency squabbling here that always exists. These agencies are fighting for power, prestige, and money. After-action reviews of events like often degenerate into contests over scarce resources, with each side offering its own version of the truth. For what it's worth, the same thing often happens in the military, with different services (and branches within services) vying for resources based on their view of their own importance.

But beneath those internecine conflicts, I think you have a real problem here. The fact of the matter is that the chain of command at LAX sucks. It is disjointed, disorganized, confusing, and not responsive. In a real situation, such as the July 2002 shooting at the El Al counter (that I was personally about 100m from), these tangled lines of command will cause people to die. And that's the bottom line. Had this been a real hijacking, this plane could've flown into a high-value target because these agents couldn't get along. Or, had this been a real incident, all of the passengers might be dead now because the wrong team stormed the plane with the wrong tactics. Councilman Weiss and Mayor Hahn are right -- it's time to do a "soup to nuts" evaluation of security at L.A. International Airport.
DOJ slowly starts to look into the abuses at Abu Ghraib

Plus: Army MP captain faces court-martial for photographic his own nude female soldiers at Abu Ghraib

According to the New York Times, the Justice Department has commenced an investigation into the conduct by CIA employees and private contractors at Abu Ghraib which could ultimately lead to criminal charges against those individuals. (My Slate Explainer and Jurisprudence articles discuss the legal minutiae on this point.) This marks a departure from the news earlier this week, when DOJ officials told the Wall Street Journal that they weren't "rushing in" to exercise criminal jurisdiction over the non-military personnel involved. Given the volume of investigative material already produced by the Army, I'm surprised that we haven't seen criminal indictments yet in this case -- there seems to be little actual legwork left to be done by DOJ. And as the saying goes, you can indict a ham sandwich.

Want more evidence of a rotten command climate at Abu Ghraib? Then check out this report in the Contra Costa Times about California Army National Guard CPT Leo V. Merck, former commander of the 870th MP Company. Apparently, he is sitting in Kuwait awaiting court-martial for snapping nude photos of his own female soldiers as they showered at the Abu Ghraib prison facility.
The former commander of Pittsburg's 870th Military Police Company faces disciplinary action for allegedly snapping nude pictures of female soldiers as they showered in Abu Ghraib prison, the same Baghdad-area facility where other Army soldiers were filmed abusing Iraqi inmates.

Capt. Leo V. Merck, 32, of Fremont was stripped of his command and sent to Army headquarters in Kuwait to await a court-martial after three female soldiers accused him in November, National Guard officials confirmed Tuesday.

Spc. Myrna Hernandez, 26, of Antioch told the Times that she and two other female soldiers were taking an afternoon shower on Nov. 12 when she saw Merck peering under the raised door.

"I saw a guy get on all fours with a digital camera in his hands. His head was going under the wall, and we made eye contact," she said. "I was in shock, like what do I do now?"

The next day, the three women went to a chaplain, leading to a Judge Advocate General (JAG) investigation, Hernandez said. She said an investigator later told her that some of the pictures, and other improper ones, were found on Merck's government-issued computer.

"We were able to confirm three of them as us," she said.
What a dirtbag. I saw similar misconduct by officers and NCOs when I was stationed in Korea as an MP platoon leader with the 2nd Infantry Division. You would be amazed at the things that people do when they're overseas and separated from their family members and social networks. Fortunately, the military justice system takes a dim view of such conduct, and I can't imagine that CPT Merck's acts will be viewed warmly by the jury of military officers he will face. There's a pretty good chance he's going to see the inside of a prison shower again... except this time, he'll be the one behind bars.
More on private military contractors in Iraq

And in other news, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responded to a House Armed Services Committee query yesterday by saying that contractors in Iraq lacked clear regulatory and legal guidance for how to act in a combat zone. The response came in a written memo from the Secretary, in response to a written request for information from HASC ranking minority member Ike Skelton (D-MO). According to the Army Times (subscription required):
U.S. occupation authorities employ 20,000 hired-gun civilian security workers in Iraq to protect senior officials, contractor teams and non-military facilities and convoys, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disclosed in a May 4 letter to a leading lawmaker.

The armed security personnel "provide only defensive services," and have been operating for more than a year without clear regulatory guidance, according to a "discussion paper" that Rumsfeld sent to Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri.

Skelton, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote to Rumsfeld on April 2 asking for information on how private-security workers are being employed inside Iraq.

Rumsfeld's reply noted that regulations governing the discipline or contractors are still being drafted by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

More photos surface from Abu Ghraib

Query: Was there an official purpose for taking the photos?

As if the news contained in MG Taguba's 15-6 report, 60 Minutes II report, and New Yorker story weren't enough, we now have indications in a Washington Post story that hundreds (or even thousands) more photos exist of misconduct by the U.S. personnel assigned to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The pictures appear to have been taken quite gratuitously, by soldiers who brought digital cameras with them to Iraq. These pictures were then burnt onto CDs and passed around quite freely, with apparent pride.
Mixed in with more than 1,000 digital pictures obtained by The Washington Post are photographs of naked men, apparently prisoners, sprawled on top of one another while soldiers stand around them. There is another photograph of a naked man with a dark hood over his head, handcuffed to a cell door. And another of a naked man handcuffed to a bunk bed, his arms splayed so wide that his back is arched. A pair of women's underwear covers his head and face.

The graphic images, passed around among military police who served at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, are a new batch of photographs similar to those broadcast a week ago on CBS's "60 Minutes II" and published by the New Yorker magazine. They appear to provide further visual evidence of the chaos and unprofessionalism at the prison detailed in a report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. His report, which relied in part on the photographs, found "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" that were inflicted on detainees.

This group of photographs, taken from the summer of 2003 through the winter, ranges widely, from mundane images of everyday military life to pictures showing crude simulations of sex among soldiers. The new pictures appear to show American soldiers abusing prisoners, many of whom wear ID bands, but The Post could not eliminate the possibility that some of them were staged.

The photographs were taken by several digital cameras and loaded onto compact discs, which circulated among soldiers in the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cresaptown, Md. The pictures were among those seized by military investigators probing conditions at the prison, a source close to the unit said.

* * *
The pictures obtained by The Post include shots of soldiers simulating sexually explicit acts with one another and shots of a cow being skinned and gutted and soldiers posing with its severed head. There are also dozens of pictures of a cat's severed head.

Other photographs show wounded men and corpses. In one, a dead man is lying in the back of a truck, his shirt, face and left arm covered in blood. His right arm is missing. Another photograph shows a body, gray and decomposing. A young soldier is leaning over the corpse, smiling broadly and giving the "thumbs-up" sign.

And in another picture a young woman lifts her shirt, exposing her breasts. She is wearing a white band with numbers on her wrist, but it is unclear whether she is a prisoner.
This just keeps getting deeper. Of course, the underyling abuse allegations in the Taguba 15-6 report remain unchanged. All we have now is more documentation -- in photographic form -- of those abuses. However, we should recognize the import of these images and their impact on the world. In many ways, the fight for Iraq and the fight against terrorism is a war of ideas. We are advancing an idea of Western liberalism (small 'l') against an ideal of Islamic radicalism (discussed more fully in Paul Berman's brilliant book Terror and Liberalism). To win this war, we must be seen as the guys wearing the white hats. Suffice to say, these images utterly destroy that effort, and will make it very hard to convince foreign nations and nationals of our commitment to the rule of law, and to Western liberal ideals.

But wait -- it gets worse.

Lawyers for the Military Police soldiers involved are predictably doing everything they can to shift the blame from their clients onto their commanders, their intelligence-community supervisors, and even the detainees where possible. One of the lines of argument to surface is that the MPs were ordered to take these photos for intelligence purposes.
Lawyers representing two of the accused soldiers, and some soldiers' relatives, have said the pictures were ordered up by military intelligence officials who were trying to humiliate the detainees and coerce other prisoners into cooperating.

"It is clear that the intelligence community dictated that these photographs be taken," said Guy L. Womack, a Houston lawyer representing Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., 35, one of the soldiers charged.
Is this right? I floated this argument on the national security list-serv that I subscribe to, and was met with a barrage of criticism for it. Most people agreed that this was a far-fetched argument, and that practically speaking, such a tactic just wouldn't work. But I'm not so sure. I'm not ready to believe that all of these MPs were that sociopathic as to document their abuses in such graphic and voluminous fashion. Or in other words, I'm inclined to think there might have been some official telling these MPs to take these photos for use in interrogation of prisoners that weren't abused, i.e. to show them "this could happen to you."

The literature suggests that a small portion of the population does harbor such psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies -- somewhere around 2% of the population. Indeed, the combat stress literature suggests that these are the soldiers who can persevere after most of their comrades suffer from psychological exhaustion. Yet, we see a lot more soldiers involved than this statistic would indicate, and I think there may have been a larger plan in place which rationalized, justified, and sanctioned the taking of these photos for official purposes.

I certainly agree with commentators like Kevin Drum who have compared the numbers of boots in these photos to the number (6) of soldiers facing criminal charges, and who have said that more soldiers ought to be prosecuted here. Excepting those whistle-blowing MPs who went to CID, there are a lot of people who appear to have known about these abuses and not done anything. We ought to be prosecuting them too. And most of all, we ought to be preferring criminal charges against the commanders and NCOs who let these abuses happen on their watch. Those leaders had a duty to supervise their troops, and they failed in that duty. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, that neglience translates into vicarious legal culpability for them. They should be prosecuted for the actions of their subordinates that they failed to prevent, detect or stop.

Furthermore, if this argument regarding the photos' purpose is true, then the culpability for these photos goes much, much higher than the leadership at Abu Ghraib, or even in Iraq. The culpability -- legal and moral -- could stretch all the way back to Washington, and the consumers of this intelligence in the CIA, Pentagon and White House.

More to follow...
Initial thoughts on the Abu Ghraib report

Training defense falls short given availability of materials on this subject

MSNBC (and other media) has posted the full report by Army MG Antonio Taguba on its website. This report was conducted as an informal investigation pursuant to Army Regulation 15-6, which authorizes various kinds of internal investigations in the Army. (Query: why was this investigation not conducted by the Army IG or by another outside entity, rather than a 2-star in the area?) One of the themes that runs through the report is a lack of meaningful training for the MPs and MP units charged with guarding prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Here are some excerpts from the report:
4. (U) The 800th MP (I/R) units did not receive Internment/Resettlement (I/R) and corrections specific training during their mobilization period. Corrections training is only on the METL of two MP (I/R) Confinement Battalions throughout the Army, one currently serving in Afghanistan, and elements of the other are at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. MP units supporting JTF-GTMO received ten days of training in detention facility operations, to include two days of unarmed self-defense, training in interpersonal communication skills, forced cell moves, and correctional officer safety.

12. (U) I find that prior to its deployment to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 320th MP Battalion and the 372nd MP Company had received no training in detention/internee operations. I also find that very little instruction or training was provided to MP personnel on the applicable rules of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, FM 27-10, AR 190-8, or FM 3-19.40. Moreover, I find that few, if any, copies of the Geneva Conventions were ever made available to MP personnel or detainees. (ANNEXES 21-24, 33, and multiple witness statements)

14. (U) Formal charges under the UCMJ were preferred against these Soldiers and an Article-32 Investigation conducted by LTC Gentry. He recommended a general court martial for the four accused, which BG Karpinski supported. Despite this documented abuse, there is no evidence that BG Karpinski ever attempted to remind 800th MP Soldiers of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions regarding detainee treatment or took any steps to ensure that such abuse was not repeated. Nor is there any evidence that LTC(P) Phillabaum, the commander of the Soldiers involved in the Camp Bucca abuse incident, took any initiative to ensure his Soldiers were properly trained regarding detainee treatment. (ANNEXES 35 and 62)

8. (U) There is a general lack of knowledge, implementation, and emphasis of basic legal, regulatory, doctrinal, and command requirements within the 800th MP Brigade and its subordinate units. (Multiple witness statements in ANNEXES 45-91).

32. (U) Several interviewees insisted that the MP and MI Soldiers at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) received regular training on the basics of detainee operations; however, they have been unable to produce any verifying documentation, sign-in rosters, or soldiers who can recall the content of this training. (Annexes 59, 80, and the Absence of any Training Records)

3. (U) There is abundant evidence in the statements of numerous witnesses that soldiers throughout the 800th MP Brigade were not proficient in their basic MOS skills, particularly regarding internment/resettlement operations. Moreover, there is no evidence that the command, although aware of these deficiencies, attempted to correct them in any systemic manner other than ad hoc training by individuals with civilian corrections experience. (Multiple Witness Statements and the Personal Observations of the Investigation Team)

4. (U) I find that the 800th MP Brigade was not adequately trained for a mission that included operating a prison or penal institution at Abu Ghraib Prison Complex. As the Ryder Assessment found, I also concur that units of the 800th MP Brigade did not receive corrections-specific training during their mobilization period. MP units did not receive pinpoint assignments prior to mobilization and during the post mobilization training, and thus could not train for specific missions. The training that was accomplished at the mobilization sites were developed and implemented at the company level with little or no direction or supervision at the Battalion and Brigade levels, and consisted primarily of common tasks and law enforcement training. However, I found no evidence that the Command, although aware of this deficiency, ever requested specific corrections training from the Commandant of the Military Police School, the US Army Confinement Facility at Mannheim, Germany, the Provost Marshal General of the Army, or the US Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (ANNEXES 19 and 76)
Analysis: Two things. First, I have to call BS at this line of investigation, and this line of defense. The actions depicted on the photographs now shown around the world are not the kinds of things you need training to abhor. In fact, any adult ought to know better, and certainly, any Army sergeant or officer ought to know better. This is a basic matter of common sense and human decency. You don't need to know the rules under the Geneva Convention, and you don't have to be a lawyer, to know that it's wrong to shove a chem light into a detainee's rectum and take a picture of it. I think this is a specious argument, and that it will fail spectacularly before a military jury of officers and NCOs.

Second, it's possible that these MPs didn't have proper individual or collective training on specific tasks related to Internment and Resettlement Operations (what the MP school calls this stuff). But hey -- this isn't rocket science. Anyone in this unit could've gone online to get FM 3-19.40, Military Police Internment/Resettlement Operations; anyone could've also gone online to get FM 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare. These soldiers, sergeants and officers were derelict in not taking the initiative to learn how to do their jobs once they were on the ground. So I don't buy this "we weren't trained defense" for a minute. If an NCO doesn't know the conditions and standards for a given task, the NCO should take the initiative to find them. A lieutenant or captain certainly should too. This MP unit may have been given a task it wasn't familiar with, but the burden falls on the unit leadership to adjust on-the-fly, and to teach the unit how to do these things. Guess what? Not everything goes according to plan; not every task can be anticipated or trained for. It falls on the unit to figure this out, and the failure to do so was derelict in my opinion.

More to follow...
Abu Ghraib roundup
: I'm traveling today so I don't have time to write as much as I'd like on the developing story of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. However, I recommend the following articles from today's papers:
- Iraq Prison Supervisors Face Army Reprimand
Washington Post (Sewell Chan and Thomas E. Ricks) -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq has moved to issue the highest form of administrative rebuke against six commissioned and noncommissioned officers who supervised an Army-run prison where Iraqi prisoners allegedly suffered physical and sexual abuse, officials announced Monday.

- Poor Leadership Blamed For Abuse At U.S. Prison In Iraq
Los Angeles Times (Esther Schrader) -- Overcrowded cellblocks, sadistic guards abusing and humiliating prisoners, inmates shot dead trying to escape down dark alleys, and detainees being spirited around the prison compound to avoid Red Cross workers. All this happened as guards made up their own rules and superiors condoned their actions. What happened at Abu Ghraib was nothing short of a total failure by the chain of command.

- Legal Loophole Arises In Iraq
Wall Street Journal (subscription required) (Greg Jaffe, David S. Cloud and Gary Fields) The abuse of Iraqis at a U.S. military prison outside Baghdad raises questions about whether private military contractors involved in illegal activity are subject to criminal prosecution.

- Contract Workers Implicated In February Army Report On Prison Abuse Remain On The Job
New York Times (Joel Brinkley and James Glanz) -- More than two months after a classified Army report found that two contract workers were implicated in the abuse of Iraqis at a prison outside Baghdad, the companies that employ them say that they have heard nothing from the Pentagon, and that they have not removed any employees from Iraq.
Also, tune into today's "Day to Day" show on National Public Radio for more analysis and commentary on this subject. NPR has also uploaded the report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba in PDF form; MSNBC has an online version as well.

And for analysis of what might happen to the private contractors involved in the abuses at Abu Ghraib, see this Slate explainer article on the subject.

More to follow...
Choosing lesser evils to fight terrorism

Michael Ignatieff had a brilliant essay in Sunday's New York Times magazine on some of the philosophical and theoretical issues undergirding contemporary debates over security and civil liberties. Essentially, he thinks that we should frame the problem as a choice between "lesser evils" -- the title of his forthcoming book -- and that we should accept some excesses by our government agents in order to avoid the greater evil: the end of American constitutional democracy. It's a very compelling argument, and I recommend the entire thoughtful piece. Here's a brief excerpt:
When democracies fight terrorism, they are defending the proposition that their political life should be free of violence. But defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, secrecy, deception, even violation of rights. How can democracies resort to these means without destroying the values for which they stand? How can they resort to the lesser evil without succumbing to the greater?

Putting the problem this way is not popular. Civil libertarians don't want to think about lesser evils. Security is as much a right as liberty, but civil libertarians haven't wanted to ask which freedoms we might have to trade in order to keep secure. Some conservative thinkers, like those at the libertarian Cato Institute, come down the same way but for different reasons: for them, the greater evil is big government, and they oppose measures that give the executive branch more power. Other conservatives, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, simply refuse to believe that any step taken to defend the United States can be called an evil at all.

But thinking about lesser evils is unavoidable. Sticking too firmly to the rule of law simply allows terrorists too much leeway to exploit our freedoms. Abandoning the rule of law altogether betrays our most valued institutions. To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war. These are evils because each strays from national and international law and because they kill people or deprive them of freedom without due process. They can be justified only because they prevent the greater evil. The question is not whether we should be trafficking in lesser evils but whether we can keep lesser evils under the control of free institutions. If we can't, any victories we gain in the war on terror will be Pyrrhic ones.
Post-Script: Mr. Ignatieff's book The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror has hit the shelves already, and I decided to purchase it to read on the plane back from New York this weekend. I had other work to do, so I only read about 40 pages into the book. So far, it reads quite well, and provokes a lot of thought.
Telling the story of Guantanamo Bay
: Scott Higham, Joe Stephens and Margot Williams of the Washington Post had an exceptional article on the American detentions taking place at Guantanamo Bay in Sunday's paper. Among other things, the reporters assembled the largest list so far of detainees there, notwithstanding Pentagon efforts to keep these names secret. And the reporters assembled a coherent narrative of how the policy decisions were made concerning Gitmo, and how various decisions were made on the ground such as to institute programs for cooperative prisoners. It's a fascinating read, and this story will likely be the starting point for any authors who seek to write a book on the subject in the future.
Military misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison

Recommendation: throw the book hard at those responsible;
Also prosecute the intelligence officials who sought to 'set the conditions' for questioning

As a former Army MP officer, I am very interested in any news involving MPs deployed abroad, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the latest news involving MPs is bad -- so bad, in fact, that it leaves me disgusted. I watched this report on Wednesday night when it aired on 60 Minutes II, and my stomach turned at the pictures of U.S. soldiers posing with naked Iraqi prisoners performing sex acts on each other. Now that I'm done with finals, I have time to respond.

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times carry detailed reports in Friday's paper on the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, where MPs allegedly committed such acts as forcing an Iraqi to stand on an MRE box with inert wires connected to him, saying that he would be electrocuted if he stepped off the box. The MPs were even audaciously stupid enough to take pictures of their exploits. And to top it off, the chain of command was so derelict as not to notice these incidents or do anything about them. The result: 17 MPs now face criminal or administrative charges, including a 1-star general.
... the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, has ordered administrative penalties against seven unnamed officers who supervised the Army Reserve military police unit that was responsible for the Abu Ghraib detention facility in November, when Iraqi prisoners allegedly were subjected to beatings and sexually degrading acts by American soldiers.

Criminal charges were filed in March against six members of the unit, the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cumberland, Md. The charges included conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another, the military's term for sexual abuse.

* * *
According to sealed charging papers that were provided to The Washington Post, soldiers forced prisoners to lie in "a pyramid of naked detainees" and jumped on their prone bodies, while other detainees were ordered to strip and perform or simulate sex acts. In one case, a hooded man allegedly was made to stand on a box of MREs, or meals ready to eat, and told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off. In another example, the papers allege, a soldier unzipped a body bag and took snapshots of a detainee's frozen corpse inside.

Several times, soldiers were photographed and videotaped posing in front of humiliated inmates, according to the charges. One gave a thumbs-up sign in front of the human pyramid.

The documents add to growing accusations of improper prisoner treatment at Abu Ghraib, which was Iraq's largest and most notorious prison during the rule of ousted president Saddam Hussein. In addition to the military's announcement in March that soldiers had been charged, details of the abuses and photographs from inside the prison were broadcast Wednesday night by CBS's "60 Minutes II."

On Thursday, U.S. officials confirmed that the images were authentic and said they had taken several steps to stop the mistreatment of prisoners.
Analysis: So let's be clear on what's going on here. We go into Iraq to stop, among other things, human rights abuses that were being directed by the Hussein regime. Many of those abuses took place at Abu Ghraib prison, the same building at the center of this report. Iraqi guards regularly beat, humiliated, and tortured their detainees, and they reveled in their cruelty. Now, we have American soldiers doing many of the same things, allegedly at the direction of American intelligence officers who wanted these MPs to set the conditions for productive interrogation sessions. I can't condemn this conduct enough, and yet, I feel that condemning this conduct isn't enough. This is truly reprehensible stuff.

What's worse is that other American soldiers may suffer for the brutal excesses of these MPs, interrogators, and OGA ("other government agency" = CIA) employees. Reciprocity is a very real thing where the laws of wars are concerned, and we should be very concerned about retaliation against any Americans captured by Iraqi insurgents in the future. Similarly, reprisals are very real problem in war; they're often fueled by anger over mistreatment of one side's own troops. When American troops learned of the German massacre at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge, historical accounts said they went on a killing spree -- double-tapping every German in their sights, and giving no quarter even the Germans sought it. Other historical accounts reflect this trend. I think we can expect this news to reach every quarter of the Arab world, from the hideouts of the Iraqi insurgency to the Arab street. And when it does, I think we can expect it to fire up our adversaries in a huge way. This event will do significant, lasting damage to American credibility in the eyes of the Arab world. If a lot of Arabs were on the fence about American foreign policy, they won't be after they see this report. (If you think for one minute I'm exaggerating, imagine the American response if we'd seen our POWs treated this way and had these pictures broadcast on Al-Jazeera.)

Fortunately, we do have American soldiers doing good things abroad, like the well project in Siyu and the scores or hundreds of nation-building projects in Iraq today. In large parts of the country, Americans do enjoy some amount of normalcy in their relations with Iraqis, even if the Iraqis resent our presence and want us to go home. But incidents like this have the potential to ruin everything. As the old aphorism goes, one "aww sh*t" can ruin a whole lot of "atta boys".

So what should be done?

The Army's military police corps is known for eating its own when they screw up, and I don't think this case will be any exception. The right answer here is to slam the book at the MP chain of command responsible for this action -- especially the colonels, captains and lieutenants who failed to properly train their soldiers on the laws of war, failed to supervise them in the running of this prison, and failed to set the proper climate for the dignified treatment of these prisoners. Administrative punishment for many of these officers is insufficient, in my opinion. They deserve a general court-martial for these actions. I think the American military command in Baghdad must take a hard line on this reprehensible conduct, and that it must prosecute these officers and NCOs to the fullest extent of the law. If they are innocent, a military jury will acquit them. But the military justice system exists primarily to support mission accomplishment through the promotion of "good order and discipline." This incident represents a staggering breach of discipline, and it must be dealt with appropriately.

Unfortunately, the problem extends to more than just military personnel. The misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison apparently involved employees of the CIA, as well as civilian contractors employed by Titan Corporation and CACI. Unfortunately, the legal solutions are murkier when it comes to misconduct by government contractors overseas, as I write in this Slate article titled "Hired Guns":
Private military contractors generally don't have to listen to these rules and orders, in any event, and they have historically not been prosecuted for disobeying military rules. The Uniform Code of Military Justice's jurisdictional article (10 U.S.C. Section 802) provides that "In time of war, persons serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field" may be tried by a military court, but there's little precedent for military trials of civilian contractors who behave badly in a war zone—even assuming Iraq can legally be called a "war."

Moreover, while the Justice Department has jurisdiction to prosecute military contractors for actions overseas under a 2000 law, it may decline to do so as a result of limited resources and the fact that there is no U.S. attorney's office (yet) established in Iraq to govern U.S. civilian activities there.

The legal murkiness helps shield the contractors from effective discipline. The Coalition Provisional Authority has decreed that contractors and other foreign personnel will not be subject to Iraqi criminal processes. Yet, there's also no clear mandate for American jurisdiction. And in the absence of any specific mandate telling military officials to clamp down on contractors, American prosecutors can simply decline to do so as a matter of discretion—precisely what has happened on U.S. military deployments in the Balkans, as pointed out by Peter W. Singer in a Salon article on contractor transgressions during that deployment.

* * *
... the president could direct his Defense Department or Justice Department lawyers to immediately exercise jurisdiction in cases where contractors behave badly. Thankfully, there has been a dearth of such incidents in Iraq, but the large number of contractors there makes it likely that some criminal conduct will occur in the future. A clear message from the administration that it's serious about exercising criminal jurisdiction might deter some of that criminal conduct—or at least ensure systems are in place to adjudicate any incidents that do occur.
I had no idea when I wrote this piece how prescient I was being, or that such criminal conduct had already occurred. Make no mistake about it -- this is criminal conduct. And it must be dealt with strictly, severely and certainly by the U.S. government. My reading of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 is that the Justice Department may exercise criminal jurisdiction over these persons as contractors and sub-contractors of the U.S. government overseas. And it must do exactly that. At a minimum, these contractors' conduct amounts to a violation of the laws of war with respect to torture during the course of interrogation. Any violation of the laws of war is a federal offense, under 18 U.S.C. 2441. The military should immediately apprehend these individuals and render them to Justice Department prosecution before a U.S. District Court in the United States. Nothing less -- not termination, not administrative sanction, not suspension or debarment for these contractors -- will be sufficient. These contractors broke the law in a heinous and brutal way, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Post-Script: The Sunday Washington Post and New York Times reports on Abu Ghraib paint a slightly different picture of culpability than first indicated, proving the old military maxim that first reports are always suspect. Both the Post and Times seem to point the finger at intelligence officials, both on the ground in Iraq and in Washington, who were pushing the MPs to "set the conditions" for favorable interrogations by softening up the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. According to The Post:
The Army Reserve commander who oversaw the prison said that military intelligence, rather than the military police, dictated the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. "The prison, and that particular cellblock where the events took place, were under the control of the MI command," Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski said in a telephone interview Saturday night from her home in Hilton Head, S.C.

Karpinski, who commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade, also described a high-pressure atmosphere that prized successful interrogations. A month before the alleged abuses occurred, she said, a team of military intelligence officers from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, came to Abu Ghraib last year. "Their main and specific mission was to get the interrogators -- give them new techniques to get more information from detainees," she said.

* * *
According to a source familiar with the March findings of an administrative review conducted by the Army, the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which helped oversee the questioning of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, pressed members of the military police unit, 372nd Military Police Company, to use rough tactics to prepare prisoners for questioning.

U.S. officials said the review, by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, found that prisoners at Abu Ghraib were regularly subjected to cruel and harsh punishments. In an article posted on its Web site, the New Yorker magazine reported in its May 10 issue that Taguba found a pattern of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at the prison.

According to the New Yorker article, by Seymour M. Hersh, a report last November by Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army's top law enforcement officer, concluded that military intelligence did not order military police to put pressure on prisoners to prepare them for interrogations. Taguba, the article states, disagreed.

"Contrary to the findings of MG Ryder's report, I find that personnel assigned to the 372nd MP Company, 800th MP Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to 'set the conditions' for MI interrogations," Taguba wrote, according to the article. Army intelligence officers, CIA personnel and private contractors "actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses," according to the article's account of Taguba's report.
Analysis: It's hard to tell what's going on here, because there are so many generals pointing fingers at each other. Moreover, there is a lot of internal Army politics at work here, between the MP and the MI branches and between the intelligence and operations communities generally. So I'm not sure where to lay the blame. But, I can say one thing. If it's true that interrogators and intelligence officers pushed the MPs to "set the conditions" for these interrogations, then they must be prosecuted too. In acting this way, they gave unlawful orders and they should be subject to military discipline (if applicable) or criminal prosecution in federal court under 18 U.S.C. 2441. Ultimately, I think someone in this MP chain of command should've stepped up to exercise moral courage and tell the intelligence folks "no". But the failure to blow the whistle doesn't relieve the intelligence officers of culpability. I think it would be wrong to let these orders go unpunished simply because these intelligence officials were one or two steps removed from the conduct.

Post-Post Script: Also see this op-ed by Peter Singer in Sunday's L.A. Times describing the legal climate for these abuses, and the need to hold the right persons accountable. He makes some really good arguments regarding civilian intelligence officers and contractors acting on behalf of the U.S. government.

Post-Post-Post Script: And for a more conservative perspective, see this op-ed by military historian Victor Davis Hanson in Monday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Prof. Hanson doesn't defend the actions of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, but says that we should put these in perspective. Specifically, he expresses dismay over the asymmetry of coverage and outrage that has met this incident, as compared to other abuses in recent conflicts:
If a small number of soldiers has transgressed, then let us punish them severely, as well as the officers who either ordered or ignored such reprehensible behavior. But let us also accept that the reaction to this incident is indicative of larger moral asymmetries that are the burdens of the West when it goes to war, a culture that so often equates the understandable absence of perfection, either moral, political, or military, with abject failure -- a fact not lost on our enemies.

We have seen terrible things since September 11 -- monotonous public executions, taped decapitations, videos of brutalized hostages, diplomats gunned down, aid workers riddled with bullets, children's bodies blown apart by improvised explosive devices, nuts, bolts and rat poison added to suicide bombs -- most under either the sponsorship of some autocratic Middle Eastern governments or of terrorist cabals that could not exist without at least the tacit support of thousands in the Arab street.

So as we in America address the moral inadequacies of a handful of our soldiers, let those in the Middle East take heart from our own necessary and stern democratic inquiries and audits, and thus at last now apply the same standards of accountability to tens of thousands, far more culpable, of their own.

It takes a villege... to fight terrorism

Marc Lacey, one of the New York Times' intrepid foreign correspondents, has an interesting dispatch from Africa in Friday's paper discussing one of the Pentagon's many small nation-building projects. A team of Army civil affairs soldiers has been sent to Siyu, Kenya, in order to build a well for the villagers there. Why Siyu?
It is not because the people here have to walk long distances and brave harsh temperatures for the limited drinking water available on Pate Island, although they do. No, the United States Central Command is concerned more with the loyalties of the people of Siyu than their thirst.

From remote Siyu, investigators say, the bombing of a Mombasa hotel that catered to Israeli tourists, and the simultaneous failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli-chartered airliner, were planned in 2002. The well is one of many public works projects being undertaken by the American military throughout the Horn of Africa aimed at changing the locals' view of a country many of them had learned to hate.

"The war on terrorism is not necessarily a shooting war," said Maj. W. Brice Finney, commander of the Army's 412th Civil Affairs Battalion. Still, these are good deeds with a strategic edge. The main purpose is to monitor the vast coastline for terrorists fleeing Afghanistan and other spots across the Gulf of Aden. All of which explains why the military is paying close attention to Siyu.
This is the way to win hearts and minds, and this is the right way to preempt terrorism around the world. American military might can be used for lots of things other than toppling a despot and restoring order to his nation afterwards. The full spectrum capabilities of the U.S. military enable it to act in numerous capacities, from "soft" nation building missions like this to foreign internal defense missions in the Philippines which aid that nation in fighting terrorism. And typically, these missions are conducted by brilliant Civil Affairs soldiers who represent some of this superpower's best emissaries overseas:
soldiers in Major Finney's unit, reservists all, are older than most and specially schooled in community outreach. They include several police detectives, a casino pit boss, a nurse and a former state representative who ran unsuccessfully for a Michigan senate seat. Major Finney is a veterinarian. They do not wear uniforms or display weapons, but their short haircuts, white skin and bulky builds give them away.
These guys aren't going in with guns ablaze, or even with dirty HMMWVs and lots of body armor. They are adjusting their TTPs to the environment, and winning the population in the process. Some of the locals remain skeptical, like this guy:
"I don't like them here," said Sheik Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir, the imam of Pwani Mosque in nearby Lamu, who has urged his followers to shun the Americans. "I feel that they are my enemy. I have no intention of harming them, but I cannot show them a smile on my face."
However, the overall mission appears to be succeeding. And we have to succeed in lots of little places like this in order to win the war on terrorism. The citizens of Siyu, Kenya, may not pose a direct threat to our national security. They don't have weapons of mass destruction, and they don't have a standing army that can land on our beaches. But third world nations like this can serve as the incubator for ideologies and insurgents that are very dangerous indeed, both to the U.S. and our interests abroad. We must actively take steps like the ones described in this article to preempt those ideologies and insurgents. Gen. George S. Patton used to bark at his troops that an ounce of sweat would save a gallon of blood, referring to the value of hard training in peacetime. Patton was an irascible old warrior who disdained diplomacy, and his record during his few months of occupation duty was less than stellar. But I think even he would recognize the value of preventive missions like this one in Kenya.
Lawyer picked to advise Hussein prosecution

The staff behind the Nuremburg prosecutions included a hodgepodge of allied personnel, but the dominant force was Assoc. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and his team of American lawyers. Why? One commentator remarked that there was something that made American lawyers uniquely well qualified to be prosecutors; something about the American legal style that just made them better at trying the worst of the worst.

In that spirit, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Tampa has been tapped to advise the Iraqi Governing Council team which is seeking to send Saddam Hussein to the gallows. The St. Petersburg Times reports that Greg Kehoe was appointed earlier this month by Attorney General John Ashcroft, and that he will soon report for duty in Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority there as an adviser to the Iraqis.
Kehoe, the son of a New York City police officer, is a big-shouldered former rugby player with a booming courtroom voice and a rapid patter seasoned by his childhood in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Since Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed him to the post early this month, Kehoe has been immersing himself in books about the Middle East. At Borders and Barnes & Noble, he bought every book he could find on Iraq and Islam.

Every day, he says, he fields calls from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., working to organize his Baghdad office, located in the palace where American officials are stationed. He is hiring staff and making sure the office is stocked with computers, fax machines, pencils and paper.

Kehoe, who made a brief trip to Iraq earlier this month, expects to go back in mid May and to work 16-hour days there for six to nine months.

Kehoe said he hopes the tribunals bring an example of the rule of law - and foster citizens' faith in the legal system - in a country bereft of it for decades.

"Our job is to assist the Iraqis, but at the end of the day, it's the Iraqis who have to try these cases," he said.

As a longtime assistant U.S. attorney, Kehoe prosecuted members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang and drug rings in South Florida. In Tampa, he handled high-profile cases involving courthouse corruption, a military spy ring and international money-laundering.

In the early 1990s, he served on a congressional committee investigating the "October Surprise," the purported arms-for-hostages deal with Iran preceding Ronald Reagan's election as president.

For his new post, Kehoe's most relevant experience was his stint at The Hague, Netherlands, where from 1995 to 1999 he served on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The experience culminated in his successful prosecution - after a 25-month trial - of a Croatian general for war crimes.

The general, Tihomir Blaskic, was implicated in a 1993 massacre of Muslim noncombatants, including women and children. While there was no evidence to show Blaskic pulled the trigger himself, Kehoe prosecuted him on a theory of "command responsibility," contending he allowed soldiers to commit the slaughter.

In Iraq, Kehoe's investigators will search for documents that establish the chain of command in Hussein's regime, proving who gave the orders for particular massacres. "The paper is very, very important" in such cases, Kehoe said.
Analysis: This prosecution is going to be very important for the United States, for Iraq, and for the world. The substantive outcome of this trial is very important -- the U.S. must convict Hussein in order to preserve the image of legitimacy for its invasion. But the perception of this trial will probably be even more important than the outcome. Substantively and procedurally, this trial must be fair. It must give the defense a chance to challenge the evidence, and to put on its case if it chooses to. It must incorporate a meaningful presumption of innocence -- not just a pragmatic or realistic one. And the prosecution must play fair. It must disclose all information to the defense, as it would have to here under Brady. The prosecution must also play fair with the witnesses, on both sides, and put forward an accurate version of the facts -- not just one which argues for a guilty verdict. The prosecution will set the tone for this trial, much more so than the defense or even the judges, by choosing how to make its case-in-chief. I hope that Mr. Kehoe is able to advise the Iraqis on all these considerations, and to give them the benefit of his prosecutorial experience. Too much is riding on this prosecution to let it be the work of amateurs.
California pulls its Guardsmen off the Golden Gate... finally

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday that the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's staff has made the decision to pull an overstrength platoon of California Army National Guard troops off the Golden Gate bridge, despite pleas from bridge officials to keep them there. The article says the troops were put there after the 9/11 attacks, but that's not quite right. These troops were first put on the bridges by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, in response to vague threats against bridges, against the advice of the FBI and other agencies. Now, thankfully, they're being pulled.
The California National Guard will pull its contingent of 50 men and women on Friday, after more than two years of helping to protect the famous span.

The decision was approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger despite repeated appeals by bridge district officials to keep the soldiers there.

"The Guard's mission when it started was never designed to be a permanent solution," said Gary Winuk, chief deputy director of the California Office of Homeland Security, which oversees security operations in the state. "We would never recommend, and the governor would never approve, any removal of the Guard unless the bridge was secure."

* * *
Winuk said the withdrawal has nothing to do with the United States' growing commitment overseas, where close to 3,000 of California's Guard troops are now serving. He added, however, that some of the soldiers could end up in Iraq.

"A substantial number of troops are going to be sent overseas in the next few years," Winuk said. "I don't know about any of these troops. I want to emphasize, though, that that wasn't the point of this decision."

The problem, he said, is that there isn't any money left in the budget to pay the $5 million annual cost of the operation. The Guard sent a letter to Schwarzenegger in November asking to halt the bridge duty.
Analysis: It's about time this deployment ended -- it has been one of the most worthless deployments of troops imaginable. Putting these troops on the bridges contributed very little -- almost zero -- to the bridges security. When you broke this 50-person contingent down, this mission really translated into having 4-6 men on the bridge at any given time, armed with nothing more than M-16 rifles (with little if any ammunition). These troops had lousy communications equipment; they could barely talk to each other, let alone other agencies and their higher command. They were also deployed poorly, either on foot or in static positions where they did little more than watch traffic go by. They had no effective body armor or armored equipment; if an attack did happen, they would likely be killed with everyone else. They received little special training for the mission.

Worst of all, this operation was not driven by intelligence -- it was driven by the political calculations of a political governor in Sacramento who wanted to make a statement by putting BDU-wearing soldiers on the state's most visible symbol. This was a waste of money and manpower; I regret the fact that so many Guardsmen had to spend so long on active duty for a mission that was so ill-advised. I'm glad someone had the sense to cancel this mission.
Travel blogging
: I'm on the East Coast this weekend for a wedding, so I won' t have constant access to e-mail. But I was able to draft several notes while flying from L.A. to New York. I should be back online on Monday.