The BBC reports that a U.S. General with a checkered past has blasted the strategy in the Iraq war, which he described as “a nightmare with no end in sight,” and “labelled US political leaders as ‘incompetent’ and ‘corrupted.'” Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez “retired last year in the aftermath of the scandal over detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.”
However, Human Rights Watch includes Sanchez with high-ranking Bush administration and military figures who should be charged with war crimes. The Human Rights Watch report includes a chapter on Sanchez. “Although Gen. Sanchez testified before Congress that compliance with the Geneva Conventions in Iraq ‘was always the standard,’ it has since been revealed that Gen. Sanchez, ‘despite lacking specific authorization to operate beyond the confines of the Geneva Conventions’ (in the words of the Schlesinger report), took it upon himself to declare some prisoners ‘unlawful combatants.’
“As noted by the Schlesinger panel, during the early and mid-2003, General Sanchez’s troops interrogated detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere relying ‘on Field Manual 34-52 and on unauthorized techniques that migrated from Afghanistan.’ Members of the 519th MI Battalion, which had previously been accused in a Criminal Investigation Command homicide investigation of abusive interrogation practices in Afghanistan, were left to devise interrogation rules on their own. In so doing, they were said to have copied rules ‘almost verbatim’ from the ‘Battlefield Interrogation Team and Facility Policy’ of Special Operations Forces/Central Intelligence Agency Joint Task Force 121, a secretive Special Operations Forces/CIA mission seeking former government members in Iraq. That policy reportedly endorsed the use of stress positions during harsh interrogation procedures, the use of dogs, yelling, loud music, light control, isolation, and other procedures used previously in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
I’m sure I’ve commented here before that torture is not a means of interrogation that yields “actionable” intelligence–victims will say anything they think their torturers want to hear–but a means to intimidate entire communities. Sanchez is surely aware of this, yet according to the BBC article, “he blamed the US disbanding of the Iraqi military as well as the failure to set up civilian government quickly and cement ties with tribal leaders.”
Torture of individuals operates to gain compliance from a fearful subject population; it is inconsistent with any intention to in any way empower that population. It is entirely consistent with “disbanding . . . the Iraqi military” and “the failure to set up civilian government quickly” [or at all]. And under such a regime, there exists little motivation for “ties with tribal leaders.” Torture is simply a message from an imperial power to all its subjects irrespective of their roles in any pre-invasion political or social structure.
So it is unsurprising that in Iraq, there exists no credible government authority, that factions have arisen in defense of their own interests, and that violence is a response to a carnage that has taken over one million lives. The United States has reaped what it has sown. “The best we can do with this flawed approach [the ‘surge’] is stave off defeat,” declares Sanchez, obviously attempting to obscure his own role in what some of us identified from the beginning as an historic defeat.