Pattern of Abuse

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A Marine stands watch during midnight patrol near Camp Mercury

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The Human Rights Watch report describes the Captain, in particular, as deeply frustrated by his attempts to report the abuse to his own superiors, who repeatedly instructed him to keep quiet, to ignore what he'd seen and to consider the implications for his career. The Captain told Human Rights Watch and Senate staff that he had contacted legislators reluctantly, believing it was the only way he could get the army to take him seriously. He also said that "I knew something was wrong" as he watched Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on television in 2004 testifying before a Congressional committee that the U.S. was following the Geneva Convention to the letter in Iraq. The Monday morning after Rumsfeld's testimony, he told Human Rights Watch, "I approached my chain of command." Eventually, the captain says, he approached his company commander, battalion commander and representatives of the Judge Advocate Corps (the military justice system), trying in vain to get clarification of rules on prisoner treatment and the application of the Geneva Convention. At one point, the Captain asserts, his Company commander told him, in effect, "Remember the honor of the unit is at stake," and, "Don't expect me to go to bat for you on this issue ..."

The Captain also says he was told there were pictures of abuse that occurred at Camp Mercury similar to photos taken by Military Police at Abu Ghraib prison. It is not clear whether the Captain saw the pictures, but he has said, sources tell TIME, that the photos were so similar to what was depicted at Abu Ghraib that, when the scandal erupted, soldiers burned them out of fear that they too could be punished. The Captain has also told Senate staff that many of the actions he witnessed did not, at the time, violate his personal code of conduct. He was also under the impression that the conduct was in line with military policy. It was only later, Congressional sources tell TIME, that he became aware of what he regarded as a blatant contradiction in official U.S. policy. As the captain puts it, according to the report: "I witnessed violations of the Geneva Conventions that I knew were violations of the Geneva Conventions when they happened but I was under the impression that that was U.S. policy at the time. And as soon as Abu Ghraib broke and they had hearings in front of Congress, the Secretary of Defense testified that we followed the spirit of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan, and the letter of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, and as soon as he said that I knew something was wrong. So I called some of my classmates [from West Point], confirmed what I was concerned about and then on that Monday morning I approached my chain of command ..."

An Army spokesman confirmed to TIME that a criminal investigation has begun into the allegations, and that the Captain has been given permission to speak to members of Congress about his concerns. Since the Abu Ghraib scandal became public, hundreds of cases of alleged abuse have emerged based on reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross, U.S. government documents, prisoner legal filings and other sources. The Army alone says it has conducted investigations into more than 400 allegations of detainee mistreatment. To date, more than 230 Army personnel have been dealt with in courts martial, non-judicial punishments and other administrative actions.

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