The American gulag

The truth leaks out in bits and pieces. It’s all so depressingly predictable.

A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.

The report, which was not released publicly and was recently obtained by The Washington Post, concluded that some U.S. arrest and detention practices at the time could “technically” be illegal. It also said coalition fighters could be feeding the Iraqi insurgency by “making gratuitous enemies” as they conducted sweeps netting hundreds of detainees who probably did not belong in prison and holding them for months at a time.

The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 — a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein — had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities.

Herrington’s findings are the latest in a series of confidential reports to come to light about detainee abuse in Iraq. Until now, U.S. military officials have characterized the problem as one largely confined to the military prison at Abu Ghraib — a situation they first learned about in January 2004. But Herrington’s report shows that U.S. military leaders in Iraq were told of such allegations even before then, and that problems were not restricted to Abu Ghraib. Herrington, a veteran of the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam, warned that such harsh tactics could imperil U.S. efforts to quell the Iraqi insurgency — a prediction echoed months later by a military report and other reviews of the war effort.

But they were all very bad terrorists, right? They deserved anything that happened to them, right?

Well, not exactly:

Herrington’s report also noted that sweeps pulled in hundreds and even thousands of detainees who had no connection to the war. Abu Ghraib, for example, swelled to several thousand more detainees than it could handle. Herrington wrote that aggressive and indiscriminate tactics by the 4th Infantry Division, rounding up random scores of detainees and “dumping them at the door,” was a glaring example.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone smart enough to understand that White House Press Secretaries often do not tell the truth. None of this should be a surprise to anyone who reads the news trying to understand the world, rather than trying to spot imaginary examples of liberal bias. In short, none of this should be a surprise to anyone whose head is not lodged firmly up their own rectum.

If you voted for Bush, this is what you voted for.