Vets, Conservative Lawmakers Call for Changes in Detainment Policy

The New Standard

Yesterday, over 2,000 US military veterans joined the growing chorus of people calling for an independent investigation into instances of abuse and torture committed at US-run detention facilities around the world.

Also yesterday, three Republican senators introduced separate measures aimed at reining in the Pentagon’s detention policies in the so-called “war on terror,” despite meeting stiff resistance and heavy backroom maneuvering from the White House.

Vets Demand New Investigation

The veterans, members of an organization calling itself Veterans for Common Sense, posted an open letter to their website demanding “the creation of an independent commission to investigate and report on the detention and interrogation practices of US military and intelligence agencies deployed in the global war on terror.”

The group warned that current detention practices endanger US troops and besmirch the reputation of the country’s armed forces

“Given the range of individuals and locations involved in these reports [of abuse], it is simply no longer possible to view these allegations as a few instances of an isolated problem,” the group wrote. “Yet none of the purported major or comprehensive investigations have assigned responsibility to any individuals responsible for policymaking nor held any commanding officer accountable for these abuses, other than the demotion, by one grade, of a Brigadier General.”

White House officials maintain that the current policies for dealing with prisoners in the so-called “war on terror” are necessary to protect both troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the nation itself.

The action by the veterans, who have served in conflicts dating back to World War II, joins similar calls from civil rights and humanitarian groups, as well as legislators of both major US political parties.

As noted by The NewStandard yesterday, the group is party to a lawsuit filed in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights and Veterans for Peace seeking the release of photographic and video evidence of torture at the US-run prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Friday, the Department of Defense defied court orders to release the images and said it will file a secret motion explaining the reason for so doing.

Congressional Action

Meanwhile, Republican senators moved forward with plans to amend a defense appropriations bill to prohibit several currently employed interrogation practices and allow for more oversight of the detention facilities, despite strong opposition and the threat of a veto by President Bush. Their efforts have earned the praise of several former military personnel.

The legislation, a project of Senators John McCain (Arizona), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and John W. Warner (Virginia), would allow agencies like the Red Cross to have guaranteed access to prisoners, bar the use of “extraordinary rendition” and prohibit interrogation techniques not allowed by Army rules, according to a statement released by McCain’s office in conjunction with the legislation’s introduction.

On Friday, eleven former military generals sent a letter of support to McCain, stating that current practices endanger the nation and troops abroad, and go against set military policy. The letter was released by Human Rights First, a US-based humanitarian organization.

In their letter, the generals directly challenge the administration’s contention that the torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere was the product of a few low level people.

“It is now apparent that the abuse of prisoners… took place in part because our men and women in uniform were given ambiguous instructions, which in some cases authorized treatment that went beyond what was allowed by the Army Field Manual,” the generals wrote. “Administration officials confused matters further by declaring that US personnel are not bound by longstanding prohibitions of cruel treatment when interrogating non-US citizens on foreign soil.”

Thursday night, the White House sent a statement to the Senate indicating that the president would veto any military appropriations bill containing measures to regulate the treatment of detainees or set up an independent investigative commission, Reuters reports.

Vice President Dick Cheney met with Senators the same evening in an attempt to persuade them not to attach the measure to the $442 billion military appropriations bill, according to the New York Times.

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, three military lawyers testified they had objected to the interrogations policies approved by the Department of Justice as they were being developed, according to prepared testimony.

Recently completed internal military reviews of abuse at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp confirmed several cases, but military brass prevented a fellow official from being held accountable, in direct opposition to the report’s recommendations.

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