November 27, 2007 – Every Saturday, the president of the United States gives a radio address to the nation. It is followed by the Democratic response, usually given by a senator or representative. This past Saturday the Democrats chose retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to give their response, the same general accused in at least three lawsuits in the U.S. and Europe of authorizing torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in Iraq. This, combined with the Democrats’ endorsement of Attorney General Michael Mukasey despite his unwillingness to label waterboarding as torture, indicates that the Democrats are increasingly aligned with President Bush’s torture policies.
Sanchez headed the Army’s operations in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. In September 2003, Sanchez issued a memo authorizing numerous techniques, including “stress positions” and the use of “military working dogs” to exploit “Arab fear of dogs” during interrogations. He was in charge when the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison occurred.
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who headed Abu Ghraib at the time, worked under Gen. Sanchez. She was demoted to colonel, the only military officer to be punished. She told me about another illegal practice, holding prisoners as so-called ghost detainees: “We were directed on several occasions through Gen. [Barbara] Fast or Gen. Sanchez. The instructions were originating at the Pentagon from Secretary Rumsfeld, and we were instructed to hold prisoners without assigning a prisoner number or putting them on the database, and that is contrary to the Geneva Conventions. We all knew it was contrary to the Geneva Conventions.” In addition to keeping prisoners off the database there were other abuses, she said, like prison temperatures reaching 120 to 140 degrees, dehydration and the order from Gen. Geoffrey Miller to treat prisoners “like dogs.”
And it’s not just about treatment of prisoners. In 2006, Karpinski testified at a mock trial, called the Bush Crimes Commission. She revealed that several female U.S. soldiers had died of dehydration by denying themselves water. They were afraid to go to the latrine at night to urinate, for fear of being raped by fellow soldiers: “Because the women, in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the portolets or the latrines, were not drinking liquids after 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And in 120-degree heat or warmer, because there was no air conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep. What [Sanchez’s deputy commanding general, Walter Wojdakowski] told the surgeon to do was, ‘Don’t brief those details anymore. And don’t say specifically that they’re women. You can provide that in a written report, but don’t brief it in the open anymore.’” Karpinski said Sanchez was at that briefing.
Former military interrogator Tony Lagouranis, author of “Fear Up Harsh,” described the use of dogs: “We were using dogs in the Mosul detention facility, which was at the Mosul airport. We would put the prisoner in a shipping container. We would keep him up all night with music and strobe lights, stress positions, and then we would bring in dogs. The prisoner was blindfolded, so he didn’t really understand what was going on, but we had the dog controlled. The dog would be barking and jumping on the prisoner, and the prisoner wouldn’t really understand what was going on.”
Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch elaborated on Sanchez: “For those three months of mayhem that were occurring right under his nose, he never stepped in. And, also, he misled Congress about it. He was asked twice at a congressional hearing whether he ever approved the use of guard dogs. This was before the memo came out. And both times he said he never approved it. [W]e finally got the actual memo, in which he approves ‘exploiting Arab fear of dogs.’ ” Brody dismissed the military report clearing Sanchez of any wrongdoing: “It’s just not credible for the Army to keep investigating itself and keep finding itself innocent.”
This is not about politics. This is about the moral compass of the nation. The Democrats may be celebrating a retired general who has turned on his commander in chief. But the public should take pause.
The Democrats had a chance to draw a line in the sand, to absolutely require Mukasey to denounce waterboarding before his elevation to attorney general. Now they have chosen as their spokesman a discredited general, linked to the most egregious abuses in Iraq. The Bush administration passed Sanchez over for a promotion, worried about reliving the Abu Ghraib scandal during the 2006 election year. Now it’s the Democrats who have resuscitated him. Have they no shame?
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.