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Dilawar's Death Mocks U.S. Claim on Detainees

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Dilawar's Death Mocks U.S. Claim on Detainees: Margaret Carlson

June 2 (Bloomberg) -- On Memorial Day, I watched the A&E movie about former Navy Lieutenant Commander John McCain's 5 1/2 years in a Vietnam prison. It was so painful I had to return repeatedly to my crossword puzzle. McCain's face was beaten to a bloody pulp, his bones shattered, his teeth knocked out. Guards hung him from the ceiling by his arms, one of which was broken.

The next morning, I watched President George W. Bush at his press conference in the Rose Garden respond to a question about an Amnesty International report condemning U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and elsewhere. Bush called the charges of abuse ``absurd,'' allegations by people ``who hate America.''

But surely the U.S. Army can't be dismissed as hating America. The New York Times recently obtained the Army's 2,000- page file on deaths at its Bagram, Afghanistan, detention center, an investigation undertaken only after the Times reported a cover- up. It's as chilling to read as it is to watch McCain's crippled leg being crushed.

The John McCain of this report is an uneducated Afghan villager known as Dilawar, who was sent by his mother to pick up his sisters for a Muslim holiday on Dec. 5, 2002. Before he got there, Dilawar was rounded up as a suspect in a rocket attack. The Times described his torment by the U.S. military in articles on May 20 and 22.

Torture for Amusement

For much of his five days in custody, Dilawar was brutalized, hung from the ceiling of his cell, even though no one thought he was a terrorist or had any useful information. Military policemen took turns kicking him above the knee because they found it amusing to hear him cry out ``Allah.''

When he was too weak to follow orders during interrogations - - his knees wouldn't bend, his legs shook uncontrollably --Dilawar was attacked, the Times reported. One sergeant grabbed him by his beard, crushed his bare foot with her boot and then reared back and kicked him in the groin.

That night, an interrogator summoned an MP when he noticed Dilawar's head slumped forward in his hood and his hands limp in his chains. After pressing his fingernail to see that blood was still circulating, the MP left him there.

On Dec. 10, dragged in for what would be his last interrogation, Dilawar was incoherent. Angry at his unresponsiveness, an interrogator held him upright by twisting his hood around his neck. An intelligence specialist who spoke Dilawar's Pashto dialect was disturbed enough to notify the officer in charge. It was too late. Dilawar was already dead.

Who's Worse

Were the Vietnamese guards who savagely beat McCain any worse?

Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, initially stonewalled, claiming that Dilawar was never abused and died of natural causes, according to the Times. The case was virtually closed until a March 4, 2003, article in the Times reported that an autopsy found Dilawar died from blunt force injuries that pulpified his lower extremities.

The Army reopened the inquiry and, more than two years later, seven soldiers were found complicit in his death. General McNeill, on the other hand, was promoted.

It's bad news for the ``few bad apples'' theory that interrogation techniques from prison camp to prison camp are remarkably similar. Shackling is standard operating procedure, even at an intake center like Bagram where the great majority of those arrested were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bases cross-pollinate. Shortly after Dilawar's death, Bagram's chief interrogator, Army Captain Carolyn Wood, was deployed to Abu Ghraib.

Outrage Has Faded

The outrage that followed photos from Abu Ghraib has subsided. Only one of the five top officers at the prison -- a reservist -- was reprimanded. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who wrote a memo saying the Geneva Convention protections against torture don't always apply, was elevated to attorney general. Hearings by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, Republican of Virginia, were quickly put on hold. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has called for them to restart, but so quietly it's as if he were calling on some other party in control of some other Senate to hold them.

I understand Graham's reluctance. I feel like I have to note I come from a military family if I so much as criticize unarmored Humvees or else risk being accused of being unpatriotic. Bush on May 31 said that only those who hate America would allege such abuse. But if the charges are true, it is the perpetrators and their superiors who show contempt for America and what it represents.

Watching the government stonewalling and lie about the fatal beating of an innocent man is as disturbing as watching the torture John McCain suffered 30 years ago rather than betray what America stands for.


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its sickening, whats even more sickening is the way the right-wingers always either 1) say its a lie, or 2) completely ignore this outrage or try to justify it by pointing to outrages other countries do.

I see now why Bush backed out of the ICC - so much for the US punishing its own soldiers. All they get is a slap in the wrist. If had happened to a US convicted prisoner in a US prison, the prison guards would get manslaughter at the least.


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