WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may be directly responsible for the behavior of U.S. military personnel pictured degrading Iraqi prisoners, according to published reports. The scandal and shame reach all the way from the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison outside of Baghdad to the very top of the American government.


Despite Mr. Bush’s official and personal expression of disgust over the content of more than 1,800 photos and three hours of videos depicting humiliating sexual abuse and coercion of Iraqi detainees, the prestige of the United States has sunk to an all-time low. The country has lost and continues to lose friends all over Asia, Africa, Central and South America.


The crash of American prestige came even as the gruesome videotaped beheading of an American civilian in Iraq was seen around the world. Still, there was no world sympathy for the United States. In strongly worded messages, the murder of Nicholas Berg, a freelance civilian contractor, was condemned by at least three Arab states–Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)–and by Islamic militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

Mr. Berg was beheaded by men claiming their act was revenge for the prisoner abuse.

“There is no doubt that killing detainees and mutilating the remains of the dead are acts which are condemned by all religions and contrary to the morals of all nations and peoples,” Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan said in a statement May 12 according to CNN.com.

“Hezbollah condemns this grisly act which has caused great harm to Islam and to Muslims by this group which falsely claims to belong to the religion of mercy, compassion and genuine human values,” according to a statement the following day, published by STLtoday.com.

Beginning in late 2001, Mr. Bush, supported by Mr. Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, authorized a secret change in military detention and interrogation rules which circumvented the safeguards of the Geneva Convention, Newsweek magazine reported in its May 24 edition. The techniques involved the same kind of behavior seen in the now-infamous photos–“softening up of prisoners through isolation, privations, insults, threats and humiliation,” according to the magazine.

The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the U.S. policy, calling the newly approved interrogation methods “tantamount to torture.”

Mr. Rumsfeld then personally authorized expansion of the program–known to only 200 operatives in the entire government, but opposed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and the country’s top military lawyers–Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in the May 17 edition of The New Yorker.

Newsweek reports that it is unlikely that either Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld knew of the specific techniques employed, and the Pentagon flatly denied sanctioning torture by U.S. troops, and later adamantly denied the charges that were raised in the report by Mr. Hersh.

“No responsible official of the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses,” the Pentagon said in a statement. The New Yorker article is “outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture,” the statement said.

The scandal may not be confined to Iraq, however. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops are also “operating outside the rule of law, using excessive force to make arrests, mistreating detainees and holding them indefinitely in a ‘legal black hole’ without any safeguards,” according to a report published last March by The Guardian in London.

After invading Afghanistan in its “war on terror,” U.S. military forces there have repeatedly used deadly helicopter gunships, as well as small and heavy arms fire during “what are essentially law-enforcement operations” to arrest suspected criminals in residential areas where this is no military conflict, according to a report by Human Rights Watch that was cited by The Guardian.

Only a handful of lower-ranking enlisted personnel have been officially charged for any role in the scandal at Final Call press time. The accused soldiers–members of a Maryland military police (MP) reserve unit–insist that they were acting on orders from higher-ups and from military intelligence officers who assumed command of the prison.

The growing Iraqi insurgency had taken a turn for the worse for the U.S., and Pentagon officials were pressuring personnel in the field to increase the amount of “actionable” intelligence from so-called “high value” prisoners, in order to help turn the military tide back in their favor.

Their job was to “soften up” the detainees, according to published reports. They were instructed in accordance with the spirit, if not the letter, of the newly approved interrogation techniques aimed at, in at least one case: “significantly increasing the fear level in a security detainee,” according to military documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Military police–who would not ordinarily have a role in interrogating–were to throw chairs and tables in a prisoner’s presence at the prison and “invade his personal space.” They were then to put a hood over the prisoner’s head, isolate him in a cell through a gauntlet of barking guard dogs, strip-search him, and interrupt his sleep for three days with interrogations, barking and loud music. The plan may have been one of two dozen unusually tough interrogations approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

Under the relaxed official standards on torture, a culture of abuse was tolerated by U.S. officials and it began to spread throughout the military ranks. After reports of prison abuse first emerged in 2002, and under considerable pressure from human rights groups and from this country’s European allies for the U.S. to disavow torture-techniques in interrogations, the White House released a statement in June 2003, but never offered a plan to really prevent the “cruel and unusual punishment” which that statement condemned.

Hundreds were and are being held incommunicado at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the administration has repeatedly asserted that the rules of the Geneva Conventions may have outlived their usefulness.

Human rights advocates are now convinced that the failure by Bush administration officials to enforce strong anti-torture measures when the charges first arose suggests they may not be serious about dealing with allegations of prisoner abuse in the first place. After instigating torment against Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. government finds itself tormented by developments in both wars.

First, Iran warned the U.S. that the Muslim world will not stand idly by while Islamic holy sites in Iraq are desecrated by U.S. troops.

“The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the mistreatment of the Iraqi people, the appointment of a U.S. administrator in Iraq, the torture of prisoners, and the attacks on the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala are a series of mistakes that have placed the U.S. forces in a quagmire, and the more they try to advance the deeper they sink,” Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, said May 16, according to The Tehran Times.

Ayatollah Khamenei called the U.S. plan for handing over sovereignty to Iraqis “a ruse” saying that “Iraqi politicians and prominent figures should know that anyone who comes to power and becomes a puppet of the U.S. will be as hated as the U.S.”

In another development, U.S. military officials are now planning to displace some of the 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea to Iraq in order to shore-up troop strength on the ground.

“The U.S. government has told us that it needs to select some U.S. troops in South Korea and send them to Iraq to cope with the worsening situation in Iraq,” said Kim Sook, head of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s North American Bureau, at Final Call press time, according to Washingtonpost.com. This development comes 13 months after Mr. Bush landed on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier proclaiming “mission accomplished” and that offensive military combat activity by U.S. forces had been concluded.