Today's bombshell is in the New York Times, Prison Abuse: Rumsfeld Issued an Order to Hide Detainee in Iraq.
Let's count the shockers (we can still be shocked, can't we?) and estimate the fallout.
1. Rumsfeld (at the CIA's request—we'll get to that), ordered what seems at least a technical war crime: putting a confirmed POW in solitary and hiding him from the Red Cross. [Update (6/17): Oops. Not a confirmed POW, a civilian detainee — see Cecil Turner Has A Point.]
2. It's not a unique case; there is/was a class of “ghost detainees”—disappeared people. This from a country that (with some justice) tied itself up in knots over the fate of its own POWs and MIAs in Vietnam.
3. In addition to being immoral (we knew that), our leaders are not just partially (we knew that) but totally incompetent: having put this guy on ice because he was too important to expose to the Red Cross and so desperately needed to be softened up, the system forgot all about him:
Seven months later, however, the detainee – a reputed senior officer of Ansar al-Islam, a group the United States has linked to Al Qaeda and blames for some attacks in Iraq – is still languishing at the prison but has only been questioned once while in detention, in what government officials acknowledged was an extraordinary lapse.
“Once he was placed in military custody, people lost track of him,” a senior intelligence official conceded Wednesday night. “The normal review processes that would keep track of him didn't.”
The detainee was described by the official as someone “who was actively planning operations specifically targeting U.S. forces and interests both inside and outside of Iraq.”
But once he was placed into custody at Camp Cropper, where about 100 detainees deemed to have the highest intelligence value are held, he received only one cursory arrival interrogation from military officers and was never again questioned by any other military or intelligence officers, according to Pentagon and intelligence officials.
Things we know already, and that this incident reminds us:
4. Abu Ghraib may be the tip of an iceberg. There are a lot of other military prisons to worry about both in and out of Iraq. One is Camp Cropper, at or near the Baghdad Airport.
5. Even worse is a network of secret CIA prisons in various undisclosed locations, run by people who take the view that none of the rules apply to them. We have no idea how many of these prisons exist, how many prisoners they hold or have held, what the casualty rate is, and whether it's a one-way trip or if people are ever released from them.
I. You would think that Rumsfeld would have to resign unless somehow they can make Tenet the fall guy for this. But I am dubious. Yes, this is much more direct and personal authorization — a real smoking gun — than what has come out so far in the torture cases, although there's serious circumstantial evidence accumulating there too. On the other hand, while putting 'ghost' detainees in secret solitary is illegal, and technically a war crime, the effect on the detainees not nearly as horrible as what seems to have happened at Abu Ghraib.
II. People like me, who have been highly dubious about the US acceding to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court due to the real and troubling encroachment on our traditional conception of national sovereignty are really going to have to think long and hard about changing sides on this one, or at least accepting jurisdiction with regards to some of our treaty obligations. The last few months argue strongly that the US cannot always be relied on to observe its international law obligations as much as I would have thought and hoped.
III. At some point some of this stuff has to stick to Rumsfeld's boss. Are we there yet?