Abu Ghraib, ‘torture’ ban blamed for prolonging war
April 22, 2008
WASHINGTON — U.S. military casualties in Iraq skyrocketed during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and following a ban on coercive interrogation of prisoners 18 months later, shows an analysis of monthly Defense Department reports on troop deaths conducted by G2B.
Only two times during the course of the war do statistics show combat deaths significantly increasing:
- The first came just as the Abu Ghraib scandal was breaking in April 2004, casting international doubt upon the American-led mission and, say U.S. military sources, giving encouragement to terrorist forces on the ground.
- The second came in 2006, following the implementation of new rules of engagement and a congressional ban on so-called “torture” that strictly limited interrogation techniques by U.S. military personnel.
In addition to being the month the world first heard of Abu Ghraib, April 2004 also was the second-highest month for U.S. military deaths in Iraq and it set off a period of significant instability.
The 136 U.S. combat deaths in April were rivaled only once — seven months later, as the scandal continued to unfold in the international media.
In the first 13 months of the war, leading up to April 2004, there were a total of 605 U.S. military deaths in Iraq. In the following 13 months there were 928 — more than a 50 percent increase.
Casualties remained steady and slightly higher than at the beginning of the war through the next 18 months of the war, followed by another major surge of violence directed against U.S. troops, U.S. military sources that include veterans of multiple tours of Iraq, those involved in interrogations and military intelligence experts told G2B.
In early 2006, the Congress approved the ban on interrogation methods widely labeled as “torture.” However, U.S. military interrogators say the more accurate terminology for the practices banned is “coercive interrogations.” They say the prohibitions left the U.S. without the kind of information it needed to prevent future attacks, to assess the strength of the enemy and to locate strongholds.
Analysis of statistics suggests those assessments may have some validity.
Beginning in October 2006, the U.S. faced an 11-month period of greatly increased field casualties — a total of 1,091. Only the introduction of higher U.S. troop levels and new surge strategies offered up by Gen. David Petraeus had the effect of reducing casualties to the lowest levels of the war over the last seven months.
Besides the alarming statistics, there are on-the-record sources linking Abu Ghraib fallout, changing rules of engagement and the ban on coercive interrogations to higher death tolls for U.S. troops.
According to Army Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the chilling effect of the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib caused about a 25 percent decline in intelligence gathered from inmates.
Back in 2006, one military insider told G2B: “There are absolutely no standards and everybody — and I mean everybody — graduates now. They’ve essentially removed all structure to the questioning techniques and now students, mostly 18-year-old kids, get to question any way they like. The instructors at the end of the iteration have to provide the student with all the information they missed.”
According to the Iraq Study Group’s report in December 2005, “our … government still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias.” It said there had been too little investment in intelligence gathering and analysis.
The worst part of the new manual on interrogations, say experts on the subject, was the fact that the U.S. made the restrictions public.
Veteran military interrogators say the public release of the Army’s limits on techniques tipped the hand to terrorists and enemies worldwide virtually ruling out the possibility that prisoners would offer up any effective intelligence in the field.
One critic said “tactical HUMINT” — meaning human intelligence gathering — is now a dead concept as far as effectiveness is concerned.
“The worst thing is that the new manual has been released, with no secret amendments totally unclassified to the world — not even ‘for official use only,'” said a field interrogator with experience in Iraq. “All the briefers were honest enough to state that every terrorist entity in the world is now is fully aware of all of our techniques and all of our limitations and therefore, is prepared to resist. The rationale is that the Army and the DoD (Department of Defense) want no bad press and doesn’t want anybody in the world to think we are doing anything ‘sneaky.'”
New rules of engagement that began to go into effect for some units in Iraq at the end of 2005 also played a role in turning U.S. troops into targets rather than warriors. G2B first reported that year soldiers were told not to fire unless fired upon.
From Michael Yon of the Wall Street Journal:
I may well have spent more time embedded with combat units in Iraq than any other journalist alive. I have seen this war â€“ and our part in it â€“ at its brutal worst. And I say the transformation over the last 14 months is little short of miraculous.
The change goes far beyond the statistical decline in casualties or incidents of violence. A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America. Iraqi special forces units took to the streets to track down terrorists who killed American soldiers. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in Iraq, and many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers. Yes, young Iraqi boys know about “GoArmy.com.”
We know now that we can pull off a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. We know that we are working with an increasingly willing citizenry. But counterinsurgency, like community policing, requires lots of boots on the ground. You can’t do it from inside a jet or a tank.
Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory â€“ and a democracy in the Arab world â€“ is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.