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Brass Tacks | The Nation

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Brass Tacks

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Given these conditions, it's not surprising that record-keeping has been, at times, sub-par. Files at Abu Ghraib have been lost, says an army officer stationed in Baghdad who isn't authorized to speak on the subject and so requested anonymity. File cabinets were in short supply when detainees first arrived at Abu Ghraib, he says, and background information was kept in cardboard boxes and on a dry-erase board--with predictable results. "Some interrogation-related information was recorded on a whiteboard which was periodically erased," write General Fay and General Jones in their report.

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Tara McKelvey
Tara McKelvey, a 2011 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret...

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The consequences are unfortunate. If a CID agent can't find the file on a detainee with an abuse complaint, the case is closed, according to a source familiar with CID operations in Iraq. To make matters worse, the military is notoriously understaffed. The Army officer who requested anonymity says last year there were no pathologists authorized to do autopsies on detainees who died in US-run detention facilities in Iraq. So military officers learned to adjust. "They'd hold remains until they had enough for a medical examiner to come over from Dover [Maryland]," he explains. "It might take a few weeks or a month."

The investigators, too, are overworked. Ballesteros won't say how many CID agents are sent to Iraq--"for security reasons," he explains. But two sources familiar with CID operations say there are only three agents in the country--with more than 100 abuse cases to investigate.

In many cases these agents do their best, even employing a technique known as a "CID hold," which means keeping someone in detention who may have knowledge about an abuse case rather than letting them go and having to track them down later in war-torn Iraq. "Somebody can be kept in prison merely because they witnessed somebody else being tortured," explains one person familiar with CID operations. "It's shocking."

It's also not allowed--at least officially.

"They [detainees] aren't held past any routine or regular release date unless they're suspected of criminal wrongdoing," says Ballesteros.

And then there is the "OGA," or "Other Government Agency" referred to in military reports.

"You cannot have an overall sense of the issues without addressing CIA personnel," says Eugene Fidell, a former military prosecutor, defense counsel for the Coast Guard and president of a Washington-based nonprofit called the National Institute of Military Justice (NIMJ), which helps provide information on military justice procedures and statutes for the public and legal professionals. "To my knowledge, that hasn't been done. Or if it has been done, it's been kept a dark secret."

It is a secret at least partially uncovered in Dana Priest's recent Washington Post exposé about CIA "black sites" later revealed to be in Poland and Romania--though details of the CIA's activities are still murky. As Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker, "Senior Administration officials have led a fierce, and increasingly visible, fight to protect the CIA's classified interrogation protocol."

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