Brass Tacks | The Nation


Brass Tacks

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Elizabeth Hillman, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Law and author of Defending America: Military Culture and the Cold War Court-Martial, says the investigations are inherently flawed. "There is a quagmire of different interests in the pantheon of abusers--interrogators, commanders, reserve forces, contractors. That complicates the nature of the criminal investigations," she explains. "The Army's trying to save face even as it's trying to investigate wrongdoers."

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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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Or, as one 52-year-old former CID agent who asked not to be identified ("I have enough going on in my life right now") says, agents have become increasingly aligned with the Army. "It's useful not to be too chummy with the people you have to investigate," he says.

And, as assistant US attorney William Gallo explains, it's hard to get people to testify against one another during wartime. "All the potential witnesses were comrades-in-arms with the accused, and to get any evidence is difficult," he says. "It's hard to get someone to say, 'My best friend killed this guy'--particularly when he's believed to be an insurgent."

Was justice served in the Hatab case?

"The investigation was conducted in a combat zone and understandably mistakes are going to be made," says Gallo. "Had there not been mistakes--if the cooler had not exploded on the tarmac, for example--maybe the outcome would have been different. But yes, I think justice was done because the system worked despite the mistakes."

Whether it's because of missing files, lack of evidence or simply inertia, though, few complaints lead to charges. Many more end up like the case of the detainee at Abu Ghraib who describes how, on the night of April 27, 2004, he was pulled from his home, hooded and placed in the back of a Stryker vehicle. At that point, he says, an officer "put his hands around my neck one minutes and he pressed hard and I felt like I was dying from choking." He describes three days and nights in Mosul when he was forced to hold his hands on his head for six hours, placed in stress positions and repeatedly doused with icy water.

"Do you wish to add anything to this statement?" asks an investigator.

"Yes," the detainee answers. "I need justice and my rights."

An investigation was started on July 27, 2004, and ended with a September 23, 2004, CID memo that states: "Investigation did not develop sufficient evidence to prove or disprove Mr. [blacked out] allegation."

Case closed.

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