The Obama administration is reviving the Abu Ghraib prison scandal eight years after the fact, with a pending determination about whether a former leader of the CIA interrogation team at the facility will be charged with war crimes.
Retired CIA officer Steve Stormoen ran the unofficial interrogation program and according to an Associated Press report, questioned prisoners without listing them on the Army’s record books.
One of the prisoners, Manadel al-Jamadi, died after an interrogation session, and now Attorney General Eric Holder could charge Stormoen with “war crimes.”
Retired Army Special Forces Maj. and Vietnam veteran John Plaster says Stormoen is getting an unfair deal because the incident has already been investigated.
“I learned about this story directly from Steve (I’ve known him for 30 years), and by reading the AP article that was published last week. For five years Steve faced two separate CIA inspector general investigations, which found him not culpable for the death of the terrorist,” Plaster said.
Plaster also says al-Jamadi’s capture was a potentially dangerous situation.
“The terrorist’s apartment was raided around midnight. As the SEALs and Steve made the dynamic entry, the terrorist went for an AK (Kalashnikov assault rifle). They legitimately could have shot him dead right then, but instead rushed him,” Plaster describes. “Several hit him with the butts of their weapons, and he was subdued.”
“They risked their lives to take him alive,” Plaster said.
Published reports of the CIA interrogation operation say that in 2003 when the alleged CIA-led interrogations took place, the CIA specifically prohibited such actions, referred to as ‘ghosting.”
The AP report said the “ghosting” program was unsanctioned by CIA headquarters.
“The lawyers said agency officers could be present during military interrogations and add their expertise but, under the laws of war, the military must always have the lead,” the report added.
Plaster said Stormoen wasn’t present during the interrogation that allegedly took al-Jamadi’s life.
“After placing him in a cell at Abu Ghraib, Steve left. He was not there when the man died. His autopsy found that he died from a blood clot, the likely result from being subdued and asphyxiation,” Plaster detailed.
“The latter has been attributed to the sandbag placed over his head as a blindfold,” Plaster added.
Plaster asserts that it’s not uncommon for people to die from blood clots several hours after trauma, surgery or other injury, a condition verified by an article at WebMd and a report from the American Society of Hematology.
However, because of his experience in the Special Forces, Plaster is sure that the sandbag did not cause al-Jamadi’s death.
“I’m not sure how death could have resulted from a sandbag. This has been a standard technique for many years. We did the same in Vietnam 40 years ago and never had a prisoner asphyxiated. Sandbags are not airtight; they have loose, woven fibers,” Plaster explained.
Plaster goes on to explain that other officers, military and civilian, who were involved in the Abu Ghraib incident, have all had charges dropped. He challenges anyone to find the information.
“If you check on the Internet, you will see that seven past CIA directors called upon President Obama not to allow Attorney General Holder to seek any further action against Steve or any other CIA officers,” Plaster said. “Also, one former U.S. senator criticized Holder and the Justice Department for launching this new effort.”
Heritage Foundation military analyst James Carafano says that no matter who was at fault, and no matter how many have been charged or acquitted, an “Abu Ghraib” should never have happened.
“I don’t think Abu Ghraib is excusable on any grounds. What we’ve done there is reprehensible. I don’t think you can find any justification for it,” Carafano asserted.
“On the government side or the military side, clearly the problem [is] there was a breakdown in leadership and discipline. I was in the army for 25 years and I never had a soldier do anything like that,” Carafano maintained.
Listen to Carafano:
Carafano says that soldiers are responsive to the command structure and that the Abu Ghraib scenario is the product of faulty management and leadership.
“Soldiers would never do anything like that unless the chain of command and the leadership was simply a vacuum,” Carafano said.
“That was clearly a case of a failure of military leadership and good order and discipline. It had nothing to do with the situation whatsoever,” Carafano said.
Neither the CIA nor the FBI have responded to WND’s request for interviews on this issue.
A report on the ABC News website provides few details of Stormoen’s possible involvement in the incident except to suggest that Stormoen is the CIA officer who pushed for harsher interrogation methods.
“A CIA officer who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and pushed for approval to use increasingly harsh tactics has come under scrutiny in a federal war crimes investigation involving the death of a prisoner…,” the story said.
“Steve Stormoen, who is now retired from the CIA, supervised an
unofficial program in which the CIA imprisoned and interrogated men without
entering their names in the Army’s books,” the story added.
Plaster says that Stormoen has been advised to keep quiet.
“Steve’s attorney has insisted that he not speak to anyone right now – fear is he could inadvertently say something, even a minor detail, that is not declassified, and Holder could charge him with disclosing classified information,” Plaster commented.
He adds that an interview could be “misinterpreted.”
However, Plaster adds that Stormoen learned of the death later and asked for an investigation.
“Immediately upon learning of the prisoner’s death, Steve requested an investigation by the Army’s CID. He was not there when the prisoner died, but he was out with the SEAL Team that captured him. He did everything right,” Plaster declared.
Plaster said that Stormoen is now the victim.
“Beginning eight years ago, the CIA inspector general’s office twice investigated his role in the affair. Steve was not offered CIA legal assistance, but was hung out as a scapegoat,” Plaster said.
If the investigation and charges move forward, Stormoen will be one of several U. S. service members who have fought charges of murder or war crimes.
WND reported in 2010 that Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani retired from the Marine Corps after fighting charges of murder in connection with a Marine fire fight with Iraqi guerillas in Haditha, Iraq.
Chessani was cleared of the charges, but not before the late U. S. Rep. John Murtha accused the Marine Corps veteran of being a “murderer.”
WND also reported on the case of Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who was convicted of shooting an al-Qaida operative who Behenna says attempted to attack him.
Although he says that the security situation in Iraq still should never have led to an Abu Ghraib, Carafano says that there are still impediments to bringing order to the nation. One of the hindrances is the presence of organized factional militias.
“The biggest problem with security in Iraq are the Shia militias which have not been disarmed and disbanded by the government,” Carafano said.
“They are somewhat supported by Iran. The Iranians have been sensing that the Americans are getting ready to leave and have been trying to establish their presence and influence there,” Carafano stated.
“Still there’s a lingering al-Qaida presence. The Shia miiitias supported by Iran are probably the major security threat that the U. S. faces right now,” Carafano explained.