from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 42
May 5, 2004
TORTURE REPORT MAY HAVE BROKEN CLASSIFICATION RULES
- TORTURE REPORT MAY HAVE BROKEN CLASSIFICATION RULES
- ABU GHRAIB AND THE FAILURE OF STRATEGIC INFLUENCE
- CONGRESS PERFORMED CLASSIFICATION POLICY REVIEW (OR NOT)
By classifying an explosive report on the torture of Iraqi prisoners as "Secret," the Pentagon may have violated official secrecy policies, which prohibit the use of classification to conceal illegal activities.
The report, authored by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, found that "between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility, numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees."
"The allegations of abuse were substantiated by detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence," Gen. Taguba wrote.
These specific observations, and the report as a whole, were classified "Secret / No Foreign Dissemination."
Why the secrecy?
"There's clearly nothing in there that's inherently secret, such as intelligence sources and methods or troop movements," an astute reporter noted at a Pentagon press briefing on May 4. "Was this kept secret because it would be embarrassing to the world, particularly the Arab world?"
"I do not know specifically why it was labeled Secret," replied Gen. Peter Pace.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not know why it was classified, either. "You'd have to ask the classifier," he said.
But the classification may have been more than simply unnecessary. It might have been a violation of official policy, which forbids the use of secrecy to cover up crimes:
"In no case shall information be classified in order to ... conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error [or to] prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency...," according to Section 1.7 of Executive Order 12958, as amended by President Bush (EO 13292):
In a lawyerly reading, the Pentagon might respond that the document was not specifically classified "in order" to conceal violations of law, even though that was the direct consequence, but for some other purpose.
The fact remains that classification served to conceal illegal activity for months, if not longer.
Furthermore, there is no effective mechanism to enforce even the executive branch's own standards and policies on classification. Rather, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal came to light through an unauthorized disclosure of classified information, for which one must be sadly grateful.
The report on torture at Abu Ghraib prison is apparently still classified. But it is now widely available on the internet, including here:
ABU GHRAIB AND THE FAILURE OF STRATEGIC INFLUENCE
Disclosure of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has dealt a profound blow to U.S. government efforts to communicate a positive, constructive message to the Islamic world.
The excellence of current communications technologies was supposed to give the U.S. an advantage in exercising influence abroad.
Instead, all of the latest technologies of global communication have been harnessed to transmit images of U.S. torture and sexual humiliation to every corner of the globe. Probably never before has such documentation of human rights abuses been disseminated so widely and so quickly.
That wasn't part of the plan.
The development of "information operations" as a tool of American foreign policy was discussed and critiqued in two research reports written last year by U.S. Army officers.
"No wizardry in communications can make bad policy decisions or actions palatable [to foreign audiences]. However, having a competent strategic influence campaign is essential to U.S. victory in the War on Terrorism," wrote Lt. Col. Susan L. Gough.
Yet "the initial strategic influence efforts of the Bush Administration ... revealed a typically American myopic viewpoint: Americans assume that other people think as they do and want the same things that American do -- that other people want to be like Americans."
See "The Evolution of Strategic Influence by Lt. Col. Susan L. Gough, U.S. Army War College, April 2003:
In a more upbeat assessment, Col. Brad M. Ward asserted in another Army War College study that "The Department of Defense maintains very robust and relatively sophisticated influence mechanisms to inform and influence foreign audiences at the operational and tactical levels during peacetime and in war."
See "Strategic Influence Operations -- The Information Connection," by Col. Brad M. Ward, April 2003:
But it is not clear that the Bush Administration has a compelling message to offer the Arab world.
The new U.S.-funded Arabic satellite TV station, Al Hurra, last week included in its programming a profile of actress Goldie Hawn, "which will certainly do little to advance the cause of democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds," wrote independent critic Stephen Schwartz.
See "Mideast Media Mess" by Stephen Schwartz, TechCentralStation.com, May 3:
CONGRESS PERFORMED CLASSIFICATION POLICY REVIEW (OR NOT)
Congress has completed the review of classification policy that was recommended last year by the Congressional Joint Inquiry into September 11, said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts in a speech this week. But he may be mistaken.
The classification system is in need of significant reform, the Congressional Joint Inquiry indicated in one of its nineteen recommendations, made public in July 2003.
"Congress should ... review the statutes, policies and procedures that govern the national security classification of intelligence information and its protection from unauthorized disclosure. Among other matters, Congress should consider the degree to which excessive classification has been used in the past and the extent to which the emerging threat environment has greatly increased the need for real-time sharing of sensitive information," according to Recommendation Number 15.
That has now been accomplished, said Sen. Roberts in a May 3 speech at Kansas State University.
"Congress has implemented four [of the 19] changes: a national watch-list center, a terrorist information fusion center, oversight of the Patriot Act, and a review of classification policy."
This is "good news," he said.
But it's not good news, because intelligence classification policy is unchanged. CIA classification practices are as arbitrary and poorly justified as ever. The Congressional review of classification, if it occurred, has left the world as it was.
However, it may not have occurred.
"I am not aware of any classification policy review having been done," said Bill Duhnke, the staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"I think the Chairman must have misspoken," he told Secrecy News.
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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