Years after this scandal exploded, we’re still receiving details on US allies being far too willing to excuse and defend abuses:
Secret Defence documents obtained under freedom of information laws show an Australian officer, Major George O’Kane, was far more deeply involved in the operations of Abu Ghraib prison when terrible abuses of prisoners occurred than previously revealed.
The documents, which include extensive interviews with Major O’Kane when he returned from Iraq in 2004, reveal that as a military lawyer embedded with the United States he was a primary author of the manual for processing prisoners in Iraq.
He also advised on the legality of interrogation techniques being used on at least one detainee. Major O’Kane was instructed to deny access to the Red Cross to nine ”High Value Detainees” during their January 2004 visit because the prisoners were undergoing active interrogation and, according to the US view, fell under the exemption of ”imperative military necessity”. This view was contentious.
After his return he told superiors he was aware of rumours that the US had ordered an internal investigation of Abu Ghraib and it had something to do with photos, though his knowledge does not appear to have extended beyond a conversation with a US officer who assured him it was being investigated.
Although Major O’Kane’s role was discussed at a Senate inquiry in May 2004, he was not permitted to give evidence because he was said to be too junior.
He also did not attend US congressional hearings into the abuse, despite the documents revealing that the Democrat leader, Nancy Pelosi, personally asked the then prime minister, John Howard, to allow him to attend.
As point man for the Red Cross during visits to Abu Ghraib, Major O’Kane saw highly critical Red Cross working papers alleging abuses at Abu Ghraib and drafted responses for the prison chief, Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski.
Major O’Kane was also aware that the US was hiding a high-level detainee – dubbed ”Triple XXX” in the US media – from the Red Cross. This had been done at the direction of the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
Even more sensitive was Major O’Kane’s involvement in a highly secret mission referred to in the documents as ”Operation Eel”.
This involved the transfer of a high-value detainee from the US warship USS Higgins, anchored in the Persian Gulf, back to Abu Ghraib on December 16, 2003. The timing is significant because it was near the time of the capture of Saddam Hussein. This week Defence denied Major O’Kane was involved in the transfer of Saddam. But the documents and other sources suggest the detainee might have been someone who helped pinpoint Saddam’s last hideout.
”Major O’Kane did not observe any abuse of the suspect who was manacled and hooded during the transport operation,” the Australian Eyes Only report says.
In December 2003 and January 2004, Major O’Kane was involved in negotiations with the Red Cross for access to Saddam.