Congressional Oversight into Foreign Prisons is Sufficient

Apr 25, 2006
















For Immediate Release: April 26, 2006                                     Contact: Josh Holly (202) 225-2539



Congressional Oversight into Foreign Prisons is Sufficient





By: U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee






In January 2004, within days of viewing evidence of abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, senior commander in , announced that the Army already had an investigation under way.  I remember thinking, how typically American for the Army to tell the world it was investigating itself.  As events unfolded since then, the Department of Defense (DoD) has demonstrated its commitment to uphold ’s policy of humane treatment toward detainees by getting to the truth and letting the chips fall where they may. 




I know this because Congress has been involved at every step. 




The House Armed Services Committee’s oversight has consisted of the following:

  • Four full Committee hearings on detainee policy and oversight, including testimony from the Secretary of Defense and special investigators involved in producing both the 9,000-page Fay/Kern/Jones Report on Abu Ghraib and the Schlesinger Report on Guantanamo;
  • Full access to the extensive, classified Taguba Report, the result of the investigation ordered by Lt. Gen. Sanchez;
  • Four bipartisan Congressional delegations to Abu Ghraib, as well as six delegations to Guantanamo Bay—the most recent was last week—to view conditions firsthand; and,


  • Following my own bipartisan delegation to Guantanamo last summer, Army Maj. General Jay Hood, Commanding General of the Guantanamo Task Force, traveled to Washington to update the full Committee;
  • Four full Committee hearings on which addressed detainee issues;
  • Seven HASC Member-only briefings;
  • Twenty-six briefings for Committee staff members, including three briefings for each Representative’s military legislative affairs staff member;
  • Presentation of five major DoD reviews and investigations;
  • Five full member briefings on International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) findings, and one staff briefing;
  • DoD provided information on 13 major investigations or assessments and more than 300 criminal investigations and resulting disciplinary actions;
  • Earlier this year, General Bantz Craddock, head of U.S. Southern Command, updated HASC members on detainee matters at Guantanamo Bay .  General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and overall commander of operations, also provided detainee updates.




Along with this oversight agenda, Congress, at the HASC’s recommendation, also enacted legislation directing the Defense Secretary to prescribe policies that ensure DoD personnel training Iraqi security forces teach trainees about international obligations and laws that apply to humane treatment of detainees.  This includes protections afforded under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. The legislation also directed the translation of portions of the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation into Arabic and other appropriate languages for use by Iraqi security forces and appropriate Iraqi government officials.   We also urged that the translated version of the Field Manual be given broad distribution throughout the Iraqi Security Forces, including to field and company-grade officers and noncommissioned officers.  Since American service members are trained and encouraged to lead by example, we underscored that Americans set the example for the new Iraqi democracy by demonstrating the commitment to the rule of law that is essential to armed forces in a democratic state.





Congressional action also sets uniform standards for the interrogation of detainees and prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and grants detainees access to federal courts.  Another provision is aimed at protecting personnel from inhumane treatment, and ensures they receive government-provided legal protection should they face civil action or criminal prosecution either in the or abroad.






Throughout the last couple years, it was evident that American commanders took immediate steps to correct problems as they discovered them, setting in motion a series of examinations and corrections involving the Defense Department and Congress.  That’s how it should work in a system based on the rule of law.  And that’s how it should work in when operations are under Iraqi control. 




Recent news stories reporting prisoner abuse by Iraqi police point to remnants of a totalitarian regime that made torture routine police business.  While Iraq’s past presents challenges moving forward, Iraqis are nevertheless working to fashion a new paradigm—along with the Defense Department, which is focusing greater efforts on developing Iraq’s police force. 




We must remain vigilant as we help Iraqis develop a detention program centering not on abuse, but on serving and protecting Iraqi citizens.  Among other measures, military members exercise their oversight through unannounced inspections of Iraqi prison facilities.[1]  When they find signs of mistreatment, they act.   Similarly, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has taken reports of such cases directly to Iraqi government officials.




              As we hand over more authority in , we can expect setbacks since people aren’t perfect.  If they were, we wouldn’t need to monitor our own detainee operations.  But in a system based on accepted conventions and values, incidents of abuse become so infrequent as to be the exception rather than the rule—which has been the case at both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.




Given the substantial oversight which Congress has exercised—along with DoD’s aggressive, open and ongoing self-examinations—I am convinced that the Defense Department is working hard to ensure that detainees, whether in Guantanamo or , are treated in a manner consistent with American values and obligations.  




A recent newspaper article suggested that all of our efforts are making an impact.  The article mentioned an Iraqi official who was inspecting Iraqi prisons.  In his pocket, he carried a press clipping that quoted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace responding to a reporter’s question about Americans’ responsibilities toward Iraqi prisoners.  The general’s reply—that American troops witnessing inhumane treatment at the hands of Iraqi security personnel had an obligation to try to intervene—prompted the Iraqi official to add:  “I want [Iraqis] to do what General Pace said.” 




Clearly, Iraqis are also inspired by men and women like General Pace who serve selflessly and lead by exceptional example—another indication that our system is working.








[1] The Washington Post: April 24, 2006

109th Congress