Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter Soldier: Camilo Mejia Version 3.0

The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) should announce with regret a glitch in that chair Camilo Mejia's testimony at Winter Soldier is not backward compatible with earlier versions of the same story.

In the audio of that testimony at the recently convened and misnamed Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI), Mejia testified about what he and his squad did while guarding detainees in Iraq. He has told this story many times, and the story has changed in ways that are mutually exclusive. In short, some of it has to be lies.

At WSI Mejia told of sleep deprivation methods he and his squad were ordered to use to "soften up" detainees for interrogation. These included shouting, banging sledge hammers on walls to similate explosions and cocking a pistol next to the detainee's ear. This was described by Mejia in a May 2005 interview:

They were hooded prisoners. Yell at them, tell them to get up and get down. Let them sleep for five seconds, so they will get up disoriented. Bang a sledgehammer on a wall to make it sound like an explosion, scare them. And if all of that fails then, you know, cock a .9 millimeter gun next to their ear, so as to make them believe that they're going to be executed.

Mejia's telling at Winter Soldier was more lurid. He described objecting to yelling at the detainees in a language they couldn't understand, and was supposedly told that they would come to understand just as dogs would, since they were animals. He also called the cocking of a pistol next to a dozing off or sleeping detainee a "mock execution".

Yelling, slamming a hammer on a wall or cocking a pistol are all sensory (aural) means to startle a sleeping or dozing person awake. If such a person is startled by the cocking of a pistol at his ear and finds that pistol pointed at him in a threatening way, it may well be a mock execution. If it is only the sound of the cocking pistol that is startling, and the detainee is not being threatened by that firearm, it is no more a mock execution than a sledge hammer simulating a bomb going off is a mock execution. John Conroy, author of Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People and critic of American policy was quoted in the National Catholic Reporter in May 2004 about Mejia's claims:

Conroy said “the revolver business” is also torture if it simulates a mock execution, which he described as one of the “worst forms of torture” because of its long-lasting psychological effects.

Conroy, who believes that sleep deprivation itself is torture, correctly noted about the use of the pistol that it is only tortures "if it simulates an execution", meaning, its use as described many times previously by Mejia did not clearly indicate such.

For a comparison to what are definitely mock executions there are examples provided in the materials submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the attorneys of Americans taken captive in Iraq and Kuwait by Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein at the time of the Gulf War:

Nichol goes on to describe the mock execution of himself and Larry Slade, as the Iraqis pulled their gun and pointed at Slade saying "you are dead" and "you are now going to die," moving closer to Larry until he could see down the barrel of the gun, and then pulling the trigger, "click."...he indicated how the Iraqi "sneered at the expression on our faces [after the mock execution], and walked away laughing."

and...

Several times over the first few days of his captivity, Acree’s captors held mock executions in an attempt to extract information from him. During one of his early interrogations, he was asked for strategic information, and when he did not supply it, a guard put a pistol to his head.
and...

Four times during his captivity, [Chief Warrant Officer Guy Hunter's] captors held mock executions wherein they pushed his head to the side with a gun, paused for about ten seconds, and pulled the trigger.
and...

[Lt. Lawrence Slade's] captors then told him to prepare to die, pushed a pistol against his head, and pulled the trigger

In comparison to those, there is one glaring and consistent details that appears in all of Mejia's currently released versions of the story that argues against the charge of mock execution: the detainees presumed to be enemy combatants were wearing sandbag hoods! They could not see the pistol, the person who was holding it, or whether it was pointed at them or not. The point of a mock execution is to make the person believe he is about to be killed. A person being startled by the sound of a pistol being cocked may be afraid and speculate that this may happen, to the point of confusion, but he is not being made to believe he is being executed.

In his WSI testimony Mejia said:
"...our job was to keep prisoners who had been detained as enemy combatants sleep deprived for up to seventy-two hours."
In addition to that "our job", in his testimony Mejia used the word "we" repeatedly, as in "the next thing we did" as a lead-up to use of the sledge hammer and pistol and then saying:
"We were performing mock executions."
That certainly gives Mejia's tale a first person and experienced quality. However, in a March 2005 interview with Amy Goodman, Mejia was asked if had ever engaged in the actions described by him at the time (yelling, sledge hammers and cocking pistols) and which did not include the claim of "mock executions", Mejia replied:

"Not really, because we weren't there very long. We only were there for six hours with these enemy combatants and it was during the daytime. Some of the guys in my squad did yell at them on my orders. They used the sledgehammer. I don't think they used the gun. But then we were relieved and then they were taken away. It was enough to see who was going."

How were Mejia and his quad keeping what he called enemy combatants sleep deprived for seventy-two hours if they were only there for six? How can he claim "we performed mock executions" if neither he nor any member of his squad used a pistol?

In an August 2005 Dahr Jamail article entitled "What Have We Done", "dispatched" over the world wide web through Jamail's propaganda operation, Jamail quoted Mejia as saying:

"I tortured guys...and I’m ashamed of that."
All of Mejia's versions of what he has told cannot be true. He cannot keep someone sleep deprived for seventy two hours if he is only there for six. If he claims to have tortured guys why did he deny doing such things only months before? During his court martial hearing for desertion, Mejia made no claim to have engaged in torture or mock executions when such could have helped his defence for desertion. Rather, Mejia's defense was based on his "expectation" that if he returned to Iraq he would be ordered to do things that violated law and his conscience.
Citizen Soldier's cooperating attorney, Louis Font, of Brookline, MA is preparing to appeal Camilo's conviction on two different legal grounds. First, the appeal argues that the court martial judge erred when he refused to allow defense lawyers to offer evidence of international law violations which Mejia had a legal duty to refuse. During Camilo's five months of combat in Iraq, he personally observed such violations on a regular basis. Therefore, his expectation of illegal orders was based on his actual experience--not on speculation.
Maybe the next version, Mejia 4.0, will get rid of the bugs. Don't count on it, however.

8 comments:

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