On at least two occasions now PLU French prof Mark Jensen has taken me to task on the United for Peace Pierce County web site for his view that I have failed to adequately cover Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby’s report on detainee operations in Afghanistan. Bottom line up front: Reasonable people can disagree about what should be covered in a news story, but Jacoby’s report doesn’t say what Jensen says it does.
Jacoby, while a brigadier general and assistant division commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Afghanistan, was directed in 2004 to inspect all aspects of U.S. military detainee operations in Afghanistan and report his findings. His report is dated June 2004.
You can read it here yourself – much of it, anyway. The Pentagon redacted large portions of the copy it released to the American Civil Liberties Union. (Click here for the ACLU’s list of the redacted documents.)
However, most of Jacoby’s findings, conclusions and recommendations are there.
Of the profile of the new Fort Lewis commanding general that we ran Aug. 12, Jensen wrote:
Gilbert’s 2,000-word account contains quite a bit about Jacoby’s devotion to “the community” but omits altogether his most important contribution to American history, the Jacoby Report on Afghanistan. – This infamous document put Jacoby’s name on the front page of the Washington Post (and many other papers) in 2004, but the News Tribune seems committed to burying the memory of it. – The report said that the the stripping of prisoners, forcing them into stress positions, and the use of dogs to intimidate them migrated to Abu Ghraib from Afghanistan.
In fact, the Jacoby report says nothing of the kind.
Nor does the apparent source of Jensen’s statement, a Dec. 3, 2004 Washington Post story that for the most part accurately reports on Jacoby’s findings. The Post attributes its story to three unnamed “government officials privy to its conclusions.”
But the Post story also goes on to report on matters disclosed in two other Department of Defense reports the previous August about detainee abuses in Iraq. It was in those reports – not Jacoby’s – that the military disclosed the “migration” of detainee abuse tactics from Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In addition, the Post cited an Army Criminal Investigation Command probe completed the month before Jacoby’s report that implicated Army MPs in the deaths of three detainees in Afghanistan in 2002.
Jacoby, in his report, notes that he was ordered to conduct an inspection, not an investigation, and as such his mission was not to confirm specific allegations of abuse.
Jensen also wrote:
“Jacoby could have, but did not, attempt to measure the compliance of U.S. units [in Afghanistan] with the Geneva Conventions.”
This is also inaccurate. Jacoby noted that it was the Bush administration policy that captured al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan were “detainees,” not “prisoners of war,” and therefore not entitled to treatment according to the Geneva Conventions.
But Jacoby reported:
"The consistent and overarching observation that flowed from this inspection was that forces assigned to this command understand the concept of humane treatment and are providing humane treatment to detainees in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Convention."
Finally, at his roundtable session with reporters last month, Jacoby was asked what he learned from his experience with the Afghanistan report. His full answer:
“I think we’ve learned a lot over time. And I also I think the main point of the question you bring up is the Army, your Army, is a learning organization and we are getting better at detainee operations. There are mistakes that are made, but the key to this is the discipline and training of the force. And I can tell you coming out of the incidents that we’ve had in the past, there are aggressive and comprehensive training programs that are in place and all soldiers are undergoing before going into theater.
“Having said that, this is an emotional, emotional experience. This is not disconnected from memorial services that you all attend. I mean soldiers love each other, they bond with each other, they serve with each other and so, you know, (in) the harsh light of the interview room, it looks a little different than it does on the battlefield. But our soldiers are disicplined. We should be proud as a nation that the people we detain are treated fairly and consistently across the theater.
“It’s not really my lane to talk about what’s going on in theater right now but I can tell you the training programs are in place and we’ve learned lessons as a result of our past experiences.”
So why didn’t I go into all of this in my profile of Jacoby? Fair question.
Here in Tacoma, more than three years after the fact and thousands of miles away from the scene, I don’t feel like I am in a very promising position to credibly examine Jacoby’s methods and findings in the Afghanistan report. Others have had their say about it – here, for example. I don’t know that with many hours of reporting work I would have found much new to add.
My goal was to tell local readers more about the person who is running the post, and to give readers some insight into the subplot that will be running in the background throughout his tenure at Fort Lewis; that is, preparations for the Corps’ likely deployment to Iraq.