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Profile: US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)

US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Official logo of US Central Command (CENTCOM), one of the nine military commands established under the Defense Reorganization Act.Official logo of US Central Command (CENTCOM), one of the nine military commands established under the Defense Reorganization Act. [Source: Public domain]President Reagan signs into law the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, originally sponsored by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Representative Bill Nichols (D-AL). Goldwater-Nichols, as it is sometimes called, sparks the largest reorganization of the US military since the National Security Act of 1947. Operational authority is centralized through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as opposed to the actual service chiefs themselves. The chairman is designated as the primary military adviser to the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and the secretary of defense. The legislation also reorganizes the military command structure into several “commands”:
bullet By geographical region (Northern Command, or NORTHCOM; Central Command, or CENTCOM; European Command, or EUCOM; Pacific Command, or PACOM; and Southern Command, or SOUTHCOM); and
bullet By function (Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM; Special Operations Command, or SOCOM; Strategic Command, or STRATCOM; and Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM). [Statement on Signing the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, 10/1/1986 pdf file; Lederman, 1999; Wilson, 2004, pp. 212; US Air Force Air University, 11/21/2007; National Defense University Library, 2/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, US Transportation Command, Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act, Barry Goldwater, US Strategic Command, Bill Nichols, US Special Operations Command, US Pacific Command, US European Command, US Central Command, US Northern Command, US Southern Command, US Joint Forces Command

Timeline Tags: US Military

Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, the top legal adviser to the Army’s interrogation unit at Guantanamo, JTF-170, writes a legal analysis of the extreme interrogation techniques being used on detainees. Beaver notes that some of the more savage “counter-resistance” techniques being considered for use, such as waterboarding (the use of which has resulted in courts-martials for users in the past) might present legal problems. She acknowledges that US military personnel at Guantanamo are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which characterizes “cruelty,” “maltreatment,” “threats,” and “assaults” as felonies. However, she reasons, if interrogators can obtain “permission,” or perhaps “immunity,” from higher authorities “in advance,” they might not be legally culpable. In 2006, a senior Defense Department official calls Beaver’s legal arguments “inventive,” saying: “Normally, you grant immunity after the fact, to someone who has already committed a crime, in exchange for an order to get that person to testify. I don’t know whether we’ve ever faced the question of immunity in advance before.” The official praises Beaver “for trying to think outside the box. I would credit Diane as raising that as a way to think about it.” Beaver will later be promoted to the staff of the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel, where she will specialize in detainee issues. But Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora is less impressed. When he reads Beaver’s legal analysis two months later (see December 17-18, 2002), he calls it “a wholly inadequate analysis of the law.” According to Mora, the Beaver memo held that “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment could be inflicted on the Guantanamo detainees with near impunity.” Such acts are blatantly illegal, Mora believes. Mora will note that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bases his decision to approve such harsh “counter-resistance” techniques (see December 2, 2002) in part on Beaver’s memo. He will write that Rumsfeld’s decision “was fatally grounded on these serious failures of legal analysis.” Neither Beaver nor Rumsfeld will draw any “bright line” prohibiting the combination of these techniques, or defining any limits for their use. As such, this vagueness of language “could produce effects reaching the level of torture,” which is prohibited without exception both in the US and under international law. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Written under Difficult Circumstances - Beaver later tells a more complete story of her creation of the memo. She insists on a paper trail showing that the authorization of extreme interrogation techniques came from above, not from “the dirt on the ground,” as she describes herself. The Guantanamo commander, Major General Michael Dunlavey, only gives her four days to whip up a legal analysis, which she sees as a starting point for a legal review of the interrogation policies. She has few books and materials, and more experienced lawyers at the US Southern Command, the Judge Advocate General School, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the DIA refuse to help her write the analysis. She is forced to write her analysis based on her own knowledge of the law and what she could find on the Internet. She bases her analysis on the previous presidential decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions, later recalling, “It was not my job to second-guess the president.” Knowing little of international law, she ignores that body of law altogether. She fully expects her analysis to be dissected and portions of it overridden, but she is later astonished that her analysis will be used as a legal underpinning for the administration’s policies. She has no idea that her analysis is to be used to provide legal cover for much more senior White House officials (see June 22, 2004). She goes through each of the 18 approved interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002), assessing them against the standards set by US law, including the Eighth Amendment, which proscribes “cruel and unusual punishment,” the federal torture statutes, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Beaver finds that each of the 18 techniques are acceptable “so long as the force used could plausibly have been thought necessary in a particular situation to achieve a legitimate government objective, and it was applied in a good faith effort and not maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Law professor Phillippe Sands later observes: “That is to say, the techniques are legal if the motivation is pure. National security justifies anything.” The interrogators must be properly trained, Beaver notes, and any interrogations involving the more severe techniques must “undergo a legal, medical, behavioral science, and intelligence review prior to their commencement.” However, if all of the criteria are met, she “agree[s] that the proposed strategies do not violate applicable federal law.” Sands points out that her use of the word “agree” indicates that she “seems to be confirming a policy decision that she knows has already been made.”
'Awful' but Understandable - Sands later calls her reasoning “awful,” but understands that she was forced to write the memo, and reasonably expected to have more senior legal officials review and rewrite her work. “She could not have anticipated that there would be no other piece of written legal advice bearing on the Guantanamo interrogations. She could not have anticipated that she would be made the scapegoat.” Beaver will recall passing Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington in a Pentagon hallway shortly after she submitted the memo. Addington smiled at her and said, “Great minds think alike.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael E. Dunlavey, Donald Rumsfeld, Diane E. Beaver, Defense Intelligence Agency, David S. Addington, Alberto Mora, Geneva Conventions, Judge Advocate General School, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Army, Phillippe Sands, Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Southern Command

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Newsweek prints an item in its “Periscope” section that reports an American guard at Guantanamo Bay flushed a detainee’s Koran down a toilet. According to the report, the US Southern Command intends to mount an investigation into the desecration, which violates US and international laws. The report sparks widespread rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that results in the deaths of at least 17 people. The Pentagon and the Bush administration immediately blame Newsweek for the riots and the deaths; Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the senior commander of US forces in Afghanistan, says the report did not spark the Afghan rioting, as does Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Newsweek says the information came from an American official who remains unidentified. “We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst,” Mark Whitaker, Newsweek’s editor, writes in a subsequent article. Whitaker adds: “We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know what the ultimate facts are.” The Pentagon denies the report; spokesman Bryan Whitman says: “Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.” The report is “demonstrably false” and “irresponsible.” Whitman says the report has “had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world.” Senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita calls Whitaker’s note “very tepid and qualified.… They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says, “Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care.” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Newsweek is wrong to use “facts that have not been substantiated.” And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issues the admonishment, “[P]eople need to be careful what they say… just as people need to be careful what they do.” According to Whitaker, while the magazine tries to avoid using unnamed sources when it can, there are instances where sources will not speak to reporters unless their anonymity is guaranteed. The administration source has been reliable in the past, Whitaker says, and, moreover, the reporters of the story, Michael Isikoff and John Barry, received confirmation from both the source and a senior Pentagon official. Whitaker’s explanation notes that Newsweek has chosen not to publish previous reports of Koran desecration at Guantanamo because the sources are former detainees whom it considers unreliable. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that guards and officials at Guantanamo have looked for documentation of the reported Koran-flushing and cannot find it. [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 164] The Pentagon will conclude that the Newsweek report is indeed responsible for the riots; Isikoff and Barry’s source for the story will back off on his original claim (see May 15, 2005). A month later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, John Barry, Hamid Karzai, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Karl Eikenberry, Lawrence Di Rita, Mark Whitaker, Michael Isikoff, Scott McClellan, US Department of Defense, US Southern Command, Richard A. Boucher, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Pentagon reports that an internal investigation shows no US guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility ever flushed a Koran down a toilet, as Newsweek recently reported. Furthermore, the rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that broke out after the report was released and claimed the lives of 17 people was directly sparked by the Newsweek report (see May 6-9, 2005). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita informs Newsweek that its report is wrong. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, the co-author of the report, goes back to his anonymous administration source to confirm the story. However, “the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the [US Southern Command] report [on prisoner abuse],” Newsweek writes. The story of the Koran being desecrated might have been in other reports, the source tells Isikoff. “Told of what the Newsweek source said, Di Rita explode[s],” the magazine writes. “‘How could he be credible now?’ Di Rita thunders.” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says the White House is “vigorously” investigating the report; if true, Hadley says, stern disciplinary action will be taken. Hadley adds that radical Islamic elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan are using the report as an excuse to incite violence. [New York Times, 5/16/2005] Three weeks later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).

Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Lawrence Di Rita, US Southern Command, US Department of Defense, Stephen J. Hadley, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A Koran kept for detainees’ use at Guantanamo. The surgical mask is provided to keep the Koran off the floor, and the guards from touching the book.A Koran kept for detainees’ use at Guantanamo. The surgical mask is provided to keep the Koran off the floor, and the guards from touching the book. [Source: GlobalSecurity (.org)]The Pentagon confirms that at least five incidents of deliberate and accidental Koran desecration have occurred at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon and White House recently denied a Newsweek report of one such incident. Both lambasted the news magazine for printing the claim without what it called sufficent proof, and blamed Newsweek’s reporting for sparking lethal riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan (see May 6-9, 2005 and May 15, 2005). While the Pentagon and White House denunciations of the Newsweek report were timed to garner extensive media attention, the Pentagon report is released to the press and the public at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday, ensuring that it will not make Friday evening newscasts and, as author Frank Rich will later write, “be buried in the weekend papers.” (The Pentagon denies trying to downplay the report.) In the documented incidents, guards stepped on, kicked, and in one case urinated on Korans owned by the detainees. The urination incident is described as accidental—according to the report, a guard urinated near an outside air vent and his urine was caught in the airstream and carried into a prisoner’s cell. The detainee, who was also splashed, was given a fresh garment and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded. In another instance, guards throwing water balloons got detainees’ Korans wet. In a third instance, a two-word obscenity in English was written on the inside cover of a Koran, though the investigation could not determine whether a guard or a detainee wrote the phrase. In a fourth incident, an interrogator kicked a detainee’s Koran (see February 26, 2002-March 7, 2002). In a fifth incident, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee’s Koran during questioning; the contractor is later fired for misconduct. Four other complaints of Koran desecration are not confirmed. “Mishandling a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence,” says Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the Guantanamo Joint Task Force. “Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned.” Hood says that no evidence of a Koran being flushed down a toilet, as Newsweek reported, has been found. Hood has already been caught in at least one misstatement; he claimed before the report that four of the five instances took place before January 2003, when written procedures covering handling of religious materials were implemented. The report says that four of those five incidents actually took place after January 2003. Captain Jeffrey Weir, a spokesman for the task force, says he cannot explain Hood’s contradictory statement. “Maybe he misspoke,” Weir says. “I’m not sure why he would have put it that way.” Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the Hood report confirms that US guards handle the Koran with respect and dignity. “The Southern Command policy of Koran handling is serious, respectful, and appropriate,” he says. “The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy.” [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 166]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Weir, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, Jay W. Hood, US Southern Command, Lawrence Di Rita, US Department of Defense, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A Bush administration official sends an e-mail to senior members of the Defense Department’s Transportation Command, including General Norton Schwartz, who later becomes the Air Force chief of staff. The e-mail recommends that a set of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer for fear of negative press coverage. The e-mail will be released three years later as part of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (see February 12, 2009). The name of the author of the message will be redacted from the document. It reads in part: “We may need to definitely think about checking with Southcom to see if we can hold off on return flights for 45 days or so until things die down. Otherwise we are likely to have hero’s welcomes awaiting the detainees when they arrive.… It would probably be preferable if we could deliver these detainees in something smaller and more discreet.” The e-mail forwards correspondence entitled “US Getting Creamed on Human Rights,” which cites international news coverage of UN reports on conditions at Guantanamo. The e-mail cites that press coverage, along with “lingering interest in Abu Ghraib photos,” all of which “adds up to the US taking a big hit on the issues of human rights and respect for the rule of law.” In 2009, reporter Liliana Segura will observe: “The line fits neatly with the rest of what we know about the Bush administration’s philosophy: that perceptions of abuse were worth worrying about; the abuse itself? Not so much.” Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, will add: “It is astonishing that the government may have delayed releasing men from Guantanamo in order to avoid bad press. Proposing to hold men for a month and a half after they were deemed releasable is inexcusable. The Obama administration should avoid repeating this injustice and release the innocent individuals with all due haste.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009; AlterNet, 2/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Gitanjali Gutierrez, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, US Southern Command, US Department of Defense, Norton Schwartz, Obama administration, Liliana Segura

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Southern Command concludes in an internal report that efforts in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia to nationalize their petroleum industries pose a threat to US energy supplies. “Pending any favorable changes to the investment climate, the prospects for long-term energy production in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Mexico are currently at risk,” the report says. This assessment is based on the view that extending state control over oil supplies “will likely increase inefficiencies and… will hamper efforts to increase long-term supplies and production.” Energy from the region accounts for 30 percent of US energy imports. Commenting on the report, Colonel Joe Nunez, professor of strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, says that it is “incumbent upon the command to contemplate beyond strictly military matters.” [Financial Times, 1/26/2006]

Entity Tags: US Southern Command, Joe Nunez

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, US-Venezuela (1948-2005)

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