This semester, a handful of Yale students will have an extraordinary opportunity usually reserved for intrepid journalists, international jurists and human rights activists: the ability to challenge government officials who have been central to some of the most illicit episodes in U.S. foreign policy.
That’s because the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs has once again invited retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal and former Ambassador John Negroponte to lead seminars.
U.S. officials never face the kind of prosecutorial scrutiny that would reveal the full breadth of their deeds, buried beneath layers of classification. But enough evidence exists to raise serious concerns about McChrystal and Negroponte’s participation in hugely destructive policies that would be considered criminal under existing international law.
From 2003 to 2008, McChrystal ran the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, a covert unit tasked with killing or capturing hundreds of men labeled terrorists or insurgents. McChrystal oversaw JSOC’s growth into an “almost industrial scale counterterrorism killing machine,” according to retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl. McChrystal later expanded JSOC’s mission in Afghanistan, dramatically increasing night raids on the homes of suspected Taliban fighters and leading to scores of civilian deaths, including the killing of two pregnant women in Gardez in 2010, which the military attempted to hide. JSOC now operates in dozens of countries outside any legally declared battlefield.
Under McChrystal’s reign, JSOC also ran a secret prison in Baghdad called Camp NAMA, where detainees, dubiously defined as “unlawful combatants,” were subject to “beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation and various forms of psychological abuse or torture,” according to Human Rights Watch. One prisoner “said he was made to strip, was punched repeatedly in the spine until he fainted, was doused with cold water and forced to stand in front of the air-conditioner and kicked in the stomach until he vomited,” writes investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. Others reported being sodomized, subjected to extreme dietary manipulation and struck in the face with rifle butts.
McChrystal may not have commissioned these specific acts. But it’s hard to believe he didn’t know about them. According to a Human Rights Watch report entitled “No Blood, No Foul” — Camp NAMA’s often ignored motto for treating detainees — McChrystal visited the facility regularly. One former interrogator claimed McChrystal banned the Red Cross from monitoring the prison, a violation of the Geneva Convention and a green light to abusive guards.
Negroponte’s record is even more sordid. As ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, he played a key role in coordinating U.S. support and training of the right-wing “Contra” army in their brutal war on the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua, where they targeted and tortured civilians. He also backed Battalion 316, a secret U.S.-trained Honduran military intelligence unit responsible for disappearing hundreds of government opponents, including college student leaders. “Time and again during his tour of duty,” the Baltimore Sun wrote in a 1995 investigation, “Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives.” He nevertheless oversaw a dramatic increase in U.S. military aid from $4 million to $77 million a year and maintained a close personal relationship with General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, chief commander of the Honduran armed forces.
In 2001, Negroponte was appointed ambassador to the United Nations, where he worked to grease the wheels for the Bush administration’s planned invasion of Iraq, premised on fabricated or misleading evidence.
As Iraq continues to cope with the chaos wrought by an invasion, occupation and civil war that claimed the lives of nearly half a million, key architects of the war, perhaps the greatest crime of the twenty-first century, have faced virtually no accountability. Instead, they get posts at Ivy League universities.
Several years into their teaching duties, it would be too much to expect administrators to suddenly remove McChrystal and Negroponte from the classroom. After all, the frequent (and sometimes secret) visits by Henry Kissinger make clear this campus is welcoming to alleged war criminals.
But students don’t need to be as congenial. Classrooms, we’re often told, are spaces for critical dialogue and discussion, where students are encouraged to challenge professors. So if you’re one of the lucky few selected to learn from these paragons of U.S. foreign policy, study their records. Read the work of journalists and human rights organizations. And ask tough questions. You’ll not only enrich your educational experience — you may even get some answers.
Andrew Bard Epstein is a Ph.D. student in history. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.