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May 21, 2004
The Story Behind The Pictures

Tomorrow's Washington Post outlines the abuses at Abu Ghraib in a detailed and disturbing report based on declassified sworn statements from the victims themselves. They describe a disgusting example of inhumanity, but interestingly, the article only implicates a small number of MPs at the Iraqi prison:

Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets. ...

Some of the detainees described being abused as punishment or discipline after they were caught fighting or with a prohibited item. Some said they were pressed to denounce Islam or were force-fed pork and liquor. Many provided graphic details of how they were sexually humiliated and assaulted, threatened with rape, and forced to masturbate in front of female soldiers.

Scott Higham and Joe Stephens review the witness statements in an excellent article, which should be required reading for everyone in the US. They paint a picture of how power can corrupt individuals, especially in an environment where discipline has utterly decayed and supervision missing. For instance, here are a few excerpts of the abuses reported:

"They forced us to walk like dogs on our hands and knees," said Hiadar Sabar Abed Miktub al-Aboodi, detainee No. 13077. "We had to bark like a dog, and if we didn't do that they started hitting us hard on our face and chest with no mercy. After that, they took us to our cells, took the mattresses out and dropped water on the floor and they made us sleep on our stomachs on the floor with the bags on our head and they took pictures of everything." ....

Hilas also said he witnessed an Army translator having sex with a boy at the prison. He said the boy was between 15 and 18 years old. Someone hung sheets to block the view, but Hilas said he heard the boy's screams and climbed a door to get a better look. Hilas said he watched the assault and told investigators that it was documented by a female soldier taking pictures. "The kid was hurting very bad," Hilas said. ...

Another detainee told military investigators that American soldiers sodomized and beat him. The detainee ... said he was kept naked for five days when he first arrived at Abu Ghraib and was forced to kneel for four hours with a hood over his head. He said he was beaten so badly one day that the hood flew off his head. "The police was telling me to crawl in Arabic, so I crawled on my stomach and the police were spitting on me when I was crawling, and hitting me on my back, my head and my feet," he said in his sworn statement.

One day, the detainee said, American soldiers held him down and spread his legs as another soldier prepared to pull down his zipper. "I started screaming," he said. A soldier stepped on his head, he said, and someone broke a phosphoric light and spilled the chemicals on him. "I was glowing and they were laughing" he said.

If true, these reports do nothing but reflect shame and dishonor on those who committed these crimes and the command that failed to provide the discipline and supervision needed. However, while I am sure this report will stoke the anti-war fires around the country, reading the entire article tells you how localized and unusual this occurrence was. For one thing, the same name keeps coming up in the statements:

Eight of the detainees identified by name one particular soldier at the center of the abuse investigation, Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., a member of the 372nd Military Police Company from Cresaptown, Md. Five others described abuse at the hands of a solider who matches Graner's description.

Not only Graner, but only a handful of other guards make appearances in the testimony, some of which match the descriptions of the eight guards awaiting courts-martial. In fact, the Post notes that all of the abuse described in the report took place in one cellblock and always during the same shift -- Graner's graveyard shift:

The fresh allegations of prison abuse are contained in statements taken from 13 detainees shortly after a soldier reported the incidents to military investigators in mid-January. The detainees said they were savagely beaten and repeatedly humiliated sexually by American soldiers working on the night shift at Tier 1A [emph mine] in Abu Ghraib during the holy month of Ramadan, according to copies of the statements obtained by The Washington Post.

The Pentagon continues to investigate allegations of abuse, and more information on other abuses may come to light. For now, however, even by the statements of the victims themselves, Abu Ghraib crimes appear to be limited to a small group of soldiers who allowed their power over their detainees to warp their humanity. The evidence thus far certainly doesn't validate the free-for-all sadistic image that the media has created.

UPDATE: Another Post story details more of the images from the photos and videos coming out of Abu Ghraib, seen by Congress but not yet released to the public. Some "highlights" of the sadism at work:

Another soldier is seen in a photo brandishing a black baton as a naked prisoner -- cuffed at the ankles and smeared with a brown substance -- stands at the center of the prison hallway and holds his arms spread to either side. Detainees recoil from unmuzzled dogs in at least four photos. ...

Hooded and cloaked men are handcuffed to hallway rails. A prisoner in flexible handcuffs is made to use a banana to simulate anal sex. Two naked male detainees are handcuffed to each other. A naked detainee hangs upside down from a top bunk. Another naked detainee grimaces, his face pressed against the ground, a soldier bending his arm behind his back. Blood covers the detainee's left knee, and another soldier grabs his right leg.

As reported earlier, the photographers and videographers became bored with torturing the prisoners and eventually started documenting consensual sex between the guards. No one can argue that the Pentagon ordered that as detention policy. What we have here is an undisciplined and unsupervised unit, whose boredom and lack of humanity gave them all the impetus they needed to cruelly mistreat prisoners on their own accord.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 21, 2004 6:12 AM

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