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Between the Lines

May 03, 2004

Abu Ghraib: It just gets worse

"As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. [Major General Anthony M.] Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority."
-- Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Seven more U.S. soldiers have been reprimanded in the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and the U.S. officer who oversaw Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison suggested Monday that more may be involved.
-- Associated Press

The story so far:

Thirteen soldiers have been charged with crimes or administratively disciplined for abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

The trouble appears to have started shortly after the U.S. converted the prison, which had been an infamous torture and execution center under Saddam Hussein, to its own purposes. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, a U.S. Army reserve officer, was put in charge of our prisons in Iraq last June. By last November, one official report already had been done on the prison system, identifying numerous problems that needed immediate attention.

In January, Karpinski was suspended from duty. A second investigation was conducted by Major General Antonio M. Taguba. Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker was given a copy of Taguba's 53-page report, which found there had been systematic criminal abuse of detainees, including:

"Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee. "

This report was completed in February, but was kept under wraps until some of its most explosive evidence – photographs that left not the slightest doubt what had been going on – began to leak out. That prompted the CBS show "60 Minutes II" to do a segment last Wednesday night.

As Hersh reports, "Two Iraqi faces that do appear in the photographs are those of dead men. There is the battered face of prisoner No. 153399, and the bloodied body of another prisoner, wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. There is a photograph of an empty room, splattered with blood."

So in addition to sexual humiliation and other torture, it appears there may have been a couple of slayings.

The abuses appear to have been orchestrated by military intelligence and private contractors. Indeed, Hersh reports, "General Taguba saved his harshest words for the military-intelligence officers and private contractors. He recommended that Colonel Thomas Pappas, the commander of one of the M.I. brigades, be reprimanded and receive non-judicial punishment, and that Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, be relieved of duty and reprimanded. He further urged that a civilian contractor, Steven Stephanowicz, of CACI International, be fired from his Army job, reprimanded, and denied his security clearances for lying to the investigating team and allowing or ordering military policemen 'who were not trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate interrogations by ‘setting conditions’ which were neither authorized” nor in accordance with Army regulations. “He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse,' Taguba wrote. He also recommended disciplinary action against a second CACI employee, John Israel. (A spokeswoman for CACI said that the company had 'received no formal communication”'from the Army about the matter.) "

Seattle blogger Dave Neiwert has additional detail here, including a little about an Army prisoner-interrogation school at Fort Huachua, Ariz., which has instituted a new training program designed specifically for the war on terrorism.

One final, disheartening, note: There are now photos making the rounds of the Internet that purport to show Iraqi women being raped by U.S. troops. I have no clue what the source of these was, nor whether they're authentic. Unfortunately, it won't matter whether they're authentic. Much of the Arab world, already inflamed by the Abu Ghraib mess, will believe it anyway. We're going to be living with the consequences of this for a long time to come.

Posted by tbrown at 12:47 PM




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