un expressed

Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse

Beginning in 2004, accounts of abuse, torture, sodomy and homicide of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (also known as Baghdad Correctional Facility) came to public attention. The acts were committed by some personnel of the 372nd Military Police Company of the United States Army together with additional American governmental agencies. These additional agencies have been referred to as the OGA (Other Government Agencies), which is an often used euphemism for the Central Intelligence Agency.

As revealed by the 2004 Taguba Report, a criminal investigation by the US Army Criminal Investigation Command had already been underway since 2003 where multiple recruits from the 320th MP Battalion had been charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with prisoner abuse. In 2004 articles of the abuse, including pictures showing military personnel abusing prisoners, came to public attention, when a 60 Minutes II news report (April 28) and an article by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker magazine (posted online on April 30 and published days later in the May 10 issue) reported the story. Janis Karpinski, the commander of Abu Ghraib, demoted for her lack of oversight regarding the abuse, estimated later that 90% of detainees in the prison were innocent.

The U.S. Department of Defense removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and seven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. Between May 2004 and September 2005, seven soldiers were convicted in courts martial, sentenced to federal prison time, and dishonorably discharged from service. Two soldiers, Specialist Charles Graner, and his former fiancée, Specialist Lynndie England, were sentenced to ten years and three years in prison, respectively, in trials ending on January 14, 2005 and September 26, 2005. The commanding officer at the prison, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, was demoted to the rank of Colonel on May 5, 2005. Col. Karpinski has denied knowledge of the abuses claiming that the interrogations were authorized by her superiors and performed by subcontractors, and that she was not even allowed entry into the interrogation rooms.

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib was in part the reason that on April 12, 2006, the United States Army activated the 201st Military Intelligence Battalion, the first of four joint interrogation battalions.

Media coverage

60 Minutes II broadcast and aftermath

In late April 2004, U.S. television news-magazine 60 Minutes II broke a story involving abuse and humiliation of Iraqi inmates by a group of U.S. soldiers. The story included photographs depicting the abuse of prisoners.

It may be noteworthy that responsibility for abusing the man claimed to be Satar Jabar was not determined at a court martial, but admitted in the context of a plea-bargain. Satar Jafar did not claim compensation from the US Government and there is no record of a judicial determination that he was abused at Abu Ghraib. There is some suggestion that whilst he was briefly detained at Abu Ghraib Jafar had been released from US custody at the time the above photograph was allegedly taken at Abu Ghraib.

The news segment had been delayed by two weeks at the request of the Department of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers. In the CBS report, Dan Rather interviewed then-deputy director of Coalition operations in Iraq Brig. Gen Mark Kimmitt who said:

At the same time, Kimmitt said: "I'd like to sit here and say that these are the only prisoner abuse cases that we're aware of, but we know that there have been some other ones since we've been here in Iraq."

Former Marine Lt. Col. Bill Cowan was also interviewed, stating: "We went into Iraq to stop things like this from happening, and indeed, here they are happening under our tutelage."

Rather interviewed Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick, a participant in the abuse, whose civilian job was as a corrections officer at a Virginia prison. Frederick stated, "We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things ... like rules and regulations," says Frederick. "And it just wasn't happening." Frederick's video diary, sent home from Iraq, provided some of the images used in the story.

In the diary are listed detailed, dated entries that chronicle abuse and names, for example,

and, "MI (Military Intelligence) has been present and witnessed such activity. MI has encouraged and told us great job [and] that they were now getting positive results and information." The CBS report did not explain who had taken the photographs showed to viewers, nor was it explained how CBS had come by them. They were not released to CBS by the specialists interviewed, nor was any member of the US armed forces charged with supplying these photographs to the media.

Hersh New Yorker article

A May 2004 article by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker magazine explored the abuses in detail, and used as its source a copy of the Taguba report.

The New Yorker, under the direction of editor David Remnick, posted a report on its website by Hersh, along with a number of graphic and disturbing images of the torture taken by U.S. military prison guards with digital cameras. The article, entitled "Torture at Abu Ghraib", was followed in the next two weeks by two more articles on the same subject, "Chain of Command” and "The Gray Zone,” also by Mr. Hersh.

It was only after CBS learned that The New Yorker planned to publish the pictures in its next issue that they went ahead with their report on April 28."

Seymour Hersh's undercover sources claimed that an interrogation program called "Copper Green" was an official and systemic misuse of coercive methods which, although deemed "successful" during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, would be heavily criticized in intelligence circles as an improper application to the context of fighting citizen-"insurgents" in Iraq. This theory, and the existence of "Copper Green" itself, has been denied by The Pentagon.

More evidence of torture

According to Donald Rumsfeld, many more pictures and videotapes of the abuse at Abu Ghraib exist. Photos and videos were revealed by the Pentagon to lawmakers in a private viewing on 12 May 2004. Lawmakers disagreed over whether the additional photos were worse than those already released, with Senator Ron Wyden saying the new pictures were "significantly worse than anything that I had anticipated [...] Take the worst case and multiply it several times over." while Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher said the pictures were "not dramatically different". It was speculated that they depict dogs snarling at cowering prisoners, women forced to expose their breasts at gunpoint, hooded prisoners being forced to masturbate, and of forced homosexual acts.

The New York Times, in a report on January 12, 2005, reported testimony suggesting that the following events had taken place at Abu Ghraib:

  • Urinating on detainees
  • Jumping on detainee's leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force that it could not thereafter heal properly
  • Continuing by pounding detainee's wounded leg with collapsible metal baton
  • Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees
  • Sodomization of detainees with a baton
  • Tying ropes to the detainees' legs or penises and dragging them across the floor.

Sergeant Samuel Provance from Alpha Company 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion, in interviews with several news agencies, reported the sexual abuse of a 16-year-old girl by two interrogators, as well as a 16-year-old son of an Iraqi general, who was driven through the cold night air on the open back of a truck after he had been showered and besmeared with mud in order to get his father to talk. He also pointed out several techniques used by interrogators that have been identified as being in violation of the Geneva Convention. He spoke to the media, even against direct orders, about what he knew about at the prison (largely from conversations and interactions with the interrogators). He explained that he did so because there was "definitely a cover-up" underway by the Army. He was administratively flagged and had his top secret clearance suspended in retaliation by the Army. A detailed statement by Sgt. Provance concerning these and numerous other abuses at Abu Ghraib and his treatment by the army is available.

In her video diary, a prison guard said that prisoners were shot for minor misbehavior, and claimed to have had venomous snakes bite prisoners, sometimes resulting in their deaths. By her own admission, that guard was "in trouble" for having thrown rocks at the detainees. Hashem Muhsen, one of the naked men in the human pyramid photo, said they were also made to crawl around the floor naked and that U.S. soldiers rode them like donkeys. After being released in January 2004, Muhsen became an Iraqi police officer.

It was discovered that one prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, died as a result of abuse, a death that was ruled a homicide by the military.

One detainee claimed he was sodomized. The Taguba Report found the claim ("Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick") to be credible.

Quotes from a prisoner

In an appearance on May 2 during a Face the Nation interview, Chairman Myers said that he had not yet seen the Taguba report, although the report was then nearly a month old.

In the documentary film Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, former Justice Department counsel John Yoo says that though he doesn't think the Geneva Conventions covered the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, he believes the soldiers and their commanding officers felt the interrogation techniques used fell within the Geneva Conventions. "Rumsfeld Made Me Do It: Ghosts of Abu Ghraib", Netscape News, January 24, 2007

A report by the Wild River Review follows the other side of Abu Ghraib — the detainees' quest for justice.


Iraqi response reported that Yahia Said, an Iraqi fellow at the London School of Economics, said:

CNN reporter Ben Wedeman reported that Iraqi reaction to President Bush's apology for the Abu Ghraib abuses was "mixed". Specifically, he said:

Response of U.S. Government officials

U.S. President George W. Bush claimed the acts were in no way indicative of normal or acceptable practices in the United States Army, though he also attempted to downplay the incident.

The public denunciation of torture of prisoners by the president and other US officials contradicted the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, created a distinction between forbidden "torture" and the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" methods of questioning which they advanced as permissible. The vice president's office played a central role in eliminating limits on coercion in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration later described as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials. The Geneva Convention, which has been ratified by the U.S. and is therefore the law of the land, is explicit and categorical in banning torture, the use of "violence," "cruel treatment" or "humiliating and degrading treatment" against a detainee "at any time and in any place whatsoever." The War Crimes Act of 1996 made any grave breach of those restrictions a U.S. felony.

On May 7, 2004, United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the following statements before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

He also was quoted:

Following Rumsfeld's testimony, several Senators responded:

Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina): "The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. "It was pretty disgusting, not what you'd expect from Americans", said Senator Norm Coleman. "I don't know how the hell these people got into our army", said Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Senator James Inhofe, Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, felt that the events did not deserve moral outrage: "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment [...] [They] are not there for traffic violations. [...] If they're in cell block 1A or 1B, these prisoners — they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. [...] Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tried to avoid the question of whether U.S. soldiers had engaged in torture. He stated, "What has been charged so far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I'm not going to address the 'torture' word.

On May 26, 2004, Al Gore gave a sharply critical speech on the Iraq crisis and the Bush Administration. In the speech, Gore called for the resignations of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Director of Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, and Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone for encouraging policies that led to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and fanned hatred of Americans abroad. Gore also called the Bush administration's Iraq war plan "incompetent" and called George W. Bush the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon. Gore commented; "In Iraq, what happened at that prison, it is now clear, is not the result of random acts of a few bad apples. It was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy.

Criticism of Rumsfeld grew during the ensuing scandal. Democratic senators John Kerry, Joe Biden and Jon Corzine called for Rumsfeld to resign. Their call for Rumsfeld's resignation was joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, George Miller, Tom Harkin, and the Congressional Black Caucus. John McCain said that he had "no confidence" in the Secretary of Defense, his fellow Republican senator Trent Lott said that he was "not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld.


Several periodicals, such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe also called for Rumsfeld's resignation. The cover of The Economist, which had backed President Bush in the 2000 election, carried a photo of the abuse with the words "Resign, Rumsfeld." Perhaps most notably, The Army Times claimed that Rumsfeld's role in the scandal "amount(ed) to professional negligence", wrote "shame... on the chairman (of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and secretary (of defense)", and insinuated that Rumsfeld was a "moron.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said, "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of emotional release?


"The torture? A more serious blow to the United States than September 11, 2001 attacks. Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves." — Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, foreign minister of the Vatican.

From a legal declaration by Ronald Schlicher of the US State Department: "The Bahraini English-language Daily Tribune wrote on May 5, 2004, 'The blood-boiling pictures will make more people inside and outside Iraq determined to carry out attacks against the Americans and British.' The Qatari Arabic-language Al-Watan predicted on May 3, 2004 that because of the images, 'The Iraqis now feel very angry and that will cause revenge to restore the humiliated dignity.'

On May 10, 2004, swastika-covered posters of Abu Ghraib abuse photographs were attached to British and Indian graves at the Commonwealth military cemetery in Gaza City. Thirty-two graves of soldiers killed in World War I were desecrated or destroyed.

Purported retaliation

On May 11, 2004, a video was released of the beheading of Nick Berg, a U.S. civilian who went to Iraq seeking work repairing antennas. The video was the work of an Islamic militant group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a noted Al-Qaeda member in Iraq. The unidentifiable figures claim to have committed the murder in retaliation for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Courts-martial, nonjudicial, and administrative punishment

Twelve soldiers have been convicted of various charges relating to the incidents, all including dereliction of duty—most receiving relatively minor sentences. Two soldiers have either been cleared of charges or have not been charged. No one has been convicted for murders of detainees.

  • Colonel Thomas Pappas was relieved of his command on May 13, 2005 after receiving nonjudicial punishment on May 9, 2005 for two instances of dereliction, including that of allowing dogs to be present during interrogations. He was fined $8000 under the provisions of Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (nonjudicial punishment). He also received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR) which effectively ends his military career.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan became the highest ranking Army officer to have charges brought against him in connection with the Abu Ghraib abuse on April 29, 2006. Prior to his trial, eight of twelve charges against him were dismissed, two of the most serious after Major General George Fay admitted that he did not read Jordan his rights before interviewing him in reference to the abuses that had taken place. On August 28, 2007, Jordan was acquitted of all charges related to prisoner mistreatment and received a reprimand for disobeying an order not to discuss a 2004 investigation into the allegations.
  • Specialist Charles Graner was found guilty on January 14, 2005 of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment, as well as charges of assault, indecency, adultery, and obstruction of justice. On January 15, 2005, he was sentenced to ten years in federal prison.
  • Corporal Joshua Lee Betts, of the 321st Military Intelligence Battalion, Detachment 9, pled innocent on October 20, 2004 to conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault, and numerous violations of Geneva Convention, and human rights violation. Cpl. Joshua Lee Betts was later cleared of all charges.
  • Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick pled guilty on October 20, 2004 to conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault and committing an indecent act in exchange for other charges being dropped. His abuses included making three prisoners masturbate. He also punched one prisoner so hard in the chest that he needed resuscitation. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, forfeiture of pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private.
  • Sergeant Javal Davis pled guilty February 4, 2005 to dereliction of duty, making false official statements and battery. He was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.
  • Specialist Jeremy Sivits was sentenced on May 19, 2004 by a special court-martial to the maximum one-year sentence, in addition to being discharged for bad conduct and demoted, upon his plea of guilty.
  • Specialist Armin Cruz of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion was sentenced on September 11, 2004 to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge in exchange for his testimony against other soldiers.
  • Specialist Sabrina Harman was sentenced on May 17, 2005 to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge after being convicted on six of the seven counts. She had faced a maximum sentence of 5 years.
  • Specialist Megan Ambuhl was convicted on October 30, 2004, of dereliction of duty and sentenced to reduction in rank to private and loss of a half-month’s pay.
  • Private First Class Lynndie England was convicted on September 26, 2005, of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act. She was acquitted on a second conspiracy count. England had faced a maximum sentence of ten years. She was sentenced on September 27, 2005, to three years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to Private (E-1) and received a dishonorable discharge.
  • Sergeant Santos Cardona was convicted of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault, the equivalent of a felony in the U.S. civilian justice system. He served 90 days of hard labor at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He was transferred to a new unit and was promoted to Sergeant. He is currently assigned to the 23rd MP Company that is presently staged in Kuwait as of November 2006. He has arrived in Kuwait with his unit and has been selected to train Iraqi police.
  • Specialist Roman Krol pled guilty on February 1, 2005 to conspiracy and maltreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib. He was sentenced to ten months confinement, reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.
  • Specialist Israel Rivera, who was present during abuse on October 25, is under investigation but has not been charged and has testified against other soldiers.
  • Sergeant Michael Smith was found guilty on March 21, 2006 of two counts of prisoner maltreatment, one count of simple assault, one count of conspiracy to maltreat, one count of dereliction of duty and a final charge of an indecent act, and sentenced to 179 days in prison, a fine of $2,250, a demotion to private, and a bad conduct discharge.

Related personnel

Brig. General Janis Karpinski, commanding officer at the prison was demoted to colonel on May 5, 2005, which also effectively ends her chances for future career advancement. In a BBC interview, Janis Karpinski said she is being made a scapegoat, and that the top U.S. commander for Iraq, Gen Ricardo Sanchez, should be asked what he knew about the abuse, as according to her, he said that prisoners are "like dogs". However, a spokesman for Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the Guantanamo camp and later commanded all detention operations, including Abu Ghraib, called Karpinski's allegations "categorically false", and said no directive to treat detainees "like dogs" was made at either Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.

Donald Rumsfeld stated in February 2005 that he had, as a result of the Abu Ghraib scandal, twice made an offer to President George W. Bush to resign the office of Secretary of Defense, and that both offers were declined.

Jay Bybee, the author of the Justice Department memo defining torture as activity producing pain equivalent to the pain experienced during death and organ failure, was nominated by President Bush to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he began service in 2003.

Michael Chertoff, who as head of the Justice Department's criminal division advised the Central Intelligence Agency on the outer limits of legality in coercive interrogation sessions, was selected by President Bush to fill the cabinet-level vacancy at Secretary of Homeland Security created by the departure of Tom Ridge.

Carolyn Wood CPT. Wood was head of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion from Fort Bragg. In August 2002, nine interrogation techniques not approved by military doctrine or included in Army field manuals were added after Chris Mackey and his team turned over the detention unit in Bagram to the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion. Chris Mackey had trained with Wood before she got her command at Bagram. He says that while he was “gravely disappointed” when he found out about her changes to the interrogation rules, he understands what might have been going on. “After she took over, the stakes got very high,” he says. “We went from losing three or four soldiers a month to scores of them. She must have been under a tremendous amount of pressure.”“But there was horrible incompetence at the leadership and oversight level. People were aware of what we were doing because we were open. [The prison] was practically a Disney ride, with lots of higher-ups and officials coming through. But the common response we got was, Aren’t you kind of babying them?”

Two inmates in December 2002 were tortured and beaten to death in cells down the hall from her office. "Hung by their arms from the ceiling and beaten so severely that, according to a report by Army investigators later leaked to the Baltimore Sun, their legs would have needed to be amputated had they lived. The Army’s Criminal Investigation command launched an inquiry, but few people outside Afghanistan took notice." "In August, a former Bagram interrogator told a Knight Ridder journalist that at the time of the two deaths screams and moans could easily be heard from interrogation rooms at Bagram, and that Wood must have been aware of the abuse, as the interrogation rooms were near her office. In any case, by virtue of her position, CPT. Wood should have been aware that abuse was taking place. We are concerned that, as at Abu Ghraib, the U.S. government appears more interested in blaming abuses on low-level personnel than in investigating the role of commanding officers and civilian officials. When she transferred to Abu Ghraib in August 2003, Wood is reported to have "posted her own list of 'interrogation rules of engagement,' which were inconsistent with those later issued for Iraq by the top American commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, according to Congressional officials. The Geneva Convention didn't apply to Woods methods of interrogation. The Fay-Jones report states "The JIDC October 2003 SOP (Standard operational procedure), likewise created by CPT. Wood, was remarkably similar to the Bagram (Afghanistan) Collection Point SOP. Prior to deployment to Iraq, CPT. Wood's unit (A/519 MI BN) allegedly conducted the abusive interrogation practices in Bagram resulting in a Criminal Investigation Command (CID) homicide investigation....from December 2002, interrogators in Afghanistan were removing clothing, isolating people for long periods of time, using stress positions, exploiting fear of dogs and implementing sleep and light deprivation. Interrogators in Iraq, already familiar with the practice of some of these new ideas, implemented them even prior to any policy guidance from CJTF-7. (Combined Joint Task Force Seven headed by LTG Ricardo S. Sanchez) These practices were accepted as SOP by newly-arrived interrogators. Some of the CJTF-7 ICRPs neither effectively addressed these practices, nor curtailed their use. "At Abu Ghraib, interrogation operations were also plagued by a lack of an organizational chain of command presence and by a lack of proper actions to establish standards and training by the senior leaders present" In both prison facilities the officers who carried out the abuses were under the command of CPT. Wood and she has never been held accountable.

The Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations did specifically absolve senior U.S. military and political leadership from direct culpability:

"The Panel finds no evidence that organizations above the 800th MP brigade or the 205th MI Brigade-level were directly involved in the incidents at Abu Ghraib. In fact, BG Karpinski's immediate operational supervisor and LTG Sanchez' deputy, Major General Walter Wojdakowski was subsequently appointed as Chief of the US Army Infantry School and Fort Benning. COL Pappas's boss, MG Barbara Fast was subsequently appointed as Chief of the US Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca. Pappas and Karpinski were relieved of command but Wojdakowski and Fast became the Chiefs of their respective branches. The senior lawyer for LTG Sanchez and his legal representative on the Detainee Release Boards along with BN Karpinski and MG Fast, COL Marc Warren has since been selected for promotion to Brigadier General.

U.S. policy on interrogations and torture

Reaction from the U.S. administration characterizes the Abu Ghraib torture scandal as an isolated incident uncharacteristic of American actions in Iraq; this view is widely disputed, notably in Arab countries, but also by organizations such as the International Red Cross, which says that it has been making representations about abuse of prisoners for more than a year. A former military intelligence officer with experience at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib alleges (see external link - "Cooks and drivers...") a systematic failure caused by a combination of inexperienced troops arresting innocent Iraqis, who are then interrogated by inexperienced interrogators determined to break these apparent hard cases. The U.S. military's interrogation techniques and treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib are consistent with its treatment of noncombatants in past conflicts, including for example in Vietnam (see Phoenix Program) and with its training of military personnel of U.S. allies (see School of the Americas).

International law

The United States has ratified the UN's Convention Against Torture and the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. However, the Third and Fourth Geneva conventions both state in Article 2: "The High Contracting Parties shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof". Since Iraq did not apply the protections of the Geneva Conventions to American POW's throughout Gulf War I (e.g. abuse of 17 American POW's at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib, by the Iraq Intelligence Service) and Gulf War II (e.g. the well-known story of Jessica Lynch's unit), it may be argued that Iraq lost its protections under these particular documents (but not others) long before the USA even took possession of the Abu Ghraib prison. The Bush Administration, however, takes the position that, in the words of Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to the President: "Both the United States and Iraq are parties to the Geneva Conventions. The United States recognizes that these treaties are binding in the war for the liberation of Iraq." ("The Rule of Law and the Rules of War", New York Times (op-ed piece), May 15, 2004). However, the Administration claims that prisoners taken in Afghanistan did not qualify as prisoners of war under international law.

The Convention Against Torture defines torture in the following terms:

One of the most infamous pictures is of a hooded prisoner dressed in a KKK-like costume, standing on a box with electrical wires connected to various parts of his body. Satar Jabar (charged with carjacking, not terrorism) was reportedly told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box. While the army claims that the wires were not live and that the prisoner at no time faced actual electrocution, only the threat thereof, the prisoner himself later stated in an interview after his release that the wires were live, and electric shocks were applied many times.

The International Committee of the Red Cross stated in its confidential February 2004 report to the coalition forces that prisoners deemed to have an "intelligence" value were systematically "subjected to a variety of harsh treatments [...] which in some cases was tantamount to torture".

Some legal experts have said that the United States could be obligated to try some of its soldiers for war crimes. Under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war and civilians detained in a war may not be treated in a degrading manner, and violation of that section is a "grave breach". In a November 5, 2003 report on prisons in Iraq, the Army's provost marshal, Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, stated that the conditions under which prisoners were held sometimes violated the Geneva Conventions.

Also, legal analysts point to the fact that Alberto Gonzales and others argued that detainees should be considered "unlawful combatants" and as such not protected by the Geneva Conventions in multiple memoranda, known today as the "torture memos," regarding these perceived legal gray areas. Gonzales' observed at the time that denying coverage under the Geneva Conventions "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" suggesting, at the least, an awareness by those involved in crafting policies in this area that US officials are involved in acts that could be seen to be war crimes. The US Supreme Court challenged the practice of ignoring the Geneva Conventions in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which it ruled that Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions applies to all detainees in the War on Terror and that the Military Tribunals used to try these suspects were in violation of US and international law.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is seen as an amnesty law for crimes committed in the War on Terror by retroactively rewriting the War Crimes Act and by abolishing habeas corpus, effectively making it impossible for detainees to challenge crimes committed against them. Because of this on November 14, 2006, invoking universal jurisdiction, legal proceedings were started in Germany - for their alleged involvement of prisoner abuse under the command responsibility- against Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, George Tenet and others.

Some of the accused soldiers' families or attorneys have already made clear an intention to argue that the practices at Abu Ghraib were directed by higher-ranking military officers or by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, this "defense of superior orders" is not a defense for war crimes, although it might influence a sentencing authority to lessen the penalty. Under U.S. law, the War Crimes Act of 1996 makes it a federal crime to violate certain provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The Act punishes any American, military or civilian, who commits a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. A grave breach, as defined by the Geneva Conventions, includes the deliberate "killing, torture or inhuman treatment" of detainees. Violations of the War Crimes Act that result in death carry the death penalty.

Executive Order

On December 21, 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union released copies of FBI internal memos they had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act concerning alleged torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. One memo dated May 22, 2004 was from someone whose name was blanked out but was described in the memo as "On Scene Commander – Baghdad". He referred explicitly to an Executive Order that sanctioned the use of extraordinary interrogation tactics by U.S. military personnel. The methods explicitly mentioned as being sanctioned are sleep deprivation, hooding prisoners, playing loud music, removing all detainees' clothing, forcing them to stand in so-called "stress positions", and the use of dogs. The author also claimed that the Pentagon had limited use of the techniques by requiring specific authorization from the chain of command. The author identifies "physical beatings, sexual humiliation or touching" as being outside the Executive Order. This was the first internal evidence since the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse affair became public in April 2004 that forms of abusive coercion and torture of captives had been mandated by the President of the United States.


See also Taguba's report.

Death certificates repeatedly stated that prisoners had died "during sleep", and of "natural reasons". Iraqi doctors are not allowed to investigate even when death certificates are obviously forged. No reports of investigations against U.S. military doctors who forged death certificates have been reported.

On May 7, 2004, International Committee of the Red Cross Operations Director Pierre Krähenbühl stated that the ICRC's inspection visits to Coalition detention centers in Iraq did "not allow us to conclude that what we were dealing with... were isolated acts of individual members of coalition forces. What we have described is a pattern and a broad system." He went on to say that some of the incidents they had observed were "tantamount to torture".

U.S. and UK armed forces are jointly trained in so-called resistance to interrogation (R2I) techniques. These R2I techniques are taught ostensibly to help soldiers cope with or resist torture by the enemy. On May 8, 2004, The Guardian reported that, according to a former British special forces officer, the acts committed by the Abu Ghraib Prison military personnel resemble the techniques used in R2I training. Also related are pride-and-ego down techniques to make captives more willing to cooperate.

The same report states that:

Most accept the particular acts committed at the prison leading to the initial broadcast report were unauthorized, but as has been shown, they were not isolated incidents. These or similar incidents of torture and humiliation were routine, systemic and widespread, had been occurring for over a year, and some of them were official policy.

Alfred W. McCoy history professor and author of a book on torture in the Philippine armed forces, has noted similarities in the abusive treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the techniques described in the CIA's 1963 "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation" manual and asserts that what he calls "the CIA's no-touch torture methods" have been in continuous use by the CIA and U.S. military intelligence since that time.

A May 25, 2004 article by Hersh in The New Yorker suggests a connection between the Abu Ghraib incidents and a chain of decisions and events set into play by high administration officials following the 9/11 attacks, specifically to a "special access" or "black ops" program known as Copper Green. According to Hersh, officials concerned with extracting intelligence information from terrorists stretched the bounds of interrogation to or beyond the extreme legal limits. Subsequently, methods which were originally intended to be used only on high value Taliban and Al-Qaeda "enemy combatants" came to be improperly used on Iraqi prisoners. The Department of Defense immediately characterized Hersh's report as "outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture".

Ricardo Sanchez

Documents obtained by The Washington Post and the ACLU show that the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez authorized the use of military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns and sensory deprivation as interrogation methods in Abu Ghraib. Also a November 2004 report by Brig Gen Richard Formica found that many troops, from the Abu Ghraib prison, were only following orders based on a memo from Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and "[She] didn't find cruel and malicious criminals that are out there looking for detainees to abuse,". "Gen Sanchez authorised interrogation techniques that were in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and the army's own standards", ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said in the union's statement. In an interview for her hometown newspaper The Signal, Gen. Karpinski claimed to have seen unreleased documents from Rumsfeld that authorized these tactic for Iraqi prisoners. Both Sanchez and Rumsfeld have denied authorization.

Ongoing news

In September 2005, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered the release of new Abu Ghraib torture photos.

In December 2005, John Pace, human rights chief for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), criticized the US military's practice of holding prisoners in Iraq in its own facilities such as Abu Ghraib prison. In an interview with Reuters, Pace claimed that Abu Ghraib was not mandated by UN Resolution 1546, according to which the US government has claimed a legal mandate permitting its ongoing occupation of Iraq, including holding prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Pace said,

On March 29, 2006, the government agreed to drop all appeals and release the new set of photographs.

Rumsfeld okayed abuses says former U.S. general

In November 2006, the former US Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, in-charge of Abu Ghraib prison until early 2004, told Spain's El País newspaper she had seen a letter apparently signed by Donald Rumsfeld which allowed civilian contractors to use techniques such as sleep deprivation during interrogation. "The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques." She said that this was contrary to the Geneva Convention and quoted the same "Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind". According to Karpinski, the handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished". There have been no comments from either the Pentagon or US Army spokespeople in Iraq on Karpinski's accusations.

Karpinski has been exposed for lying to the media in order to cover up the abuses in the first place. On October 2003, when allegations of torture in the new Iraqi prisons began to surface. Karpinski insisted that prisoners under her watch were treated "humanely and fairly". In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times in December 2003, Karpinski said conditions in the prison were even better than many Iraqi homes, and joked that the prisoners were treated so well that she was "concerned they wouldn't want to leave".

In January 2004, the details of her misconduct began to become known. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez formally suspended Karpinski and sixteen other soldiers with undisclosed reprimands. An investigation was started into the abuse, and Karpinski left Iraq for reasons that were explained at the time as part of "routine troop rotations". She was later demoted to the rank of colonel for her negligence in this case.

Previously unreleased photographs

In February 2006, previously unreleased photos and videos were broadcast by SBS, an Australian television network. According to initial reports, the Bush administration is attempting to prevent release of the images in the US, arguing that their publication could provoke antagonism towards them. According to BBC World News, the photographs were probably taken around the same time as the previously released photographs, and include some of the same prisoners and convicted soldiers from the earlier images. These newly-released photographs depict prisoners crawling on the floor naked, being forced to perform sexual acts, and being covered in feces. Some images also show homicide and corpses, some shot in the head and some with slit throats. BBC World News stated that one of the prisoners, who was reportedly mentally unstable, was considered by prison guards as a 'pet' for torture.

The UN expressed hope that the pictures would be investigated immediately but the Pentagon stated that the images "have been previously investigated as part of the Abu Ghraib investigation.

Five of the newly released pictures can be seen on the ElMundo webpage. SBS claims not to have published the most shocking pictures due to the degree of their depravity, an example being the sodomy photo.

On March 15, 2006, published the most extensive documentation of the abuse. The source who gave the CID material to Salon magazine is familiar with the CID investigation.

The DVD containing the material includes a June 6, 2004, CID investigation report written by Special Agent Seigmund. That report includes the following summary of the material: "A review of all the computer media submitted to this office revealed a total of 1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse, 93 video files of suspected detainee abuse, 660 images of adult pornography, 546 images of suspected dead Iraqi detainees, 29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts, 20 images of a soldier with a Swastika drawn between his eyes, 37 images of Military Working dogs being used in abuse of detainees and 125 images of questionable acts."

Abu Ghraib is now in the process of officially closing as of March 9, 2006.

Torture Central: E-mails from Abu Ghraib

On October 29, 2007, the memoir of a soldier stationed in Abu Ghraib Iraq during 2005/2006 was published. Torture Central chronicled many events previously unreported in the news media, including torture that continued at Abu Ghraib over a year after the abuse photos were published.

Popular culture

The 2006 Turkish movie Valley of the Wolves Iraq depicts events which happened in Abu Ghraib prison in detail. This was the first depiction of the Abu Ghraib incident in film.

The 2004 U.S. pornographic movie Gag Factor 15 by JM Productions contains a scene with Ashley Blue parodying torture at Abu Ghraib involving rough deepthroating. On May 31, 2006, the company as well as its principal Mike Norton and distributors were indicted for distribution of obscenity by the U.S. federal government. Gag Factor 15 was one of the 4 named movies in the indictment.

Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero created a series of paintings and drawings, entitled Abu Ghraib.

The 2006 film Children of Men depicts the futuristic Bexhill Refugee Camp in England with scenes identical to several images from Abu Ghraib.

The 2007 documentary Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, directed by Rory Kennedy, investigated the abuses and reaches the conclusion that the soldiers were following orders approved by Donald Rumsfeld.

One small clip from the video of the song Empty Walls by Serj Tankian parodies the photos.

The 2008 Egyptian Film Laylat Al Baby Doll (The Baby Doll Night): One of the lead characters is tortured at Abu Ghraib prison, with scenes from the media depiction of the tortures recreated in the film

See also

General information

Incidents and coverage



General references:

  • Hersh, Seymour M. Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. ISBN 0060195916.


External links



Further reading

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