Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse

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Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a prisoner, known to the guards as "Gus", who is lying on the floor
This image of a prisoner being tortured has become internationally famous, eventually making it onto the cover of The Economist (see "Media" below)

From late 2003 to early 2004, during the Iraq War, Military Police personnel of the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency[1] committed human rights violations against prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison. They physically and sexually abused, tortured,[2][3][4] raped,[2][3] sodomized,[4] and killed[5] prisoners.

What became known as "the Abu Ghraib Scandal" came to public attention in the summer of 2003 beginning with reports from Amnesty International (AI) of human rights abuses by the U.S. military and its coalition allies at detention centers and prisons throughout Iraq. Reports of brutal treatment began to emerge from what had been President Saddam Hussein's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, recently taken over by the United States. In a news release dated 20 June 2003, Dr Abdel Salam Sidahmed, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East Program reported on an uprising by the prisoners against the conditions of their detention at the now American-run Abu Ghraib: "The notorious Abu Ghraib Prison, centre of torture and mass executions under Saddam Hussein, is yet again a prison cut off from the outside world. On 13 June there was a protest in this prison against indefinite detention without trial. Troops from the occupying powers killed one person and wounded seven.".[6] A little over a month later, on July 23, Amnesty International again issued a press release condemning widespread human rights abuses by US and coalition forces: "Former detainees told Amnesty International that people detained by Coalition Forces were held in tents in the extreme heat and were not provided with sufficient drinking water or adequate washing facilities. They were forced to use open trenches for toilets and were not given a change of clothes - even after two months’ detention. [...] Amnesty International has received reports of torture or ill-treatment by Coalition Forces. Reported methods include prolonged sleep deprivation, prolonged restraint in painful positions—sometimes combined with exposure to loud music, prolonged hooding and exposure to bright lights."[7]

The stories of widespread abuse and torture of Iraqi civilians at the hands of coalition troops emerged throughout the summer and fall of 2003, with US government spokesmen and the President himself ignoring the emerging narrative of widespread human rights abuses taking place in prisons and detention centers run by the US military throughout Iraq. On 14 August 2003, speaking at a US military installation at Miramar, Calif., US President George W. Bush declared: "We met the major combat objectives in Operation Iraqi Freedom by removing a regime that persecuted Iraqis, and supported terrorists, and was armed to threaten the peace of the world. All the world is now seeing just how badly the Iraqi people suffered under this brutal dictator. The Iraqi people, themselves, are seeing a new day thanks to the brave men and women who came to liberate them [...] Thanks to our military, Iraqi citizens do not have to fear a secret police, arbitrary arrests, or loved ones lost forever [...] [t]hanks to our military, the torture chambers of a dictator are closed."[8] Speaking to the 85th American Legion Convention in St. Louis, Missouri on 26 August 2003, President Bush stated: "Because of our men and women in uniform, the torture chambers in Iraq are closed [...] In all the debates over Iraq, we must never forget [...] the brutal nature of the regime of Saddam Hussein [...] Our people in uniform, joined by fine allies, ended this nightmare in Iraq, removed a threat to the world, and they have made our nation proud."[9]

On 1 November 2003, the Associated Press presented a special report on the massive human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib. Their report began with the following sentence: "In Iraq's American detention camps, forbidden talk can earn a prisoner hours bound and stretched out in the sun, and detainees swinging tent poles rise up regularly against their jailers, according to recently released Iraqis." The report went on to describe horrible abuse of the prisoners at the hands of their American captors: "'They confined us like sheep,' the newly freed Saad Naif, 38, said of the Americans. 'They hit people. They humiliated people.'" Then-US Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, at the time in charge of all US detention facilities in Iraq, claimed that prisoners were being treated "humanely and fairly" according to the AP.[10] The AP report also stated that as of 1 November 2003 there were "two pending legal cases" against US military personnel: "In one, four soldiers are accused of beating Iraqi prisoners; in the other, two Marines are charged in connection with an Iraqi's death in detention." As revealed in the Taguba Report (2004), an initial criminal investigation by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command had already been underway, in which soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion had been charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with prisoner abuse. In April 2004, articles describing the abuse, including pictures showing military personnel appearing to abuse prisoners, came to wide 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.[11]

The United States Department of Defense removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and eleven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. Between May 2004 and March 2006, eleven soldiers were convicted in courts-martial, sentenced to military prison, 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 of all Iraq detention facilities, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, was reprimanded for dereliction of duty and 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 allowed entry into the interrogation rooms.

The public later learned of what have been called the Torture Memos, prepared in August 2002 and March 14, 2003 (shortly before the Iraq invasion) by the Office of Legal Counsel, United States Department of Justice, which authorized certain enhanced interrogation techniques (generally held to be torture) of foreign detainees who were enemy combatants. The March 2003 memo, written by John Yoo, the deputy in the OLC, said that federal laws on use of torture did not apply to American interrogators overseas. Several United States Supreme Court decisions, including Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), have overturned Bush administration policy related to treatment of detainees and ruled that Geneva Conventions apply. In addition, these opinions were superseded by replacement opinions in 2009 by the Obama administration.

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.[12]

Treatment of prisoners[edit]

Death of Manadel al-Jamadi[edit]

Main article: Manadel al-Jamadi

The prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi died in Abu Ghraib prison after being interrogated and tortured by a CIA officer and a private contractor in November 2003. The torture included physical violence and strappado hanging, whereby the victim is hung from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back. Although his death has been labeled as a homicide by the US military,[13] neither of the two men who caused his death have been charged. The private contractor was granted qualified immunity.[14]

Reports of prisoner rape[edit]

Major General Antonio Taguba has stated that there is photographic evidence of rape being carried out at Abu Ghraib.[15] An Abu Ghraib detainee told investigators he heard an Iraqi teenage boy screaming and saw an Army translator having sex with him while a female soldier took pictures.[16] The alleged rapist was identified by a witness as an American-Egyptian who worked as a translator. He is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.[15] Another photo shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner.[15] Other photos show interrogators sexually assaulting prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube, and a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.[15] Taguba has supported President Obama's decision not to release the photos, stating, "These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency."[15]

In other alleged cases, female inmates were said to be raped by soldiers.[17] In one reported case, senior US officials admitted rape had taken place at Abu Ghraib.[18]

Media coverage[edit]

AP's early report[edit]

On November 1, 2003, The Associated Press published a lengthy report[19] on inhumane treatment, beatings and deaths at Abu Ghraib and other American prisons in Iraq, based on interviews with released detainees, who told journalist Charles J. Hanley of inmates attacked by dogs, made to wear hoods and humiliated in other ways.[20] The article gained little notice.[21]”I wish somebody could go and take a picture” of what was happening, one freed man said.[20]

When the U.S. military first reported abuse in early 2004, much of the U.S. media again showed little initial interest. On January 16, 2004, United States Central Command informed the media that an official investigation had begun involving abuse and humiliation of Iraqi detainees by a group of US soldiers. On February 24, it was reported that 17 soldiers had been suspended. The military announced on March 21, 2004, that the first charges had been filed against six soldiers.[22][23]

60 Minutes II broadcast and aftermath[edit]

Lynndie England pointing to a naked prisoner being forced to masturbate in front of his captors[24]
Sgt. Ivan Frederick sitting on an Iraqi detainee between two stretchers

It was not until late April 2004 that U.S. television news-magazine 60 Minutes II broadcast a story on the abuse. The story included photographs depicting the abuse of prisoners.[25] The news segment had been delayed by two weeks at the request of the Department of Defense and Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After learning that The New Yorker magazine planned to publish an article and photographs on the topic in its next issue, CBS proceeded to broadcast its report on April 28.[26] In the CBS report, Dan Rather interviewed then-deputy director of Coalition operations in Iraq, Brig. Gen Mark Kimmitt, who said:

The first thing I’d say is we’re appalled as well. These are our fellow soldiers. These are the people we work with every day, and they represent us. They wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down [...] Our soldiers could be taken prisoner as well. And we expect our soldiers to be treated well by the adversary, by the enemy. And if we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect [...] We can't ask that other nations do that to our soldiers as well. [...] So what would I tell the people of Iraq? This is wrong. This is reprehensible. But this is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are over here [...] I'd say the same thing to the American people ... Don't judge your army based on the actions of a few.[25]

Kimmitt also 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."[25] 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."[25] 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."[25] Frederick's video diary, sent home from Iraq, provided some of the images used in the story. In it he listed detailed, dated entries that chronicle abuse of OGA prisoners ("OGA" is code for "CIA") and their names: "The next day the medics came in and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake I.V. [intravenous drip] in his arm and took him away. This OGA [prisoner] was never processed and therefore never had a number."[27] Frederick implicated the Military Intelligence Corps as well, "MI 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."[27]

Hersh, New Yorker article[edit]

A May 2004 article by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker magazine discussed 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 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 Hersh.[26] Seymour Hersh's undercover sources claimed that an interrogation program called "Copper Green" was an official and systemic misuse of coercive methods of torture. They said it was deemed "successful" during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. It was strongly 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", has been denied by The Pentagon.

More evidence of torture[edit]

United States soldier Spc. Graner punching, or pretending to punch, handcuffed Iraqi prisoners

According to Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, 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 May 12, 2004. Lawmakers disagreed over whether the additional photos were worse than those already released. Senator Ron Wyden said the new photos were "significantly worse than anything that I had anticipated [...] Take the worst case and multiply it several times over." Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher said the pictures were "not dramatically different".[28] A Department of Defense official said that most of the additional photos were pornography involving only US soldiers, and that most did not show abuse of prisoners.[29]

Evidence given by Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik, detainee No. 151362, was reported by the Washington Post in May 2004: "They said we will make you wish to die and it will not happen [...] They stripped me naked. One of them told me he would rape me. He drew a picture of a woman to my back and made me stand in shameful position holding my buttocks."[30] "'Do you pray to Allah?' one asked. I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' " [...] "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive." [...] "I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'"[30]

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

SPC England and SPC Graner posing behind a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners, giving the "thumbs up" sign

In her video diary, a prison guard said that prisoners were shot for minor misbehavior, and claimed to have had venomous snakes used to bite prisoners, sometimes resulting in their deaths. The guard said that she was "in trouble" for having thrown rocks at the detainees.[32] Hashem Muhsen, one of the naked prisoners in the human pyramid photo, later said the men were also forced 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.[33] DOD discovered that one prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, died as a result of torture. The death was ruled a homicide by the military.[34] 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.[35]


Iraqi response[edit]

AsiaNews.it cited Yahia Said, an Iraqi fellow at the London School of Economics: "The reception [of abuse news from Abu Ghraib] was surprisingly low-key in Iraq. Part of the reason was that rumours and tall stories, as well as true stories, about abuse, mass rape, and torture in the jails and in coalition custody have been going round for a long time. So compared to what people have been talking about here the pictures are quite benign. There’s nothing unexpected. In fact what most people are asking is: why did they come up now? People in Iraq are always suspecting that there’s some scheming going on, some agenda in releasing the pictures at this particular point."[36] CNN reporter Ben Wedeman reported that Iraqi reaction to President Bush's apology for the Abu Ghraib abuses was "mixed": "Some people react[ed] positively, saying that he's come out, he's dealing frankly and openly with the problem and that he has said that those involved in the abuse will be punished. On the other hand, there are many others who says it simply isn't enough, that they – many people noted that there was not a frank apology from the president for this incident. And, in fact, I have a Baghdad newspaper with me right now from – it's called 'Dar-es-Salaam.' That's from the Islam Iraqi Islamic Party. It says that an apology is not enough for the torture of – yes, the torture of Iraqi prisoners."[37]

On May 7, 2004 Nick Berg, an American business man who went to Iraq after the US Invasion of Iraq was captured and decapitated by the Islamist militant organization al-Ansars in response to Abu Ghraib. The masked man who carried out the execution is believed to have been Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Response of US government officials[edit]

US President George W. Bush claimed the acts were in no way indicative of normal or acceptable practices in the United States Army. Vice-president Dick Cheney's office had played a central role in eliminating limits on coercion in US custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration later portrayed as the initiatives of lower-ranking officials.[38] On May 7, 2004, United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility. It is my obligation to evaluate what happened, to make sure those who have committed wrongdoing are brought to justice, and to make changes as needed to see that it doesn't happen again. I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't do that. That was wrong. To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was un-American. And it was inconsistent with the values of our nation.[39]

He also commented on the very existence of the evidence of abuse:

We're functioning in a – with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a wartime situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.[40]

Following Rumsfeld's testimony, several Senators commented:

Senator James Inhofe, a Republican member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, 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."[44] Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was careful to draw a distinction between abuse and torture: "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."[45]

On May 26, 2004, Al Gore gave a sharply critical speech on the Iraq crisis and the George W. Bush administration. He called for the resignations of Secretary of Defense 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 described Bush as 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."[46] Criticism of Rumsfeld grew during the ensuing scandal. Democratic senators John Kerry, Joe Biden and Jon Corzine called for Rumsfeld to resign. They were joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, George Miller, Tom Harkin, and the Congressional Black Caucus.[citation needed] John McCain said that he had "no confidence" in the Secretary of Defense, and his fellow Republican senator Trent Lott said that he was "not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld."[47]


The Economist calls for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation

Several periodicals, including The New York Times and The Boston Globe, also called for Rumsfeld's resignation.[48][49] 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." An editorial in The Army Times, claiming 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)."[50]

This photograph released in 2006 shows several naked Iraqis in hoods, of whom one has the words "I'm a rapeist" (sic) written on his hip.

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, contended that "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?"[51][52][53] Conservative talk show host, Michael Savage said, "Instead of putting joysticks, I would have liked to have seen dynamite put in their orifices", and that "we need more of the humiliation tactics, not less." He repeatedly referred to Abu Ghraib prison as "Grab-an-Arab" prison.[54]

Political commentator Christopher Hitchens, an Iraq War supporter, opined, "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad....Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day."[55]


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.[56]

From a legal declaration by Ronald Schlicher of the U.S. 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.'"[57]

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.[58] In November 2008, Lord Bingham, the former UK Law Lord, describing the treatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, said: "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among some top officials in the Bush administration."[59]

Courts martial, non-judicial punishment, and administrative reprimands[edit]

Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar, where England and Harman served their sentences

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

Related personnel[edit]

Brig. General Janis Karpinski, commanding officer at the prison, was demoted to colonel on May 5, 2005. 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".[74] However, a spokesman for Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the Guantanamo prison 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.[75]

MP Captain Christopher Beiring "led a reservist military police company that was guarding the American detention center in Afghanistan when the two men were killed in December 2002".[76] The prisoners died (one of them was Dilawar) "after guards kneed them repeatedly in the legs while each was shackled to the ceiling of his cell". Beiring was the only officer to be prosecuted in the case.[77]

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.[78]

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,[79] 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.

Captain Carolyn 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?"[80]

(Note: This change likely followed the legal opinions issued in what were later termed the Torture Memos, written in early August 2002 by the Office of Legal Counsel, US Department of Justice.)

Two inmates in December 2002 were tortured and beaten to death in cells down the hall from Wood's 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."[80]

"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."[81]

When she transferred to Abu Ghraib in August 2003, Wood is reported to have "posted her own list of 'interrogation rules of engagement,'[82] 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."[83]

"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. Woods and she has never been held accountable.[84]

The Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations specifically absolved 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."[85] 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 at Fort Benning. COL Pappas's boss, MG Barbara Fast, was subsequently appointed as Chief of the US Army Intelligence Center at 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.[citation needed]

U.S. government policy on interrogations and torture[edit]

Specialist Charles Graner poses over Manadel al-Jamadi's corpse

Reaction from the Bush administration characterized the Abu Ghraib torture scandal as an isolated incident uncharacteristic of US actions in Iraq. This view is widely disputed, notably in Arab countries. In addition, the International Red Cross had been making representations about abuse of prisoners for more than a year before the scandal broke.[86]

International law[edit]

The United States has ratified the UN's Convention Against Torture and the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. The Bush Administration took the position that, in the words of Alberto R. Gonzales, White House 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'".[87]

According to Human Rights Watch:

Al-Qaeda detainees would likely not be accorded POW status, but the Conventions still provide explicit protections to all persons held in an international armed conflict, even if they are not entitled to POW status. Such protections include the right to be free from coercive interrogation, to receive a fair trial if charged with a criminal offense, and, in the case of detained civilians, to be able to appeal periodically the security rationale for continued detention.[88]

The Convention Against Torture defines torture in the following terms:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him ... information or a confession, punishing him for an act he ... has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him.

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in its confidential February 2004 report to the Coalition Forces that it had documented

"serious violations of International Humanitarian Law relating to the conditions of treatment of the persons deprived of their liberty held by the CF in Iraq. In particular, it establishes that persons deprived of their liberty face the risk of being subjected to a process of physical and psychological coercion, in some cases tantamount to torture, in the early stages of the internment process."[89]

The main violations described in the ICRC report included:

A man is intimidated, or threatened, by at least two dogs.

Some legal experts have said that the United States could be obligated to try some of its soldiers for war crimes.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Also, legal analysts later noted that Alberto Gonzales and other top administration attorneys had argued that detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and other locations should be considered "unlawful combatants" and as such not protected by the Geneva Conventions. These legal opinions were issued in multiple memoranda, known today as the "Torture Memos," in August 2002, by the Office of Legal Counsel, United States Department of Justice, regarding these perceived legal gray areas and issued to the CIA and DOD general counsels.[90] They were written by John Yoo, deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC, and two of three were signed by his boss Jay S. Bybee. (The latter was appointed as a federal judge in 2003, starting March 21, 2003.) In addition, on March 14, 2003, after the resignation of Bybee, Yoo issued a related legal opinion memo, at the request of William J. Haynes, General Counsel of DOD. It was shortly before the invasion of Iraq beginning March 19, 2003. Yoo concluded that federal laws prohibiting the use of torture for prisoners and suspects did not apply American practices overseas.[91] Gonzales observed during administration discussions of detainee treatment that denying coverage under the Geneva Conventions, "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act."[92] Congressman Elizabeth Holtzman wrote that his statement suggested those who crafted policies in this area were concerned that US officials were involved in acts that could be seen to be war crimes.[92][93][94][95]

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), the US Supreme Court ruled that Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions applies to all detainees in the War on Terror. It said that the Military Tribunals used to try these suspects were in violation of US and international law because of their processes. It said that the president could not unilaterally establish such tribunals, and Congress needed to authorize a means by which detainees could confront their accusers and challenge their detention.[96]

Critics consider the Military Commissions Act of 2006 as an amnesty law for crimes committed in the War on Terror by retroactively rewriting the War Crimes Act.[97] It abolished habeas corpus for foreign detainees, effectively making it impossible for detainees to challenge crimes committed against them.[98][99][100][101]

On November 14, 2006, legal proceedings invoking universal jurisdiction were started in Germany against Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, George Tenet and others for their alleged involvement in prisoner abuse under the command responsibility.[102][103] But, on April 27, 2007, the German federal prosecutor announced the government would not pursue charges against Rumsfeld and the 11 other U.S. officials, stating the accusations did not apply to German law, in part because there was insufficient evidence that the alleged acts occurred on German soil, nor did the accused live in Germany.[104]

Given the evidence of senior Bush administration policy makers authorizing torture, The Nation wrote in 2005 that, 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.[105][better source needed]

Executive Order[edit]

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".[106] 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 coercion of captives had been mandated by the President of the United States.[107]


A detainee handcuffed in the nude to a bed with a pair of underpants covering his face

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".[108]

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.[109] Also related are pride-and-ego down techniques to make captives more willing to cooperate.[110]

The same report states that:

The U.S. commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, Major General Geoffrey Miller, has confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special "coercive techniques" can be used against enemy detainees. The general, who previously ran the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, said his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.

Most[weasel words] accept the particular acts committed at the prison leading to the initial broadcast report were unauthorized,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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[edit]

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.[111] Also a November 2004 report by Brig Gen Richard Formica found that many troops at the Abu Ghraib prison were only following orders based on a memo from Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, and that "[she] didn't find cruel and malicious criminals that are out there looking for detainees to abuse."[112] "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.[113] In an interview for her hometown newspaper The Signal, Gen. Karpinski claimed to have seen unreleased documents from Rumsfeld that authorized these tactics for Iraqi prisoners.[114] Both Sanchez and Rumsfeld have denied authorization.

Allegedly Rumsfeld-approved abuses[edit]

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." He 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. A criminal complaint was filed in a German Court in 2006 against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by eight former soldiers and intelligence operatives, including Karpinksi and former Army Counterintelligence Special Agent David DeBatto, who served under COL. Thomas Pappas in the 205th MI Brigade. The complaint argues that among other charges, Rumsfeld both knew of and authorized enhanced interrogation techniques he knew to be illegal under international law.[115][116][117][118][119]

Previously unreleased photographs[edit]

In September 2005, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered the release of new Abu Ghraib torture photos.[120] In December 2005, John Pace, human rights chief for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), criticized the U.S. military's practice of holding prisoners in Iraq in its own facilities such as Abu Ghraib prison. 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, "All except those held by the Ministry of Justice are, technically speaking, held against the law because the Ministry of Justice is the only authority that is empowered by law to detain, to hold anybody in prison. Essentially none of these people have any real recourse to protection and therefore we speak ... of a total breakdown in the protection of the individual in this country."[121] On March 29, 2006, the government agreed to drop all appeals and release the new set of photographs.[122]

In February 2006, previously unreleased photos and videos were broadcast by SBS, an Australian television network, on its Dateline programme. 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.[123] 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."[124] Five of the newly released pictures can be seen on the ElMundo webpage.[125] 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, Salon.com published the most extensive documentation of the abuse.[126] 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."

On May 28, 2009, more alleged pictures were made available to the public.[127] Some pictures have surfaced by Australian SBS TV.[128]

2011 grand jury investigation[edit]

In June 2011, the Justice Department announced it was opening a grand jury investigation into CIA torture which killed a prisoner.[129][130]

Torture Central: E-mails from Abu Ghraib[edit]

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.[131]

Later developments[edit]

In 2009, an additional 21 color photographs surfaced, showing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq being abused by their U.S. captors. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said, "[T]he government had long argued that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was isolated and was an aberration. The new photos would show that the abuse was more widespread." President Barack Obama initially indicated he would not fight the release of the photographs, but "reversed course in May and authorized an appeal to the high court." "The Obama administration believe[d] giving the imminent grant of authority over the release of such pictures to the defense secretary would short-circuit a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act." On Oct 10, 2009 the US "Congress [was] set to allow the Pentagon to keep new pictures ... from the public".[132]

In 2010, the last of the prisons were turned over to the Iraqi government to run. An Associated Press article said

Despite Abu Ghraib- or perhaps because of reforms in its wake- prisoners have more recently said they receive far better treatment in American custody than in Iraqi jails.[133]

In September 2010, Amnesty International warned in a report titled New Order, Same Abuses; Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq that up to 30,000 prisoners, including many veterans of the US detention system, remain detained without rights in Iraq and are frequently tortured or abused. Furthermore, it describes a detention system that has not evolved since Saddam Hussein's regime, in which human rights abuses were endemic with arbitrary arrests and secret detention common and a lack of accountability throughout the security forces. Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Malcolm Smart went on to say: "Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted. US authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by US forces to face this catalogue of illegality, violence and abuse, abdicating any responsibility for their human rights."[134]

On October 22, 2010, nearly 400,000 secret United States Army field reports and war logs, detailing torture, summary executions and war crimes, were passed on to the British paper, The Guardian, and several other international media organisations through the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Among others, the logs detail how US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished, and that US troops abused prisoners for years even after the Abu Ghraib scandal.[135][136]

On June 27, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeals of lawsuits from a group of 250 Iraqis who wanted to sue the two contractors CACI International Inc. and Titan Corp. (now a subsidiary of L-3 Communications) over claims of abuse by interrogators and translators at the prison. The suits had been dismissed by the lower courts on the grounds that the companies held a derivative sovereign immunity from suits based on their status as government contractors pursuant to a battle-field preemption doctrine.[137][138]

Engility Holdings, Inc. of Chantilly, Virginia, paid $5.28 million dollars to 71 former inmates held there and at other U.S.-run detention sites between 2003 and 2007.[139]

In June of 2014, the US court of appeals for the fourth circuit in Richmond, Virginia, found that an 18th-century law known as the Alient Tort Statute, allowed non-U.S. citizens access to U.S. courts for violations of "the law of nations or a treaty of the United States". This would enable abused Iraqis to file suit against contractor CACI International.[140]

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Incidents and coverage[edit]



General references:


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]