The Horror of Abu Ghraib

The Nation, May 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Horror of Abu Ghraib


"Abu Ghraib prison was used for torture in Saddam's time. People will ask now: 'What's the difference between Saddam and Bush?' Nothing!" So declared Saudi commentator Dawud al-Shiryan on the English-language website of Al Jazeera, a sign of how the now-infamous photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and sexually humiliated by American soldiers are reverberating in the Arab world. The appalling images-seven naked Iraqis piled on top of one another as two grinning GIs look on; a kneeling detainee posing as if he is performing oral sex on another naked, hooded male inmate; the battered body of a dead prisoner packed in ice-have led to criminal charges against six US soldiers and administrative penalties for seven officers.

But the abuses are an indictment of more than just a "handful of people" who strayed from protocol, as Air Force Gen. Richard Myers tried to suggest on Face the Nation. As Seymour Hersh observes in the May 10 New Yorker, the sadistic behavior detailed in Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's fifty-three-page classified report, including the sodomizing of a detainee with a chemical light, offers "an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels." Those implicated, among them employees of a private military contractor who apparently had no training in the handling of prisoners, claim they were following orders from their superiors, who urged that prisoners be "softened up" in order to extract information.

Ultimate responsibility lies in Washington. Despite George W. Bush's expression of "disgust"-"that's not the way we do things," he insisted-there is reason to believe abusive interrogation methods have become an integral part of the Administration's "war on terrorism." It was two years ago that the Washington Post detailed a pattern of mistreatment at overseas CIA interrogation centers like the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where three detainees died; US military doctors termed it "homicide. …

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