Monday, May 03, 2004
I'd like to point out that what's new here is the images of torture showing up on CBS. What's not new is this story. Reports of systematic abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners -- specifically at the Abu Ghraib prison -- have been around for months now. Without the graphic pictures they never broke through into the mainstream. Amnesty International has amassed scores of such reports since July*.
If we limit ourselves only to accounts involving Abu Ghraib, there was this article translated from Jordan's al-Arab al-Yawm Newspaper, several months ago:
Prisoner 'Ali Mahmud, who spent about five months in five different prison camps in various parts of Iraq before winding up in Abu Ghurayb, said that the charge against him was not based on any evidence but was merely slander. Yet the way he was captured was outrageous. "They raided my home in al-Karakh district late at night, provocatively wrecking our household goods. They stole five million dinars from my house and arrested three of my sons."
Mahmud said that the investigators used psychological torture on him throughout long hours of interrogation sessions during which his hands and feet were bound in iron chains.
Mahmud, who is known as 'Ali Mama, did not claim that he was beaten but said that some of the investigators used threats and intimidation regarding what would happen to him if he did not confess to his connections with Saddam and wit the so-called Army of Muhammad, connections with which he denied. Because he denied any connection with the Resistance, Mahmud says he was stripped naked and confined to an empty cell.
Mahmud described how during his imprisonment there he was subjected to a harsh form of punishment in which the jailers would pour water on his naked body, bringing on sickness. "I got terrible diarrhea and have fainting spells which I am now seeing a doctor about."
And let's not forget the story of the al-Jazeera reporters who wound up in Abu Ghraib and were tortured, covered in the Nation, among other places:
Once inside the sprawling prison, Hassan says, he was greeted by US soldiers who sang "Happy Birthday" to him through his tight plastic hood, stripped him naked and addressed him only as "Al Jazeera," "boy" or "bitch." He was forced to stand hooded, bound and naked for eleven hours in the bitter autumn night air; when he fell, soldiers kicked his legs to get him up again. In the morning, Hassan says, he was made to wear a dirty red jumpsuit that was covered with someone else's fresh vomit and interrogated by two Americans in civilian clothes. They made the usual accusations that Hassan and Al Jazeera were in cahoots with "terrorists."
If the Pentagon's serious about pursuing the standard "It was just a few bad apples. We didn't know what was going on" defense they have a pretty hard case to make. The sheer number of reports lends plausibility to the notion of US forces using torture as an intelligence gathering tool as a matter of official or quasi-official policy -- just by Occam's razor, if nothing else.