Accountability and Abu Ghraib

The U.S. government must be accountable to U.S. citizens for its actions in Abu Ghraib.

Prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib first reported in April of last year provoked worldwide debate regarding prisoner treatment, interrogation techniques and military accountability. Terminology such as “enemy combatant” and “NGO” became very much a part of the public lexicon. Yet, it became clear that the public had little recourse for governmental actions.

Because of the shocked reaction of the now infamous Lindsay England photos, it also became clear that U.S. citizens are sheltered from the atrocities of the war. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed to a Senate panel that more pictures, as well as video of detainee abuse, existed. After this admission, the U.S. government has still not answered the requests of its citizens and made the footage and pictures public.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Army to release the more than 100 photos and videos that reportedly exist. On July 22, the U.S. government filed an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act, which allows it to withhold the release of documents if they have the potential to harm an individual. The government cited the violence in reaction to the Newsweek report of Quran abuse as evidence.

In light of these recent actions, it would seem the U.S. government has forgotten that the government operates in a democracy, that the public has the right to know what conduct or misconduct occurs because the government is beholden to them. They have a right to know because it is their children who are sent to fight, and it is them who inevitably hold the government accountable through its democratic institutions.

It is time that the U.S. government stops operating under a shroud of secrecy and releases all material regarding prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.