Under Saddam Hussein the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad, Iraq, was a center of torture and other inhumane activity. It seems U.S. military administration is barely distinguishable. The systematic torturing of Iraqi prisoners is a low in U.S. military conduct not seen since the My Lai massacre in Vietnam more than 30 years ago.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba’s report documents disturbing practices such as forced nudity and masturbation and sodomy inflicted with broom handles. The photographs supporting the report frequently feature naked Iraqis in sexually degrading positions juxtaposed with U.S. personnel grinning and giving “thumbs up” signs. These practices, targeted at Muslims’ religious values, come on top of other abuses such as using rubber bullets, pouring phosphoric acid on detainees, hooding and confinement to 3-by-3-foot closets. Representing a disturbing trend, there are also photographs of British soldiers mistreating Iraqis – even urinating on detainees.
The abuse violates U.S. military law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law, not to mention common human decency. Outside of military codes of justice, the perpetrators have clearly broken the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention Against Torture.
While top military officials seem to be seeking whatever justice is possible, even considering public trials for the six accused enlisted persons, currently no officers face judicial sanction. Though reports indicate military intelligence officials encouraged, if not ordered, the tactics, Taguba’s report recommends only reprimand and firing for ranking army personnel and contractors allegedly involved in the crimes.
It is time to discuss what means of intelligence gathering are acceptable. While intelligence officers must guard safety of citizens at home and soldiers abroad, clearly there are limits to how they do so. This board has opined that U.S. conduct in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, threatens to make us no better than that which we oppose and condemn. In Abu Ghraib, that transformation seems to be complete.