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Encyclopedia > Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse



This article deals with one aspect of the Human rights situation in post_Saddam Iraq.
Map of Iraq highlighting Abu Ghraib

In 2004, reports emerged of numerous instances of abuse, torture, and murder of prisoners in the Baghdad Correctional Facility, formerly Abu Ghraib Prison, by personnel of the U.S. armed forces, CIA officers and contractors involved in the occupation of Iraq, beginning in 2003.

The abuse gained more attention after U.S. soldier Joseph Darby placed an anonymous note under his commander's door.

The Pentagon began an investigation, although the matter did not come to the attention of the general public until The New Yorker article by Seymour M. Hersh of April 30 showed digital photos taken by guards; the story was subsequently taken up by CBS.

After the revelations by Hersh and CBS, some took the Bush administration to task and demanded the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. These critics promoted the theory that authorities either ordered or condoned the abuses.

Charges were brought against several low_ranking personnel.


Former use of the prison

See also Abu_Ghraib_Prison#Under Saddam Hussein

During the Ba'athist regime of Iraq, Abu Ghraib Prison had a reputation as a place of torture. It was the site of the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners — up to 4000 prisoners are thought to have been executed there in 1984 alone. Prisoners were routinely executed; guards fed prisoners into plastic shredders; there are allegations that some of these detainees were subjected to experiments as part of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons program.

It was the opinion of senior UK officials that the prison should be demolished as soon as possible; this was, however, over-ruled by the US authorities.

U.S. personnel stand over several naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Current use of the prison

See also Abu_Ghraib_Prison#Under the US-led coalition

Since the fall of the Ba'athist regime the prison has been used as a detention facility by the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq, holding more than 5,000 people, some alleged rebels, some alleged criminals and others free of any such allegations.

As of 2004, the site is officially known as the Baghdad Correctional Facility, though it remains better known under its original official name.

Claims of abuse by coalition forces emerge

In late April 2004, U.S. television news_magazine 60 Minutes II broke a story involving abuse and humiliation of Iraqi inmates by a small group of U.S. soldiers. The story included photographs depicting the abuse of prisoners. As far back as June 2003, Amnesty International called for an independent investigation of the U.S. detention system in Iraq, in response to off_the_record descriptions of conditions within it.

A baton_wielding U.S. soldier forces an Iraqi prisoner, covered in "an unknown brown substance", to try to walk in a straight line while his ankles are bound.

Taguba's report

In January 2004, Sergeant Joseph Darby, a U.S. Army MP, discovered digital images of apparent detainee abuse on a CD-ROM. He reported the pictures to his superiors, prompting coalition commander Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez to order United States Army Major General Antonio Taguba, to investigate. Two further investigations were also launched.

Taguba's 53_page report, classified "Secret" and dated April 4, 2004, concluded that U.S. soldiers had committed "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law" at Abu Ghraib.[1] (http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/reports/2004/800-mp-bde.htm) Taguba found that between October and December 2003 there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" of prisoners. In violation of Army regulations, intelligence officers asked military police to "loosen up" inmates before questioning. The report estimates that 60% of the prisoners at the site were "not a threat to society" and that the screening process was so inadequate that innocent civilians were often detained indefinitely. Guards invented their own rules and supervisors approved of their actions. Personnel lost track of prisoners, did not count their prisoners, and kept no records regarding dozens of escapes. The facility held too many inmates and supplied too few guards. Training of those on guard was insufficient, and superiors neglected to visit the facilities in person. Top military personnel disagreed on whether military police or military intelligence should be in charge. Prisoner treatment varied between shifts and between compounds.

A soldier is seen punching restrained prisoners

Taguba cited numerous organizational and leadership failures at Abu Ghraib. Reservists tasked with guarding the prison population were inadequately trained, and Taguba faulted senior commanders for failing to address these deficiencies. Specifically, intelligence officers and members of one company, the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Maryland, in charge of security, took part in the documented abuses.

Taguba's report cited numerous examples of inmate abuse, including:

  • Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet.
  • Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees.
  • Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing.
  • Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time.
  • Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear.
  • Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped.
  • Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them.
  • Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture.
A detainee forced to stand on boxes
  • Writing "I am a Rapest" [sic] on the leg of a detainee alleged to have raped a 15_year old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked.
  • Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.
  • A male MP guard raping a female detainee.
  • Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees and MPs posing with cheerful looks.
  • Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees.
  • Threatening detainees with a loaded 9mm pistol.
  • Pouring cold water on naked detainees.
  • Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair.
  • Threatening male detainees with rape.
  • Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell.
  • Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.
  • Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting and severely injuring a detainee.

Individuals criticized by Taguba

By the time Taguba's report was completed, 17 soldiers and officers, including Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, were removed from duty. Six soldiers face courts martial and possible prison time as a result of their roles in the events. The charges against them included dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery.

Taguba said, "'Specifically I suspect that Col. Thomas M. Pappas, Lt. Col. Steve L. Jordan, Mr. Steven Stephanowicz and Mr. John Israel were either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib and strongly recommend immediate disciplinary actions ..." [2] (http://www.svherald.com/articles/2004/05/08/local_news/news4.txt)

However, the online diary of another CACI interrogator at Abu Ghraib, Joe Ryan, reveals that a "Steve Stevanowicz" was still working at the prison on April 26th 2004, suggesting that Taguba's conclusions were ignored until the prison abuse scandal broke in the media.

Other internal investigations

One of the other internal investigations launched is examining whether these abuses were encouraged by intelligence officers or civilian contractors.

Karpinski, in command of the 800th Brigade, oversaw the guards at U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, including those at Abu Ghraib. The 372nd reported to her. She alleged that she warned her superiors about the abuses, but she said "they just wanted it to go away". Karpinski claimed that requests for additional personnel and resources were ignored.

60 Minutes II broadcast and aftermath

The prison gained further international notoriety in April 2004 when U.S. television network CBS broadcast an edition of its 60 Minutes II news_magazine that reported, and included photographs of abuse and humiliation of inmates by a small group of U.S. soldiers.

The report had been delayed by two weeks at the request of the Department of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, because of heavy fighting in Iraq. The prison commander was later replaced with Major_General Geoffrey Miller, who previously supervised the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Former Marine Lt. Col. Bill Cowan in an interview with CBS said: "We went into Iraq to stop things like this from happening, and indeed, here they are happening under our tutelage."

U.S. President George W. Bush decried the acts and contended that they were in no way indicative of normal or acceptable practices in the United States Army.

Chairman Myers claimed on May 2 during a Face the Nation interview that he had not yet seen the Taguba report, although the report was then nearly a month old.

On May 7, United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the following statements 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, I feel terrible about what happened to these detainees. They are human beings, they were in U.S. custody, our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't. That was wrong, To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. We're functioning in a — with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a war-time 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.

Photos from Abu Ghraib

Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib had to form a body pyramid, naked and blinded by their hoods. Several photos of these body pyramids exist. MP Sabrina Harman and Spc. Graner are in the background.
Pvt Lynndie England signals a "thumbs up" sign and points at a hooded, naked Iraqi prisoner.
The word "rapeist" (sic) was written on the right buttock of one detainee.
A prisoner in an orange jumpsuit is threatened with physical harm by an MP K-9.

The pictures show the prisoners naked, being forced to engage in simulated oral sex and other sex acts, images of a female soldier, grinning and pointing at the genitals of a hooded naked prisoner. There is also a photo of a prisoner who appears to be dead. Aside from the published photographs, according to CBS and to Rumsfeld, the Army has many more of these photos, including one that shows a dog attacking a prisoner. One detainee has also made charges of rape under supervision of the soldiers.

Some of the soldiers in the photographs have been identified as Army Reserve members private Lynndie England and her fiancé, specialist Charles Graner, both of whom have been charged with maltreatment of prisoners (see their articles for details).

Convictions and courts_martial

The report by Antonio M. Taguba lists six suspects: Staff Sergeant Ivan (Chip) Frederick II, Specialist Charles A. Graner, Sergeant Javal Davis, Specialist Megan Ambuhl, Specialist Sabrina Harman, and Jeremy Sivits (now demoted to Private). A seventh suspect is Private Lynndie England, who became pregnant and was reassigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The six are facing charges that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault, and indecent acts.

On May 19, 2004, a special court-martial (less severe than "general"; confinement sentence limited to one year) sentenced Sivits to this maximum sentence, in addition to being discharged for bad conduct and demoted, upon his plea of guilty.

On September 11, 2004, Specialist Armin Cruz of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion was sentenced to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge in exchange for his testimony against other soldiers.

Spec. Roman Krol, and Spec. Israel Rivera who were present during abuse on October 25 are under investigation but have not been charged and have testified against other soldiers.

On October 20, 2004, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick pled guilty to conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault and committing an indecent act in exchange for other charges being dropped. His abuses included making three prisoners masturbate. He also punched one prisoner so hard in the chest that he needed resuscitation. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, forfeiture of pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private. [3] (http://wireservice.wired.com/wired/story.asp?section=Breaking&storyId=939300&tw=wn_wire_story)

Ambuhl was convicted on October 30, 2004, of dereliction of duty and sentenced to reduction in rank to private and loss of a half_month’s pay.

On January 14, 2005, Graner was found guilty of all charges, including conspiracy to maltreat detainees, failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment, as well as charges of assault, indecency, adultery, and obstruction of justice. On January 15, 2005, he was sentenced to ten years in federal prison.

The arraignments of Javal Davis and Ivan Frederick were postponed until June 21. They are expected to face general courts-martial. Charles Graner is to stand trial January 7.

The others, the three women, are awaiting arraignment.

Personal accounts from the field

These prisoners were made to simulate oral sex (while wearing hoods)

Pvt. England and Specialist Graner pose behind a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners, with " thumbs up".

A naked prisoner is intimidated, or threatened, with two dogs.

Pvt. England holding a leash attached to a prisoner on the floor.

Hashem Muhsen, one of the naked men in the human pyramid photo, said they were also made 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.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition operations in Iraq, 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."

The story and the photographs were carried as front-page news in many newspapers across the world and featured as the lead story on the broadcast media globally, causing outrage and dismay from many international observers. Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, said, "The liberators are worse than the dictators. This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America."

Joseph M. Darby reported that Frederick, on one occasion, "had punched a detainee in the chest so hard that the detainee almost went into cardiac arrest". In letters and e-mails to family members, Frederick repeatedly noted that the military-intelligence teams, which included C.I.A. officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors, were the dominant force inside Abu Ghraib.

A video diary of a prison guard recounts having venomous snakes bite the prisoners, sometimes resulting in death, throwing stones at the prisoners, and prisoners being shot for minor misbehavior. [4] (http://news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=542742004)

Soldier Samuel Provance from Alpha Company 302nd Military Intelligence battalion, reported the sexual harassment of a 15-to-16-year-old girl by interrogators, as well as a 16-year-old son of an Iraqi general who was driven through the cold after he had been showered and who was then besmeared with mud in order to get his father to talk.

United Nations Law application

The United States has ratified the UN's Convention Against Torture and the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Although the Bush Administration has argued that prisoners taken in Afghanistan did not qualify as prisoners of war under international law, Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to the President, has stated: "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." ("The Rule of Law and the Rules of War", New York Times (op-ed piece), May 15, 2004).

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. (Article 1)

From the perspective of this definition, one very important photograph is the one shown to the right: a hooded prisoner, standing on a box with electrical wires connected to various parts of his body. The prisoner was reportedly told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box. The army claims, however, that the wires were not live and that the prisoner at no time faced actual electrocution, only the threat thereof.

If the prisoner believed the deception and was sincerely convinced that he faced the possibility of execution, then the situation would seem to constitute "mental suffering" as defined in the Convention. The motivation of the act would also appear to have been to obtain a confession or to intimidate or coerce him – purposes referred to in Article 1. Debate lies in the Convention's use of the adjective "severe" to qualify the suffering and the difficulties inherent in determining whether the suffering felt by the photographed prisoner was severe or mild.

In contrast, the actions shown in this photograph and most of the others would appear to constitute the "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" proscribed by Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture. Some of the acts described in the Taguba report also qualify.

The International Committee of the Red Cross stated in its confidential February 2004 report to the coalition forces that prisoners deemed to have an "intelligence" value were systematically "subjected to a variety of harsh treatments [...] which in some cases was tantamount to torture".

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

Some of the accused soldiers' families or attorneys have already made clear an intention to argue that the practices at Abu Ghraib were directed by higher-ranking military officers or by the Central Intelligence Agency. 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.

More evidence of torture

One of a series of photos taken by U.S. soldiers of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. The prisoner was reportedly told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box he was standing on.
Another photo of the prisoner shows him hanging onto a railing for support in a weakened condition

According to Donald Rumsfeld, many more pictures and videotapes of the abuse at Abu Ghraib exist.

New photos and videos revealed by the Pentagon to lawmakers in a private viewing on the 12th of May showed attack dogs snarling at cowing prisoners, Iraqi women forced to expose their breasts, and naked prisoners forced to have sex with each other, the lawmakers revealed.

Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist with The New Yorker, said there are tapes of American soldiers sodomizing Iraqi boys, and that these tapes are being held by the Bush administration. "The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling, and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking," he claimed to a conference of the ACLU in July 2004.

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

Urinating on detainees

Jumping on detainee's leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force that it could not thereafter heal properly

Continuing by pounding detainee's wounded leg with collapsible metal baton

Isolated or policy?

Sgt. Frederick sitting on an Iraqi detainee

This prisoner appears dead, wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. It is unclear how he died or why he was photographed.

Spc. Sabrina Harman poses over the dead body of Manadel al_Jamadi, an Iraqi prisoner; a small patch of blood can be seen on his right temple and his eyes are sealed closed with tape. According to Spc. Kenner's testimony, Navy SEALs brought al_Jamadi to the prison in good health; Kenner says al_Jamadi looked extensively bruised when brought out of the showers, dead. According to Kenner there was a "battle" among CIA and military interrogators over who should dispose the body; eventually, the body was packed in ice and an IV was inserted as a cover up.

Spc. Charles Graner poses over Manadel al_Jamadi's corpse.

Reaction from the US administration characterises the Abu Ghraib abuse as an isolated incident uncharacteristic of American actions in Iraq; this view is widely disputed, notably in Arab countries, but also by organisations such as the International Red Cross, which says that it has been making representations about abuse of prisoners for more than a year. A former military intelligence officer with experience at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib alleges (see external link - "Cooks and drivers...") a systematic failure caused by a combination of inexperienced troops arresting innocent Iraqis, who are then interrogated by inexperienced interrogators determined to 'break' these apparent hard cases.

Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, who faces a court martial for his actions at Abu Ghraib, mailed his diary home. In the diary are listed detailed, dated entries that chronicle abuse and names. An excerpt:

They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. The next day the medics came in and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake I.V. in his arm [to suggest he died under medical care] and took him away. This OGA (other governmental agency) [prisoner] was never processed and therefore never had a number.


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.

See also Taguba's report.

Death certificates repeatedly stated that prisoners had died "during sleep", and of "natural reasons". Iraqi doctors are not allowed to investigate even when death certificates are obviously forged. No reports of investigations against US military doctors who forged death certificates have been reported.

On 7 May 2004, International Committee of the Red Cross Operations Director Pierre Krähenbühl stated that the ICRC's inspection visits to Coalition detention centres 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". [5] (http://uk.news.yahoo.com/040507/325/et2ck.html) [6] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3694521.stm)

US 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. [7] (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12956,1212199,00.html) Also related are pride-and-ego down techniques to make captives more willing to cooperate. [8] (http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=37858)

The same report states that:

The US 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 Guantánamo Bay, said his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.

Most accept the particular acts committed at the prison leading to the initial broadcast report were unauthorised, 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.

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".

Documents obtained by the Washington Post show that the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez authorised the use of military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns and sensory deprivation as interrogation methods in Abu Ghraib.[9] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35612-2004Jun11.html) In an interview for her hometown newspaper The Signal, General Karpinski claimed to have seen unreleased documents from Rumsfeld that authorized these tactic for Iraqi prisoners [10] (http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/signal/iraq/sg070204.htm). Both Sanchez and Rumsfeld have denied authorization.

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" [11] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3806713.stm). However, a spokesman for Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the Guantanamo camp and now commands 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 [12] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3810791.stm)

By contrast, the Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations [13] (http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Aug2004/d20040824finalreport.pdf) did specifically absolve senior US military & 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"

Executive Order

On December 21,

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