April 2004: Abu Ghraib graphic depiction of sadistic, blatant criminal abuses

On April 28, 2004, CBS-60 Minutes broadcast the first of a horrific series of excruciatingly graphic Abu Ghraib prison photographs documenting atrocities.

The American public was shocked by the depraved sadistic cruelty documented in photographs from Abu Ghraib prison showing Iraqi prisoners stripped naked, with bags over their heads, forced into contorted humiliating positions; some tethered to a dog leash were forced to crawl like dogs; some piled one on top of another. There were images of a man standing hooded on a box with wires attached to his hands; male and female guards leering as they forced naked men to simulate sexual acts; a dead Iraqi detainee was packed in ice…

The pictures were taken by U.S. Army military police soldiers assigned to the prison. They were passed on to Army Criminal Investigators Division (CID) months later in the form of a CD-ROM, by an outraged military police specialist named Joseph Darby.

As the shock waves of the scandal exploded on the internet, America’s reputation was badly tarnished, earning global condemnation. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush denied responsibility and blamed “a few bad apples.” They insisted that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were “perpetrated by a small number of U.S. military… and did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole.”

Lawyers with knowledge of military discipline point to the absurdity of suggesting that a few low level soldiers are to bear the blame for heinous systemic abuse, and declassified CIA documents confirm the culpability of several hundred government officials.

“Do you really think a group of kids from rural Virginia decided to do this on their own? Decided that the best way to embarrass Arabs and make them talk was to have them walk around nude?… 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.” (Hersh. Torture At Abu Ghraib, The New Yorker 2004)

Philip Carter, a lawyer and former U.S. Army officer deployed in Iraq (2005-2006), who is a founding member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, raised concern that the brutal tactics undermined national security:

“There is no doubt that the abuses at Abu Ghraib stand as an indelible stain on the honor of the American military. What is less clear is the degree to which the resulting scandal has damaged our national security. If Osama bin Laden had hired a Madison Avenue public relations firm to rally Arabs hearts and minds to his cause, it’s hard to imagine that it could have devised a better propaganda campaign.” (Philip Carter. The Road to Abu Ghraib, Washington Monthly, 2004)

What’s worse, the sadistic abuses documented in the Abu Ghraib pictures followed standard operating procedure in accordance with the official JTF GTMO ‘SERE’ Interrogation Manual” (Dec. 2002; released to the public in 2008.). As Alfred Prof. McCoy pointed out:

Placing hoods over the heads of political prisoners—a modified form of sensory deprivation—has become a standard torture tactic around the world; it was developed by the CIA… The Abu Ghraib [and Guantanamo] torture scandal is the product of a deeply contradictory U.S. policy toward torture since the start of the Cold War.

At the UN and other international forums, Washington has long officially opposed torture and advocated a universal standard for human rights. Simultaneously, the CIA has propagated ingenious new torture techniques in contravention of these same international conventions, a number of which the U.S has ratified. In battling communism, the United States adopted some of its most objectionable practices — subversion abroad, repression at home, and most significantly torture itself.

Upon careful examination, those photographs of nude bodies expose the CIA’s most basic torture techniques – stress positions, sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation.
(Alfred McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror, 2006; Hidden History of CIA Torture: America’s Road to Abu Ghraib, 2004)

In a 2004 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, Robert Jay Lifton, a who served as an Air Force psychiatrist, stated that American doctors who were involved in the torture at Abu Ghraib

“brought a medical component to [ ] an “atrocity-producing situation.” They “were part of a command structure that permitted, encouraged, and sometimes orchestrated torture to a degree that it became the norm — with which they were expected to comply. Even without directly participating in the abuse, doctors may have become socialized to an environment of torture and by virtue of their medical authority helped sustain it.”

Worse still, he wrote, is that “the participation of doctors can confer an aura of legitimacy and can even create an illusion of therapy and healing.”