by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 1, Sha'ban, 1444)
Since most Americans are completely ill-informed, it is safe to assume that they would not know what or where Abu Ghraib was/is. Even if they had heard its name, they probably would not know what happened there. And finally, even if they knew of the torture inflicted by Americans, most of them would not care what was done to the Iraqis.
The rest of the world, however, cannot adopt an attitude of indifference to what happened at Abu Ghraib. American war crimes, like those of its illegitimate ward, the zionist state of Israel, are ongoing. Take the case of Guantanamo Bay that still holds 38 prisons since it was first opened in February 2002. At its peak, it held nearly 700 prisoners in what the former—and now dead—US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld called the “worst of the worst” terrorists. This was part of the American crusade against Muslims. Not one prisoner has been convicted of any crime, even by the kangaroo military tribunal set up at Gitmo, in the 20-year period.
Abu Ghraib’s notoriety preceded America’s invasion of Iraq. Saddam Husain, who the US-backed from 1980 till 1990, was a tyrant. He brooked no opposition from any quarters. The US had no problem with his brutality as long as he served America’s interests fighting Islamic Iran. The collective west led by the US provided him every kind of lethal weapons including chemical and biological weapons to use against Iran. He faced no opprobrium as long as his victims were Muslims.
During Saddam’s rule, Abu Ghraib was a notorious torture prison. Located some 20 miles west of Baghdad, torture and executions at the prison were rampant. Such vile practices did not cramp the US’ style. In fact, the Americans and its western allies were happy to find a ‘strongman’ like Saddam who would their dirty work for them: torturing and killing Iraq’s Islamic scholars and their followers who were opposed to American hegemony.
In the mayhem that followed the collapse of Saddam’s regime after the US and allied invasion in March 2003, the prison guards fled abandoning the huge complex. This enabled the prisoners to flee as well. Looting followed and people took everything they could lay their hands on.
If the US and its allies were really serious about wiping out Saddam’s legacy, they would have promptly shut down the notorious torture complex. Instead, they rebuilt the prison with new floor and wall tiles. The cells were cleaned and repaired, and toilets and showers were added. Abu Ghraib was one legacy the Americans eagerly inherited from Saddam’s tyrannical regime.
Lest it creates the impression that the Americans wanted to spruce up the prison complex by tiling the floor and walls, it was for a very ‘practical reason’: to be able to wipe off the blood of prisoners easily! The US turned it into a military prison. Several thousand Iraqi prisoners were held there by the fall of 2003.
They included women and teen-agers. Most were civilians. Many had been picked up in random military sweeps and at highway checkpoints, suspected of “crimes against the coalition”. There was only a handful of suspected “high-value” members of the insurgency against the coalition forces.
What did the American occupation forces do to the detainees at Abu Ghraib? The information about torture of Iraqi prisoners was provided by Sgt. Joseph Darby who had obtained a CD containing photographs of tortured or murdered detainees from Army Spc. Charles Graner. (Graner was sentenced to a 10-year sentence for his role at Abu Ghraib). He alerted the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division about what was underway in Abu Ghraib.
When Darby’s identity as the whistleblower was made public, he was much vilified. It was the CBS program “60-Minutes” that in April 2004 first showed a small number of photographs of Iraqis under torture. Some soldiers took sadistic pleasure in being photographed with dead Iraqis.
Others were stripped naked and piled on top of each other. Some even had dogs set upon them while yet others had electrodes tied to their genitals. The American torturers included male as well as female soldiers.
Once the information became public knowledge, the US army had to take measures to limit the damage. Major General Antonio M. Taguba was tasked with investigating what happened at Abu Ghraib. His investigative report, 53-pages long, completed in February 2004 was not meant for public release but Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker obtained a copy.
To his credit, General Taguba didn’t pull punches. His report’s conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Hersh wrote:
“Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of ‘sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses’ at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to [Brig Gen. Janis] Karpinski’s brigade headquarters.)
“Taguba’s report listed some of the wrongdoing:
“Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees;
“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, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.
“There was stunning evidence to support the allegations, Taguba added—'detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.’ Photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included in his report, Taguba said, because of their ‘extremely sensitive nature’.”
Eric Fair who was involved in what came to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, candidly admitted saying that what he did as an interrogator in Abu Ghraib was torture. “The idea that there’s interrogation, and then enhanced interrogation, and then torture — there is no middle ground,” he told NPR’s Fresh Air presenter Terry Gross. “Torture is an enhanced interrogation.”
Yet, Janis Karpinski, an Army reserve brigadier general, who was commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade and put in charge of military prisons in Iraq, tried to put a different spin on torture. In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, she said that, for many of the Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib, “living conditions now are better in prison than at home. At one point we were concerned that they wouldn’t want to leave”!
With such mindset, it is not surprising that not one senior officer was charged with the crime. The standard excuse was that there was too much confusion about who really was in charge! Really? Well, Karpinski was in charge of Abu Ghraib. The prosecution could have started with her.
But the Americans are notorious for saying: “We don’t do torture” even when they are torturing people to death. Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay provide ample evidence of American torture.