Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners VI

NYT/AP: 7 U.S. Soldiers Disciplined for Alleged Abuse at Iraqi Prison

Seven U.S. soldiers have been reprimanded in connection with the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners carried out by guards at Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, a senior military official said on Monday.

On the orders of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, six of the soldiers — all officers and noncommissioned officers — have received the most severe level of administrative reprimand in the U.S. military, the official said on condition of anonymity.

A seventh officer was given a more lenient admonishment.

The military official said he believed investigations of the officers were complete and they would not face further action or court martial. However, the reprimands could spell the end of their careers.

Another six U.S. military police are facing criminal charges.

It’s unclear what role these leaders had and the description of their ranks is incredibly vague. Given the nature of the punishment, I would presume that these are people who should have known what was going on and didn’t. Leaders who knew what was going on and did nothing about it would almost certainly face criminal sanction.

NYT: Report on Abuse Faults 2 Officers in Intelligence [RSS]

The widening prison-abuse scandal in Iraq, which has stirred anger in the Arab world just as the Marines have tried to defuse a bloody confrontation in Falluja, holds the potential to damage efforts by American officials to meet a June 30 deadline to transfer limited self-rule to the Iraqi people. It appeared to have caught senior Pentagon officials and some top officers off guard on Sunday, despite President Bush’s condemnation of the abuses on Friday.

Appearing on three Sunday talk shows, Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave conflicting answers when asked if the problems at Abu Ghraib were systemic throughout detention centers in Iraq.

At first, General Myers insisted that the instances of mistreatment were not widespread and were the actions of “just a handful” of soldiers who had unfairly tainted all American forces in Iraq. But when pressed, he acknowledged that he had not yet read a classified, 53-page Army report completed in February by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, first reported in the May 10 issue of The New Yorker, that chronicled the worst of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. General Myers left open the possibility the abuses could be broader, saying, “We don’t know that yet.”

While I agree–indeed have written–that Myers should certainly have read the report, given that much of it had been reported in The New Yorker, before going on television to talk about the incident, this summary is unfair. For one thing, it’s unclear that this is a “growing” scandal. So far as we know, there have been no incidents other than the ones initially reported. There are now multiple investigations, most of which were initiated before it broke in the press, trying to get to the bottom of it. Further, Seymour Hersh apparently read the report in its entirety and reported on it extensively. The suggestion that there are deep, yet unrevealed secrets buried in it is almost certainly false.

WaPo: Angry Ex-Detainees Tell of Abuse

Interviews with former Iraqi prisoners and human-rights advocates present a picture of the U.S. prison system here as a vast wartime effort to extract information from the enemy rather than to punish criminals. Former prisoners say lengthy interrogation sessions, employing sleep depravation, severe isolation, fear, humiliation and physical duress, were regular features of their daily regimen and remain so for the estimated 2,500 to 7,000 people inside the jails.

The system comprises 16 prisons, four of which hold prisoners accused of being part of the anti-occupation insurgency. But there are countless other holding cells on U.S. bases, many once used by former president Saddam Hussein’s government, where young Iraqis spend their first fearful hours in captivity.

“We have to get to the bottom of it,” coalition spokesman Daniel Senor said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “We have to engage in a robust investigation, which we are doing. . . . But let’s not express frustration with the entire military in the process.”

Now, this is hardly surprising. We’re fighting a war in Iraq. The prisoners aren’t criminals serving time but enemy prisoners of war. Interrogating them to gain information about the insurgency is not only to be expected but vital. Even in our criminal justice system, police use fear, sleep deprivation, and intimidation to extract information from people. The techniques used with EPWs are generally somewhat harsher. In both cases, though, there are rules. Clearly, the rules were broken at least in isolated cases in Iraq. But we shouldn’t lump torture and abusive treatment in with ordinary interrogations, giving the false impression that they’re one and the same.

Unfortunately, that impression seems to have formed:

WSJ: U.S. Begins Prisoner-Abuse Probes [$ p. 3 print ed.]

For U.S. military officials trying to put down what appears to be a growing insurgency in Iraq, the allegations of abuse couldn’t have come at a worse time. Many Iraqis were appalled but not shocked by the photos and new allegations of abuse, saying that they simply confirmed long-held suspicions that Iraqi prisoners were mistreated. The greater damage may occur internationally. Images of naked Iraqi prisoners being forced to simulate sex acts, which aired repeatedly on Arab television and were splashed across the front pages of newspapers world-wide, will feed rising international anger and could drive more Muslims to take up the radicals’ call for a broader jihad against the U.S. and its allies.


Stories of Iraqi prisoners who say they were abused in Abu Ghraib have been circulating for months. In January an article in The Wall Street Journal quoted several prisoners at Abu Ghraib who said they were ordered to stand upright for as long as 13 hours until they collapsed and were spat at and burned with a cigarette. One of the detainees, a small-business owner named Najim Abdulhussein, told a Journal reporter shortly after he was released that guards at the prison told him that if he didn’t confess to supporting the insurgency in Iraq that U.S. soldiers would gang rape his wife.

Similarly, Amnesty International said it has uncovered a “pattern of torture” of Iraqi prisoners by coalition troops.

The new reports of abuse are likely to fuel the resistance to U.S. forces and complicate the June 30 handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi caretaker government. “They want to fool us by saying they are here for the benefit of the Iraqis but they are here for their own interest and treat us like animals,” said Mohammad Salih, a 37-year-old shopkeeper in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. “What goes around comes around; the Americans deserve to get killed every day. I hope more of them die.”

The editor of the Al Borsa weekly newspaper, Falih Abbas, 38, said he planned to dedicate the entire front page of the tabloid-size paper to the picture of the detainees and run a picture of President Bush next to it and the headline would read: “This is the democracy and freedom Bush promised us.”

Severe punishment for those involved will help. But I’m not sure we’ll ever undo the damage caused by this. For once, I’m in agreement with the NYT editorial [RSS] page:

Terrorists like Osama bin Laden have always intended to use their violence to prod the United States and its allies into demonstrating that their worst anti-American propaganda was true. Abu Ghraib was an enormous victory for them, and it is unlikely that any response by the Bush administration will wipe its stain from the minds of Arabs. The invasion of Iraq, which has already begun to seem like a bad dream in so many ways, cannot get much more nightmarish than this.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    While it won’t do much to change the minds of America-haters, meting out the harshest punishment possible will send a message that this type of crime won’t be tolerated. That needs to be supported by a chain of command that understands that the slightest whiff of this kind of activity must be dealt with swiftly and severely.

    Those working in the prisons that have the character to treat prisoners humanely won’t have a problem with that approach, and those that might be inclined to “have a little fun” at the prisoners’ expense will be too afraid to try it.

    There’s more, of course, but I believe that’s the foundation for moving forward.

  2. Big Media labels a scandal “growing” based on how often they and their co-workers talk about it on their free time. Lack of new developments, or lack of public interest, have little if anything to do woth it.

    In fact, it could be growing even if all they were talking about were how nobody but the press seems interested. Which would itself be regarded as scandalous.

  3. Eddie Thomas says:

    The Atlantic Monthly carried an excellent article on contemporary interrogation tactics, and it isn’t so far from torture as we might like to think. The underlying goal is to disorient and alienate the prisoner to the point that he is willing to speak just for the hope of some return to normalcy. It isn’t torture insofar as it doesn’t involve pain or leave marks, but it isn’t pretty either. Our not calling it torture is partly a legalism and partly a squeamishness that prefers invisible, psychological distress to outward physical suffering.

    That isn’t to say that these forms of interrogation aren’t needed.

  4. HH says:

    You should also comment on the “Iraqi prisoner prefers Saddam” story if you haven’t.

  5. James Bennett says:

    Have the names of the seven soldiers who’ve been reprimanded been released to the media? If not, they should be.

    More than administrative punishments, such as reprimands, are needed in this case.

    And what about Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade? I understand the thugs photographed in acts of humiliation and torture are from the 372 Military Police Company, a subunit of Karpinski’s angels.

    We’d also like to hear about the civilian torture experts the U.S. Army, in its wisdom, managed to ferret out of civvie life and put on the Pentagon payroll. Who are they, and who’s responsible for their selection and hiring?

    If President Bush dismisses Donald Rusmsfeld–who served the administration well during the active war but who’s proved inept in the aftermath of it–it might be possible for a congressional committee to ferret out irresponsible higher officers, up to the rank of general, involved in this military imbroglio. Karpinski should head the list of those under investigation.

    But it looks like Rumsfeld is going to be allowed to hang on, which means the government is exercising maximum damage control. Karpinski won’t crack a mention. Only low-ranking thugs in the U.S. Military Police that were involved will get the chop, in other words.

    In the interest of justice and as a strong deterrent against future criminal behaviour on the part of the U.S. Army, this affair should generate many dishonorable discharges as well as prison sentences among those found guilty.

  6. kamilia says:

    just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.