Worst Abuses on a Single Day

AP — Many Iraq Prison Abuses Occurred in Nov

any of the worst abuses that have come to light from the Abu Ghraib prison happened on a single November day amid a flare of insurgent violence in Iraq (news – web sites), the deaths of many U.S. soldiers and a breakdown of the American guards’ command structure.

Nov. 8 was the day U.S. guards took most of the infamous photographs: soldiers mugging in front of a pile of naked, hooded Iraqis, prisoners forced to perform or simulate sex acts, a hooded prisoner in a scarecrow-like pose with wires attached to him.

It was unclear Friday whether most or all of the new pictures and video published by The Washington Post depicted events on Nov. 8. At least one photo, showing Spc. Charles Graner Jr. with his arm cocked as if to punch a prisoner, is described in military court documents as having been taken that day.

When Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits tearfully pleaded guilty Wednesday to abusing prisoners, he described fellow soldiers committing an escalating series of abuses on eight prisoners that included stamping on their toes and fingers and punching one man hard enough to knock him out.

Sivits is likely to testify about the events of Nov. 8 at courts-martial for other soldiers charged with abuse. Three of them declined to enter pleas at hearings Wednesday: Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick II and Graner.

The abuse came during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and reflection. The abused Iraqis, Sivits said, had been suspected of taking part in a prison riot that day. They were held at Abu Ghraib on suspicion of common crimes, not attacks on U.S. forces, said Col. Marc Warren, the top legal adviser to Iraqi commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

The day of abuse — a Saturday — capped what had been the worst week for U.S. troops in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. Nearly three dozen had been killed in a surge of attacks that left some other soldiers frustrated and frightened. Insurgents had attacked the Abu Ghraib prison and other U.S. bases in the area with mortars several times in previous weeks.

This would make a lot of sense if the abuse was primarily violent. It doesn’t explain the sexual abuse and the apparent enjoyment the tormenters were taking in it in the photos we’ve seen. That’s not the type of thing one does out of frustration or anger.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. niall says:

    Frequently sex crimes are understood not to be about sex, but rather about power, specifically the perpetrator’s need to feel powerful.

    Perhaps the fear and uncertainty were more to the fore in the possible list of motives? Reducing the enemy, even if only by proxy, to terrified, debased animals doesn’t sound like such an unlikely response. Disgusting and dishonorable yes, but not hard to imagine.

  2. Kate says:

    In the immortal words of the Rev.Jesse Jackson;

    “Capital punishment turns the state into a murderer, but imprisonment turns the state into a gay dungeon-master.”