Yet More Abu Ghraib photos

Salon has published a new gallery of photos of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib. These go along with the batch published by the British and Australian media yesterday.

The AP offers this description:

New images of naked prisoners, some bloodied and lying on the floor, threatened to revive public anger over abuse by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib prison at a time when tensions with the West are already running high in the Middle East. The images were taken about the same time as the earlier photos that triggered a worldwide scandal and led to military trials and prison sentences for several lower-ranking American soldiers. Some key Iraqi officials urged their countrymen Wednesday to react calmly since the pictures were old and the offenders had been punished. Many of the pictures broadcast Wednesday by Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service, including some that appear to show corpses, were more graphic than those previously published. One of the video clips depicted a group of naked men with bags over their heads standing together and masturbating. The network said the men were forced to participate.

In the Middle East, where there have been widespread anti-Western protests recently over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya TV aired some of the Australian station’s footage but refrained from using the most shocking and sexually explicit images. CNN also broadcast excerpts. Iraq’s acting human rights minister, Nermine Othman, said she was “horrified” by the pictures and would study whether any action could be taken against those responsible, even though some offenders have been imprisoned. “There will be two kinds of reactions from Iraqis,” she told The Associated Press. “One will be anger and others will feel sorry that they (SBS) didn’t give them to the Iraqi government to investigate. Why use them? Why show them? We have had enough suffering and we don’t want any more.”

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department believed the release of additional images of prisoner abuse was harmful and “could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world.” Whitman said he did not know whether the photos and video clips were among images the Pentagon has been withholding from public release since 2004. But another defense official said Army officials had reviewed the photographs posted on the Sydney Morning Herald’s Web site and matched them to images that were among those turned over to military authorities in 2004 by a U.S. soldier.

Michelle Malkin asks, reasonably enough,

No pixelation of the nude prisoners in the photos. No disclaimers about paying respect to members of the US military who will be endangered by publication of the pics. The Washington Post used the opportunity to republish Abu Ghraib photos and video it obtained in April 2004.

Readers have been e-mailing all day the question the MSM needs to answer:

Why the Abu Ghraib photos, but not the Mohammed Cartoons?

Fair enough. Of course, given that Malkin and I are among the numerous bloggers who have published the Mohammed cartoons, one supposes the counter charge could be made. So, here are three of the most graphic from the Salon portfolio:

Photo: Abu Ghraib torture photos Salon

Photo: Abu Ghraib torture photos Salon

Photo: Abu Ghraib torture photos Salon

Salon‘s Walter Shapiro offers an explanation for “Why we’re publishing the new Abu Ghraib photos.”

Eventually this visual repetition numbs the senses. All these ghastly images have been viewed so often that they seem to belong to a different war conducted by a different superpower in a different century. Yet the photographs that news organizations have so far published represent only a partial sample of the government’s chilling documentary record from Abu Ghraib.

When Salon‘s national correspondent Mark Benjamin obtained the never-before-released photographs that accompany this essay, we had to both establish their authenticity and to answer the basic question of our justification for publishing. The images themselves partly answered the why-publish question for us. Speaking for myself, I remain haunted by one of the more seemingly banal pictures in this new collection from the dark side. Taken on Dec. 6, 2003, the photograph shows a uniformed and seemingly untroubled Army sergeant leaning against a corridor wall completing his paperwork. All routine, except standing next to the sergeant is a hooded and naked Iraqi prisoner. Just another day of methodical record-keeping at Abu Ghraib.


Abu Ghraib cannot be allowed to fade away like some half-forgotten domestic political controversy, which may have prompted newsmagazine covers at the time, but now seems as irrelevant as the 2002 elections. Abu Ghraib is not an issue of partisan sound bites or refighting the decision to invade Iraq. Grotesque violations of every value that America proclaims occurred within the walls of that prison. These abuses were carried out by soldiers who wore our flag on their uniforms and apparently believed that Americans here at home would approve of their conduct. Rather than hiding what they did out of shame, they commemorated their sadism with a visual record.

Salon is a media organization and additional photos are news. They’re also a left-of-center publication that opposed the war and this administration and it serves their ideological agenda. Why they were published really needs no explanation. They’re certainly within their rights to do so.

I question, however, the assertion that more pictures of the same thing proves that something is more pervasive or systematic. The American soldiers pictured appear to be the same ones that we’ve already seen pictured and tried for their crimes. That they took a whole bunch of photos rather than a few doesn’t really add much to the story.

Update: Matt at Blackfive has more graphic photos from Abu Ghraib, including this horrific shot:

Photo: BU GHRAIB, Iraq (Oct. 30, 2005) - Maj. Lisa Flynn MD provides oxygen to Tabark Addul Rahman, aka Baby Tabitha. Flynn the general and vascular surgeon for the hospital at Abu Ghraib was primary physician for the baby. Photo by Maj. Brad Wenstrup 344th Combat Support Hospital.


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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. fesh says:

    what can i say about this? well america have lots of crimes committed in this planet and yet they call themselves liberator. they told the world fight against terrorism yet what the hell they call this? isn’t it a kind of terrorism?

  2. LJD says:

    This is really bad for the 99.99% of soldiers that do their job within the law.

    Maybe we should just withdraw, and let the chips fall where they may. After all, historically speaking, no one is better at killing and torturing muslims than other muslims.

  3. Mark Jaquith says:

    They can keep this up for years… releasing a few pics of the same events every few months. All it does is make it look like there was a problem at that prison, which there was. It doesn’t imply pervasiveness beyond the Abu Ghraib walls.

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    It doesnÂ’t imply pervasiveness beyond the Abu Ghraib walls.

    Very true, yet it also doesn’t mean that systematic abuse of detainees isnÂ’t going on and itÂ’s more then “just a few bad apples”. It very easy to look at this in one of two ways, One that Abu Grab is simply an aberration and that the photos are culled from a larger pool of material that shows a well run facility and these photos are the very few that suggest abuse. The other is that these are simply the tip of the iceberg and that this sort of thing is SOP for the treatment of suspects.

    Since no one really has a clear picture of the situation as a whole, the side you pick is invariably matched to your personal biases and nothing else.

    But IÂ’m confused about something, there are those who actually wanted the US papers to publish the cartoons because we know it incites aberrant behavior among a subset of Muslims, yet those same people invariably donÂ’t want these photos published for the exact same reason. Could some one explain to me why its so much gosh darn fun to publish one and not the other?

  5. James Joyner says:

    Rick: People are publishing the cartoons to make a point about free speech–after the fact. They’re already out there and people are rioting. Republishing them is an act of defiance in light of that.

    I wouldn’t have recommended publishing either the cartoons or the Abu Ghraib photos in a vacuum. In either case, though, I’d say they don’t justify violence.

  6. John O says:

    The Mohammed Cartoons are newsworthy in that they help people make sense of the ongoing demonstrations and riots by Muslims world-wide. The new Abu Ghraib photos aren’t newsworthy because they don’t provide any new details to an old story. One need not publish both to be consistent or fair; in fact, there isn’t any real reason to publish the new AG photos at all.

  7. LJD says:

    …yet it also doesnÂ’t mean that systematic abuse of detainees isnÂ’t going on and itÂ’s more then “just a few bad apples”

    Huh? I can’t follow the logic here. Because pictures inside the prison don’t serve as evidence of other, more widespread abuse, they also don’t refute that it IS happening? Well, neither does the price of tea in China. Sounds like you’re looking for a more systemic problem, for SOME reason…

    Since no one really has a clear picture of the situation as a whole, the side you pick is invariably matched to your personal biases and nothing else.

    Because YOU don’t have a clear picture, doesn’t mean that ‘no one’ has a clear picture. There are a lot of Veterans that have done the job, and who know how they conducted themselves.

  8. ken says:

    Pictures of Nazi atrocities are published regularly in books and magazines all over the world. Whenever I see them I am reminded of the lesson from my youth: ‘never again’ will we allow this sort of thing to happen.

    When pictures of the current atrocities are published today we get people debating whether or not they are somehow ‘worthy’ of being published. This is a peculiar reaction. Understandable only in light of the fact that among a lot of people thier ideology is so deeply ingrained that it takes precedence over basic human values.

    Where is the outrage?

    All we ever see from conservatives are excuses.

  9. Boyd says:

    All we ever see from conservatives are excuses.

    And all we ever see from liberals are sweeping, blanket statements, judging people by their political affiliations rather than as individuals.

    Now, removing my tongue from my cheek, the above statement obviously doesn’t apply to all liberals, but it’s certainly fair to say it about Ken.

    You’re prejudiced, Ken. You’re discriminatory. You put people in a pre-assigned box that makes you comfortable so you don’t have to actually think.

    You, Ken. Not liberals. You.

  10. lunacy says:

    Nazi atrocities were a matter of Nazi policy.

    How does this equate with Abu Ghraib?

    Unless you think one prison’s atrocities are representative of US policy this comparison is not analogous.


  11. Anderson says:

    Unless you think one prisonÂ’s atrocities are representative of US policy this comparison is not analogous.

    Well, that *is* what some of us think: a U.S. policy to treat our prisoners with contempt and degradation. We did it at Bagram, we did it at Gitmo, we did it at Abu Ghraib, we’re doing it at “secret prisons” in, last time I checked, northern Africa.

    In any rational discussion, the burden by this point would be on the U.S. to demonstrate that it *doesn’t* have such a policy, and to explain in detail how these abuses have managed to crop up at widely separated locations.

    But of course, this is politics, so there’s nothing rational about it. PREMISE: Bush makes no mistakes and does nothing wrong. CONCLUSION: Anyone upset about these abuses hates America.

  12. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Anderson,by “we” who do you mean, and what are you doing sneaking around our secret prisons,and why does the U.S. have to give you or any one else a daily update on why they feel sorry about what a handful of dumb As-h-oles did while on guard duty? Oh,oh,oh, and Ken, you finally got one right, the first part of your statement,it,it,it was beautiful, but then you went a ruined it by typing down some more of your same old donkypoo.sob..sob..sob… I thought your were coming around….sob…sob…and then….sob….sob…poor Ken…

  13. LJD says:

    Anderson, you fail to realize that the evil emperor Bush and Co. can’t be in all these places at once. His ‘hencemen’ have to do all this torturing for him, right? So actually, you are implying, because of less than an handful of incidents, that our troops are ‘torturers’ as a matter of policy.

    You should know that our soldiers have the moral fiber and authority to refuse such unlawful orders. Hopefully you’ll sleep better at night now.

    In any rational discussion, the burden by this point would be on the U.S. to demonstrate that it *doesnÂ’t* have such a policy, and to explain in detail how these abuses have managed to crop up at widely separated locations.

    So we have the right to be guilty until proven innocent, and the suspected ‘terrorists’ have the right to be innocent until proven guilty. Truly telling. This is a perfect case of leftward constitutional philosphy- it only applies where they want it to.

    So then you’re back to Bush and company. Please explain to me how the President manages to get around to ‘all these’ locations so quickly.

    Again, if I said it once I said it a thousand times, questioning the President doesn’t mean you ‘hate America’. However:
    slamming the difficult job our troops do by making blanket statements;
    supporting the enemy by unnecessarily highlighting the crimes of a few during war (name a war where they have not happened);
    extending consitutional rights to international terrorists but being totally dissatisfied with military justice for our own;
    stupid partisanship…
    ….those things sort of wreak of ‘hating America’.

  14. bryan says:

    Salon is a media organization and additional photos are news. Oh, I don’t know that additional photos three years after the fact – photos that do not allege any new misconduct or shed any additional light on the situation – qualify as news. More like “torture Pr0n.”

  15. The Ugl says:

    Rick Said:

    Since no one really has a clear picture of the situation as a whole, the side you pick is invariably matched to your personal biases and nothing else.

    and he is right. My personal biases are based on although never having served myself living almost 40 years in a military town. Knowing hundreds of military personell, travelling to numerous countries around the world, and being a well informed citizen.

    I can say without bias and with every certainty that the horrible treatment that some prisoners received at Abu Ghraib was an aberation and not the norm.

    If you had any common sense you would know it as well.