Feb. 16, 2006 – Newly released images of abuse perpetrated by US personnel at Iraqâ€™s Abu Ghraib prison hit the Internet and the Australian airwaves yesterday, reopening an issue that top US officials and some news organizations had laid to rest.
The photographs and video footage, obtained by an Australian news program, are reminiscent of those released in early 2004 â€“ only many are more gruesome.
The Australian network SBS showed chilling video and photographic images on its news program Dateline yesterday. Today, the website Salon published an additional 19 photographs. The site said the images were taken from a DVD it had obtained from a military source, containing 1,000 photographs, files and supporting documents related to an Army investigation into prisoner abuse in Iraq.
The photographs shown on Dateline, which are from an unknown source and have not been independently verified, show bloodied detainees, some alive and some dead. They show captive men, their faces blacked out, naked and sprawled in humiliating and vulnerable positions.
One depicts a manâ€™s buttocks bearing a field of red, coin-sized open wounds, reportedly the result of non-lethal ammunition. In another shot, three naked men sit, squat and stand in front of a man in uniform, their heads covered with hoods. In the foreground, the lower half of another manâ€™s naked body displays the words "Iâ€™M A RAPEIST" scrawled in English on his hip.
Another pair of photos shows two apparently young females. In the second of the picture, one of them is alone, lifting her shirt up, bare breasts exposed.
Dateline also aired video footage of men lined up, naked and hooded, apparently forced to masturbate.
In another clip, a man is strapped to a wall, repeatedly beating his head against it.
Salon published photographs of a badly beaten corpse, a prisoner apparently sodomizing himself with a yellow object, blood smeared floors, and prisoners naked, handcuffed, hooded and placed in uncomfortable or painful positions.
Salon used an Army report that accompanied the photographs to obtain context; Dateline learned more about its cache of images through interviews with US personnel previously stationed at Abu Ghraib. The outlets simply broadcast or printed others without background description.
In commentary accompanying its batch of pictures, Salonâ€™s Washington bureau chief, Walter Shapiro, wrote, "Beyond the collapse of military discipline and adherence to the basic rules of civilized behavior, Abu Ghraib also symbolized the failure of a democratic society to investigate well-documented abuses by its soldiers." Shapiro did not say when Salon first obtained the photographs and other evidence of abuse or why it had chosen today to publish them, only after the Datelineâ€™s airing of previously unseen photos.
It has been known since 2004 that in addition to the photographs initially uncovered by the press, there was more visual evidence of abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib. Through official inquiries and unofficial leaks, some members of Congress and a few journalists had reported seeing other, more visually explicit photographs than the ones that touched off the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Yet no additional images were revealed to the general public until yesterday.
The ACLU, on behalf of several human rights groups, has been trying to obtain additional evidence of misconduct in US-run prisons worldwide. In September 2005, a federal district judge ordered the government to turn over all evidence of abuse to the group, including photographs and videos, but so far, Washington has stalled the ruling with an appeal.
In a press release yesterday, the ACLU said it does not know whether the images released by Dateline are among those sought in its court battle.
The governmentâ€™s stated justification for not disclosing the additional visual evidence is that doing so might fan the flames of anti-US sentiment in the Middle East. US corporate media organizations have largely followed suit, choosing not to release or even describe evidence they have obtained.
In todayâ€™s edition, Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott offers an explanation of why corporate news organizations, including the Post itself, withheld "a substantial number of photographs." Kennicott asserts that the media "have been constrained, in large part, by the sheer graphic nature of them, especially the nudity," insisting that some of the photographs are "difficult to interpret" and "show things that are hard to identify."
Kennicott denounced the Australian network for putting "yet more scenes of blood and savagery into circulation, circumventing both the US government's efforts to keep Abu Ghraib images out of the public eye and the gatekeeping of news organizations."
Rights groups seized upon the fresh evidence to push for deeper, more independent probes into prisoner abuse, which have so far only singled out a few low-ranking soldiers for punishment.
"The public has a right to know the full truth about the treatment of detainees not just in Abu Ghraib, but elsewhere in Iraq, Afghanistan and GuantÃ¡namo Bay," said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh in a press statement. "Instead of continuing to deny the widespread abuse, the government must hold relevant officials accountable for this abuse."
Since 2003, there have been ten official investigations into prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba. But all have been conducted by government entities. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and other human rights groups have long called for independent investigations, especially of top officials they allege designed policies that created the conditions for abuse.
"We are saddened by the displays of inhumanity in these images," said Barbara Olshansky, CCRâ€™s legal director. "Yet the only time the US government acts is when they are forced to by revelations such as this. Had they released these images properly and held high-level officials accountable at the time, we would not be facing the repercussions we will surely see in the reactions around the world."