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Abu GhraibAbu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse
Beginning in 2003, numerous accounts of abuse and torture of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq (aka. Baghdad Correctional Facility) occurred. The acts were committed by personnel of the 372nd Military Police Company, CIA officers and contractors involved in the occupation of Iraq.
An internal criminal investigation by the United States Army commenced in January, 2004, and subsequently reports of the abuse, as well as graphic pictures showing American military personnel in the act of abusing prisoners, came to public attention the following April, when a 60 Minutes news report (April 28) and an article by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker magazine (posted online on April 30 and published days later in the May 10 issue) reported the story.
The resulting political scandal damaged the credibility and public image of the United States and its allies in the prosecution of ongoing military operations in the Iraq War, and was seized upon by critics of U.S. foreign policy, who argued it was representative of a broader American attitude and policy of disrespect and violence toward Arabs. The U.S. Administration and its defenders argued that the abuses were the result of independent actions by low-ranking personnel, while critics claimed that authorities either ordered or implicitly condoned the abuses and demanded the resignation of senior Bush administration officials.
The Department of Defense removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and seven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault, and battery. Between May, 2004 and September 2005, seven soldiers were convicted in courts martial, sentenced to federal prison time, and dishonorably discharged from service. Two soldiers, Specialist Charles Graner, and his former fiancée, Pvt. Lynndie England, were sentenced to ten years and three years in prison, respectively, in trials ending on January 14, 2005 and September 26, 2005. The commanding officer at the prison, Brig. General Janis Karpinski, was demoted to the rank of colonel on May 5, 2005.
Reports of abuse and torture
Darby comes forward, U.S. probe launched
Taguba's report, April 2004
Media reporting begins
60 Minutes II broadcast and aftermath
Hersh New Yorker article
More evidence of torture
Quotes from prisoners
Response of U.S. Government officials
Convictions and courts-martial
U.S. policy on interrogations and torture
Previously unreleased photographs
During the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Abu Ghraib Prison had a reputation as a place of torture, and was alleged to be the site of the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners — up to 4000 prisoners are thought to have been executed there in 1984 alone. Prisoners were routinely executed; there are allegations that some of these detainees were subjected to experiments as part of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons program. According to CBS, "When Saddam ran Abu Ghraib prison, Iraqis were too afraid to come ask for information on their family members." After the fall of Baghdad to U.S. and coalition forces in 2003, it was the opinion of senior UK officials that the prison should be demolished as soon as possible, but this was over-ruled by the U.S. authorities. The prison was then used as a detention facility by the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq to hold more than 5,000 people, mostly alleged rebels and criminals. As of 2005, the site has been officially named the Baghdad Correctional Facility, though it remains better known under its original name.
In January 2004, Sergeant Joseph Darby of Corriganville, Maryland, a member of the United States military police, first alerted the U.S. military command to cases of prisoner abuse. Darby provided a compact disc of photographs and an anonymous note to Special Agent Tyler Pieron of the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, who was stationed at Abu Ghraib Prison, triggering an investigation. The pictures showed prisoners naked, being forced to engage in simulated oral sex and other sex acts, images of a female soldier, grinning and pointing at the genitals of a hooded naked prisoner.
Darby initially wanted to remain anonymous, but later came forward. He had agonized for a month before delivering the pictures, but finally decided to blow the whistle on his colleagues, saying their conduct "violated everything I personally believed in and all I'd been taught about the rules of war." He had known Lynndie England, one of the most well-known suspects, since basic training, and testified that he had received the photos from Charles Graner, another soldier in the photographs.
Darby reported that Staff Sergeant Ivan (Chip) Frederick II, on one occasion, "had punched a detainee in the chest so hard that the detainee almost went into cardiac arrest". In letters and e-mails to family members, Frederick repeatedly noted that the military-intelligence teams, which included C.I.A. officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors, were the dominant force inside Abu Ghraib.
Coalition commander Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez ordered United States Army Major General Antonio Taguba to investigate, and two further investigations were also launched.
The prison commander was later replaced with Major-General Geoffrey Miller, who previously supervised the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
The internal criminal investigation, was announced in a January 2004 press release, was completed in February, 2005. As a result of his findings, on March 20, 2005 criminal charges were brought against six of the soldiers involved.
Taguba's 53-page report, classified "Secret" and dated April 4, 2004, concluded that U.S. soldiers had committed "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law" at Abu Ghraib. Taguba found that between October and December 2003 there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" of prisoners. In violation of Army regulations, intelligence officers asked military police to "loosen up" inmates before questioning. The report estimates that 60% of the prisoners at the site were "not a threat to society" and that the screening process was so inadequate that innocent civilians were often detained indefinitely. Guards invented their own rules and supervisors approved of their actions. Personnel lost track of prisoners, did not count their prisoners, and kept no records regarding dozens of escapes. The facility held too many inmates and supplied too few guards. Training of those on guard was insufficient, and superiors neglected to visit the facilities in person. Top military personnel disagreed on whether military police or military intelligence should be in charge. Prisoner treatment varied between shifts and between compounds.
Taguba cited numerous organizational and leadership failures at Abu Ghraib.
Reservists tasked with guarding the prison population were inadequately trained, and Taguba faulted senior commanders for failing to address these deficiencies. Specifically, intelligence officers and members of one company, the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Maryland, in charge of security, took part in the documented abuses.
Taguba's report cited numerous examples of inmate abuse, including:
Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet.
Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees.
Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing.
Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time.
Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear.
Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped.
Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them.
Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture.
A detainee forced to stand on boxes
Writing "I am a Rapeist" [sic] on the leg of a detainee alleged to have raped a 15-year old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked.
Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.
A male MP guard raping a female detainee.
Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees and MPs posing with cheerful looks.
Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees.
Threatening detainees with a loaded 9mm pistol.
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.
Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting and severely injuring a detainee.
The news segment had been delayed by two weeks at the request of the Department of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, because of heavy fighting in Iraq. In the report, Dan Rather interviewed Brig. Gen Mark Kimmitt, then-deputy director of Coalition operations in Iraq.
Kimmitt stated, "The first thing I’d say is we’re appalled as well. These are our fellow soldiers. These are the people we work with every day, and they represent us. They wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down... and if we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect … We can't ask that other nations to that to our soldiers as well...So what would I tell the people of Iraq? This is wrong. This is reprehensible. But this is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are over here. I'd say the same thing to the American people... Don't judge your army based on the actions of a few."
At the same time, Kimmitt said: "I'd like to sit here and say that these are the only prisoner abuse cases that we're aware of, but we know that there have been some other ones since we've been here in Iraq."
Former Marine Lt. Col. Bill Cowan was also interviewed, stating: "We went into Iraq to stop things like this from happening, and indeed, here they are happening under our tutelage."
The New Yorker, under the direction of editor David Remnick, posted a report on its website by Hersh, along with a number of graphic and disturbing images of the torture taken by U.S. military prison guards with digital cameras. The article, entitled "Torture at Abu Ghraib," was published was followed in the next two weeks by two more articles on the same subject, "Chain of Command” and "The Gray Zone,” also by Mr. Hersh.
"It was only after [CBS] learned that The New Yorker planned to publish the pictures in its next issue that they went ahead with their report on April 28."
Hersh's undercover sources claimed that an interrogation program called "Copper Green" was an official and systemic misuse of coercive methods which, although deemed "successful" during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, would be heavily criticized in intelligence circles as an improper application to the context of fighting citizen-"insurgents" in Iraq. This theory, and the existence of "Copper Green" itself, has been denied by The Pentagon.
Members of the Senate reviewed photographs supplied by the Defense Department which have not been released to the public. They note that in addition to the abuses mentioned, some of the U.S. military guards had sex in front of the prisoners.
Hersh has made other claims about the abuses at Abu Ghraib, in his speaking appearances, where he has admitted he will change facts and events for audience consumption, although no admission by Hersh can be cited by his critics. At the July 2004 conference of the ACLU, he stated there are are tapes of American soldiers sodomizing Iraqi boys, and that these tapes are being held by the Bush administration: "The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling, and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking," Notably, Hersh would revise this claim in his book Chain of Command, stating, "An attorney involved in the case told me in July 2004 that one of the witness statements he had read described the rape of a boy by a foreign contract employee who served as an interpreter at Abu Ghraib,” Hersh wrote. “In the statement, which had not been made public, the lawyer told me, a prisoner stated that he was a witness to the rape, and that a woman was taking pictures."
The New York Times, in a report on January 12, 2005, reported testimony suggesting that the following events had taken place at Abu Ghraib:
• Urinating on detainees
• Jumping on detainee's leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force
that it could not thereafter heal properly
• Continuing by pounding detainee's wounded leg with collapsible metal baton
• Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees
• Sodomization of detainees with a baton
Sergeant Samuel Provance from Alpha Company 302nd Military Intelligence battalion, in interviews with several news agencies, reported the sexual abuse of a 16-year-old girl by two interrogators, as well as a 16-year-old son of an Iraqi general who was driven through the cold after he had been showered and who was then besmeared with mud in order to get his father to talk. He also pointed out several techniques used by interrogators that have been identified as being in violation of the Geneva Convention. He spoke to the media, even against direct orders, about what he knew about at the prison (largely from conversations and interactions with the interrogators). He explained that he did so because there was "definitely a cover-up" underway by the Army. He was administratively flagged and had his top secret clearance suspended in retaliation by the Army.
In her video diary, a prison guard said that prisoners were shot for minor misbehavior, and claimed to have had venomous snakes bite prisoners, sometimes resulting in their deaths. By her own admission, that guard was "in trouble" for having thrown rocks at the detainees.Hashem Muhsen, one of the naked men in the human pyramid photo, said they were also made to crawl around the floor naked and that U.S. soldiers rode them like donkeys. After being released in January 2004, Muhsen became an Iraqi police officer.
It was discovered that one prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, died as a result of abuse, a death that was ruled a homicide by the military. One detainee has also made charges of rape under supervision of the soldiers.
"They said we will make you wish to die and it will not happen [...] They stripped me naked. One of them told me he would rape me. He drew a picture of a woman to my back and makes me stand in shameful position holding my buttocks." — Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik, detainee No. 151362
"'Do you pray to Allah?' one asked. I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.'" [...] "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive." [...] "I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'" — Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik
In an appearance on May 2 during a Face the Nation interview Chairman Myers claimed that he had not yet seen the Taguba report, although the report was then nearly a month old.
On May 7, 2004, United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the following statements before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
These events occurred on my watch as secretary of defense. I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility, I feel terrible about what happened to these detainees. They are human beings, they were in U.S. custody, our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't. That was wrong. To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. We're functioning in a — with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a war-time situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.
Following Rumsfeld's testimony, several Senators responded:
Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina): "The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here."
"It was pretty disgusting, not what you'd expect from Americans," said Senator Norm Coleman.
"I don't know how the hell these people got into our army," said Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
Senator James Inhofe, Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, felt that the events did not deserve moral outrage: "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment. They are not there for traffic violations. If they're in cell block 1A or 1B, these prisoners — they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tried to avoid the question of whether U.S. soldiers had engaged in torture. He stated, "What has been charged so far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I'm not going to address the 'torture' word." (quoted in "What's in a Word? Torture," by Adam Hochschild, New York Times, May 23, 2004).
On May 26, 2004, Al Gore gave a sharply critical speech on the Iraq crisis and the Bush Administration. In the speech, Gore called for the resignations of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Director of Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, and Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone for encouraging policies that led to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and fanned hatred of Americans abroad. Gore also called the Bush administration's Iraq war plan "incompetent" and called George W. Bush the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon. Gore commented; "In Iraq, what happened at that prison, it is now clear, is not the result of random acts of a few bad apples. It was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy."
"The torture? A more serious blow to the United States than September 11 (attacks). Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves." — Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, foreign minister of The Vatican.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, was quoted as saying "The liberators are worse than the dictators. This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America."
English-language Daily Tribune wrote on May 5, 2004, 'The blood-boiling pictures will make more people inside and outside Iraq determined to carry out attacks against the Americans and British.'
The Qatari Arabic-language Al-Watan predicted on May 3, 2004 that because of the images, 'The Iraqis now feel very angry and that will cause revenge to restore the humiliated dignity.' "
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said, "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people. You ever Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe I'm -- yeah, and get an NEA grant for something like this."
On May 10, 2004, swastika-covered posters of Abu Ghraib abuse photographs were attached to British and Indian graves at the Commonwealth military cemetery in Gaza City. Thirty-two graves of soldiers killed in World War I were desecrated or destroyed .
Specialist Charles Graner was found guilty on January 14, 2005 of all charges, including conspiracy to maltreat detainees, failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment, as well as charges of assault, indecency, adultery, and obstruction of justice. On January 15, 2005, he was sentenced to ten years in federal prison.
Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick pled guilty on October 20, 2004 to conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault and committing an indecent act in exchange for other charges being dropped. His abuses included making three prisoners masturbate. He also punched one prisoner so hard in the chest that he needed resuscitation. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, forfeiture of pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private.
Jeremy Sivits was sentenced on May 19, 2004 by a special court-martial (less severe than "general"; confinement sentence limited to one year) to the maximum one-year sentence, in addition to being discharged for bad conduct and demoted, upon his plea of guilty.
Specialist Armin Cruz of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion was sentenced on September 11, 2004 to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge in exchange for his testimony against other soldiers.
Sabrina Harman was sentenced on May 17, 2005 to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge after being convicted on six of the seven counts. She had faced a maximum sentence of 5 years.
Megan Ambuhl was convicted on October 30, 2004, of dereliction of duty and sentenced to reduction in rank to private and loss of a half-month’s pay.
Lynndie England was convicted on September 26, 2005, of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act. She was acquitted on a second conspiracy count. England had faced a maximum sentence of ten years, but was sentenced on September 27, 2005, to just 3 years. She received a dishonorable discharge.
Spec. Roman Krol, and Spec. Israel Rivera, who were present during abuse on October 25, are under investigation but have not been charged and have testified against other soldiers.
Brig. General Janis Karpinski, commanding officer at the prison was demoted to colonel on May 5, 2005, which also effectively ends her chances for future career advancement. In a BBC interview, Janis Karpinski said she is being made a scapegoat, and that the top U.S. commander for Iraq, Gen Ricardo Sanchez, should be asked what he knew about the abuse, as according to her, he said that prisoners are "like dogs". However, a spokesman for Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the Guantanamo camp and now commands Abu Ghraib, called Karpinski's allegations "categorically false," and said no directive to treat detainees "like dogs" was made at either Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. Allegations have also been made that the techniques used at Abu Ghraib originated at Guantanamo.
Donald Rumsfeld stated in February 2005 that he had, as a result of the Abu Ghraib scandal, twice made an offer to President George W. Bush to resign the office of Secretary of Defense, and that both offers were declined.
Jay Bybee, the author of the Justice Department memo defining torture as activity producing pain equivalent to the pain experienced during death and organ failure, was nominated by President Bush to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he began service in 2003.
Michael Chertoff, who as head of the Justice Department's criminal division advised the Central Intelligence Agency on the outer limits of legality in coercive interrogation sessions, was selected by President Bush to fill the cabinet-level vacancy at Secretary of Homeland Security created by the departure of Tom Ridge.
Alberto Gonzales, who described provisions of the Geneva Conventions that provide prisoners "commissary privileges, scrip, athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments" as "quaint," and wrote that the "new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners," was nominated by President Bush as the Attorney General of the United States, the nation's chief law-enforcement official. He was confirmed on February 3, 2005.
Carolyn Wood CPT. Wood was head of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion from Fort Bragg. In August 2002 nine interrogation techniques not approved by military doctrine or included in Army field manuals were added after Chris Mackey and his team turned over the detention unit in Bagram to the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion. Chris Mackey had trained with Wood before she got her command at Bagram. He says that while he was “gravely disappointed” when he found out about her changes to the interrogation rules, he understands what might have been going on. “After she took over, the stakes got very high,” he says.
“We went from losing three or four soldiers a month to scores of them. She must have been under a tremendous amount of pressure.”“But there was horrible incompetence at the leadership and oversight level. People were aware of what we were doing because we were open. [The prison] was practically a Disney ride, with lots of higher-ups and officials coming through. But the common response we got was, Aren’t you kind of babying them?”
Two inmates in December 2002 were tortured and beaten to death in cells down the hall from her office. "Hung by their arms from the ceiling and beaten so severely that, according to a report by Army investigators later leaked to the Baltimore Sun, their legs would have needed to be amputated had they lived. The Army’s Criminal Investigation command launched an inquiry, but few people outside Afghanistan took notice.""In August, a former Bagram interrogator told a Knight-Ridder journalist that at the time of the two deaths screams and moans could easily be heard from interrogation rooms at Bagram, and that Wood must have been aware of the abuse, as the interrogation rooms were near her office. In any case, by virtue of her position, Capt. Wood should have been aware that abuse was taking place.
We are concerned that, as at Abu Ghraib, the U.S. government appears more interested in blaming abuses on low-level personnel than in investigating the role of commanding officers and civilian officials." When she transferred to Abu Ghraib in August 2003, Wood is reported to have "posted her own list of 'interrogation rules of engagement,' which were inconsistent with those later issued for Iraq by the top American commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, according to Congressional officials. The Geneva Convention didn't apply to Woods methods of interrogation. The Fay-Jones report states "The JIDC October 2003 SOP(Standard operational procedure), likewise created by CPT Wood, was remarkably similar to the Bagram (Afghanistan) Collection Point SOP. Prior to deployment to Iraq, CPT Wood's unit (A/519 MI BN) allegedly conducted the abusive interrogation practices in Bagram resulting in a Criminal Investigation Command (CID) homicide investigation....from December 2002, interrogators in Afghanistan were removing clothing, isolating people for long periods of time, using stress positions, exploiting fear of dogs and implementing sleep and light deprivation. Interrogators in Iraq, already familiar with the practice of some of these new ideas, implemented them even prior to any policy guidance from CJTF-7. (Combined Joint Task Force Seven headed by LTG Ricardo S. Sanchez) These practices were accepted as SOP by newly-arrived interrogators. Some of the CJTF-7 ICRPs neither effectively addressed these practices, nor curtailed their use."
"At Abu Ghraib, interrogation operations were also plagued by a lack of an organizational chain of command presence and by a lack of proper actions to establish standards and training by the senior leaders present" In both prison facilities the officers who carried out the abuses were under the command of CPT. Wood and she has never been held accountable.
A few bad apples? video, CBC, November 16, 2005
The Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations did specifically absolve senior U.S. military and political leadership from direct culpability:
"The Panel finds no evidence that organizations above the 800th MP brigade or the 205th MI Brigade-level were directly involved in the incidents at Abu Ghraib."
Reaction from the U.S. administration characterizes the Abu Ghraib torture scandal as an isolated incident uncharacteristic of American actions in Iraq; this view is widely disputed, notably in Arab countries, but also by organizations such as the International Red Cross, which says that it has been making representations about abuse of prisoners for more than a year. A former military intelligence officer with experience at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib alleges a systematic failure caused by a combination of inexperienced troops arresting innocent Iraqis, who are then interrogated by inexperienced interrogators determined to break these apparent hard cases.
The United States has ratified the UN's Convention Against Torture and the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. However, the Third and Fourth Geneva conventions both state in Article 2: "The High Contracting Parties shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof". Since Iraq did not apply the protections of the Geneva Conventions to American POW's throughout Gulf War I (e.g. abuse of 17 American POW's at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib, by the Iraq Intelligence Service) and Gulf War II (e.g. the well-known story of Jessica Lynch's unit), it may be argued that Iraq lost its protections under these particular documents (but not others) long before the USA even took possession of the Abu Ghraib prison. The Bush Administration, however, takes the position that, in the words of Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to the President: "Both the United States and Iraq are parties to the Geneva Conventions. The United States recognizes that these treaties are binding in the war for the liberation of Iraq." ("The Rule of Law and the Rules of War", New York Times (op-ed piece), May 15, 2004). But, the Administration claims that prisoners taken in Afghanistan did not qualify as prisoners of war under international law.
The Convention Against Torture defines torture in the following terms:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him... information or a confession, punishing him for an act he... has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him. (Article 1)
The International Committee of the Red Cross stated in its confidential February 2004 report to the coalition forces that prisoners deemed to have an "intelligence" value were systematically "subjected to a variety of harsh treatments [...] which in some cases was tantamount to torture".
Some legal experts have said that the United States could be obligated to try some of its soldiers for war crimes. Under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war and civilians detained in a war may not be treated in a degrading manner, and violation of that section is a "grave breach". In a November 5, 2003 report on prisons in Iraq, the Army's provost marshal, Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, stated that the conditions under which prisoners were held sometimes violated the Geneva Conventions.
Some of the accused soldiers' families or attorneys have already made clear an intention to argue that the practices at Abu Ghraib were directed by higher-ranking military officers or by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, this "defense of superior orders" is not a defense for war crimes, although it might influence a sentencing authority to lessen the penalty. Under U.S. law, the War Crimes Act of 1996 makes it a federal crime to violate certain provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The Act punishes any American, military or civilian, who commits a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. A grave breach, as defined by the Geneva Conventions, includes the deliberate "killing, torture or inhuman treatment" of detainees. Violations of the War Crimes Act that result in death carry the death penalty. (The War Crimes Act of 1996; The Nation June 28, 2005,.)
On 7 May 2004, International Committee of the Red Cross Operations Director Pierre Krähenbühl stated that the ICRC's inspection visits to Coalition detention centers in Iraq did "not allow us to conclude that what we were dealing with... were isolated acts of individual members of coalition forces. What we have described is a pattern and a broad system." He went on to say that some of the incidents they had observed were "tantamount to torture".
U.S. and UK armed forces are jointly trained in so-called resistance to interrogation (R2I) techniques. These R2I techniques are taught ostensibly to help soldiers cope with or resist torture by the enemy. On May 8, 2004, The Guardian reported that, according to a former British special forces officer, the acts committed by the Abu Ghraib Prison military personnel resemble the techniques used in R2I training. Also related are pride-and-ego down techniques to make captives more willing to cooperate.
The same report states that:
The U.S. commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, Major General Geoffrey Miller, has confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special "coercive techniques" can be used against enemy detainees. The general, who previously ran the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, said his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.
Most accept the particular acts committed at the prison leading to the initial broadcast report were unauthorized, but as has been shown, they were not isolated incidents. These or similar incidents of torture and humiliation were routine, systemic and widespread, had been occurring for over a year, and some of them were official policy.
Alfred W. McCoy history professor and author of a book on torture in the Philippine armed forces, has noted similarities in the abusive treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the techniques described in the CIA's 1963 "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation" manual and asserts that what he calls "the CIA's no-touch torture methods" have been in continuous use by the CIA and U.S. military intelligence since that time.
A May 25, 2004 article by Hersh in The New Yorker suggests a connection between the Abu Ghraib incidents and a chain of decisions and events set into play by high administration officials following the 9/11 attacks, specifically to a "special access" or "black ops" program known as Copper Green. According to Hersh, officials concerned with extracting intelligence information from terrorists stretched the bounds of interrogation to or beyond the extreme legal limits. Subsequently, methods which were originally intended to be used only on high value Taliban and Al Qaeda "enemy combatants" came to be improperly used on Iraqi prisoners. The Department of Defense immediately characterized Hersh's report as "outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture".
Documents obtained by the Washington Post show that the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez authorized the use of military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns and sensory deprivation as interrogation methods in Abu Ghraib. In an interview for her hometown newspaper The Signal, General Karpinski claimed to have seen unreleased documents from Rumsfeld that authorized these tactic for Iraqi prisoners. Both Sanchez and Rumsfeld have denied authorization.
In December 2005, John Pace, human rights chief for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), criticized the US military's practice of holding prisoners in Iraq in its own facilities such as Abu Ghraib prison. In an interview with Reuters, Pace claimed that Abu Ghraib was not mandated by UN Resolution 1546, according to which the US government has claimed a legal mandate permitting its ongoing occupation of Iraq, including holding prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Pace said,
"All except those held by the Ministry of Justice are, technically speaking, held against the law because the Ministry of Justice is the only authority that is empowered by law to detain, to hold anybody in prison.
"Essentially none of these people have any real recourse to protection and therefore we speak ... of a total breakdown in the protection of the individual in this country.
See also article: Guantanamo Bay