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May 28, 2009

Abu Ghraib photos show rape, U.S. general says (updated)

Standard operating procedure...

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. [Telegraph]

Or, at least we'll be forced to assume that it was standard operating procedure unless the United States finds the courage to fully investigate these crimes and hold all the perpetrators and their enablers accountable.

Until we do that, we're treating rape and torture as part of the job. If goverment really believes that "a few bad apples" were responsible for the savagery, then it has a moral obligation to investigate and clear the names of all those who served honorably.

Update: Mark Benjamin of Salon interviewed Gen. Taguba after the Telegraph story ran. The Telegraph reported that Gen Taguba was talking about the 44 photographs that the Obama administration doesn't want to release to the ACLU. But Taguba told Benjamin that he was describing pictures reviewed as part of his Abu Ghraib investigation, he denied having seen the final 44.


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If a Latin American nation got a new administration which released torture photos from the previous administration, I would take that to mean that things had really changed and they were embracing transparency.

If a Latin American nation got a new administration which concealed torture photos from the previous administration, I would take that to mean that things hadn't really changed and they were embracing the secrecy which promoted disgusting conduct.

War is hell and business as usual.

Ain't life grand?

Eric: I don't know about Latin America, but post-WW1 behavior shows almost the exact opposite. The Soviet Union published the secret records of Czarist Russia and executed its leaders, but had no transparency or democracy. Weimar Germany secretly violated arms control treaties and was content to let the WW1 Generals return to political life (one of them, Hindenburg, became the president of Germany in 1925), but was otherwise transparent and democratic.

Actually, these photos ARE ALREADY AVAILABLE (among other places, there are links to them at the British site, "Ten Percent" ( The United States has no alternative but to prosecute, given that the evidence exists.

In Latin America (and elsewhere) , it wasn't "administrative changes" that led to prosecutions, it was establishing the credibility of the legal system.

"Truth Commissions" are usually the only option when there has been a major regime change (as in Argentina after the restoration of democracy, or in South Africa, once a new government was established)and the previous regime had created impunity for itself. While the "truth commission" route would satisfy the minimal requirements for avoiding world-wide condemnation of the United States as a rogue regime, it does suggest that the U.S. judiciary is too weak to follow the nations' own laws.

If it doesn't prosecute, and doesn't investigate fully, then the United States admits its in the same position as a country like El Salvador, where -- lacking the political and judicial ability to initiate internal prosecution, the aggrieved had to turn to outside courts to (obliquely) seek justice. Spanish courts (which like U.S. courts, claim jurisdiction over certain criminal acts against citizens even if they occur elsewhere) had to take up a few cases that involved their own citizens, and have been forced to do so in Iraq cases involving Spanish citizens (like the execution of a Spanish news photographer).

Alon Levy -

Regarding the executions aspect in your examples, executions by a government give me less confidence in it.

I'm against the death penalty.

We all are, but at the time, the left crowed about the success of the Russian Revolution, with the exception of a few anti-authoritarian party poopers like Emma Goldman.

Wrong again Alon.

Richard Grabman,

Thank you for posting the link to the Abu Graib photos: The post was titled, "Murder, Rape, and Pillage," submitted by RickB, May 28, 2009.

I do not recommend that anyone who has been a of victim of sexual abuse or violence see these photos. For others, as you view the photos try to put yourself in the position of the HELPLESS victims being subjected to pain and traumatic debasement by multiple abusers.

In my view, we are beyond debating the necessity of criminal prosecutions. Everyone responsible, at all levels, should be held personally responsible under the Yamashita and Calley precedents.

In many U.S. States, those convicted of capital crimes are not allowed to profit (I mean dollar$) from publications that deal with the crime. If it were shown that the top officials in the Bush Administration were directly responsible in the crimes, or failed to exercise leadership, as per the Yamashita and Calley precedents, then a case could be made to confiscate their profits from publications, speaking, and the like. This would require congressional action, political will, and leadership from Obama, Holder, Reid, and Pelosi.

You make a very good point about the central issue of "...establishing the credibility of the legal system." For us, it's more a matter of RE-establishing the credibility of the our legal system. I hope we are up to it.

Norman, I don't understand something - are you saying the Obama administration should prosecute Bush et al not for capital crimes, but for getting speakers' fees? That's even more nonsensical than making every immigrant sign a federal form declaring that he's not a terrorist or a drug dealer.

HUH? Who is talking about "profit" from these photos? No one is talking about selling them (and, outside of the fringes of Sado-maschocistic fanticists, who would buy them?).

ALON -- what does Czarist Russia have to do with this, when there are established legal precedents going back to the Nuremburg Trials, and the Geneva Convention? All anyone is saying is that the legal rules should be followed. And, are horrified that even responsible leaders in the United States (which claims to uphold the "rule of law") are desperately seeking to create impunity for law-breakers.


Let me 'splain. 1. If nothing else, the crimes committed by U.S. soldiers and agents, as documented in these photos (and presumably many others), must be investigated and prosecuted without delay. There can be no concession to engaging in political nuances like protecting the troops. Few things are as black and white.

2. Under the Yamashita and Calley precedents, Commanding officers can be held criminally responsible for capital crimes of their troops. The U.S. insisted on making this point in the post WWII war crimes trials of Japanese military leaders, specifically General Yamashita. Yamashita was found guilty and executed by hanging. I agree with the Yamashita trial and outcome, and proud of the fact that the U.S. was largely responsible for this world-shaking precedent in adjudicating war crimes.

Under this principle, the commanding officers (if not the complete chain of command) should be investigated and, if the facts warrant, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

3. Number 2, above, applies to all other crimes by Bush administration officials such as the knowing, phony legal memorandums that were designed to hide criminal acts like torture.

4. I should have been more clear in my 'speaker fees' thing, earlier. H/T to Alon Levy. See number 5, below.

5. Let's assume that Bush administration officials/military/subcontrators (let's leave W out of this for a moment) are found guilty of capital crimes. Included with appropriate sentencing should be a forfeiture of all monies they would otherwise receive for their books, lectures, royalties, movies, honorariums, etc. that deal with the crimes, narrowly or broadly. This is consistent with laws in many States that do not allow capital criminals to 'profit' in anyway from their crimes, like writing and publishing a book or selling the movie rights.

6. Let's assume Holder makes decisions NOT to prosecute several of the highest Bush officials, even though he reports to the nation that they were clearly complicit in serious crimes. Under the principle of near Absolute Prosecutorial Discretion, his decision would be unreviewable. Let's assume he presents a rationale that rests on "the best thing for our country". How do we deal with the unindicted criminals? They were all in it for the power and the money. The public disgrace will take care of the power trip. Forfeiture of all monies that come from any source, and reflects and references their time in office, takes care of the greed factor. Hit 'em hard with both barrels.

I don't know if this country could deal with turning over the likes of Kissinger, Rumsfeld, or Cheney to the international courts, under warrant. Would it be a shock that would knock some sense into us? Would it be a severe trauma of division, like our Civil War, that would take many decades to heal? Short of giving them a fair trial and then hanging them, we can make them pay for their transgressions. But first get the truth out to the public - to the world.

I wonder if the men who raped Iraqis also raped their fellow female soldiers. Bastards.

The reports are horrifying and shameful and they and the perpetrators need to be exposed.

The new administration must pursue charges and prosecutions for all offenders, including the officers who turned a blind eye or condoned the behaviour.

The established conventions of the Nuremberg Trials were only applied to German and Japanese war criminals (and even then only to some). Elsewhere, governments have been happy not to prosecute past regimes' abuses: Germany did not prosecute Stasi agents, and even now there's a network of ex-Stasi agents trying to minimize the crimes of East Germany; Russia didn't prosecute the people who managed the gulags; most Latin American democracies are happy to grant amnesty to the dictators who ruled them, as are South Korea and Taiwan. The only country I can think of that has engaged in Nuremberg-style trials since the 1940s is Cambodia, which had what is arguably the worst totalitarian regime in recorded human history.


Please excuse my provocative heading. I want to make a point about the association of military violence with sexual violence in the training of our armed forces. In the later half of the 1960s, while I was in college, I spent a summer in Quantico, VA in Marine Platoon Leader Training. As officers in training, we were not subject to the more harassing treatment from our Drill Instructors (DIs) as were the non-officer recruits. The DI in the movie "Full Metal Jacket" is not far off the mark.

After a very short time in training, it was literally true that no one spoke two complete sentences in a row without multiple expletives. The standard joke, which is more true than not, is about the Marine, recently graduated from boot camp. He is having a welcome home dinner with his family. He asks his mother to pass the fucking salt. He is severely reprimanded by his father. After completing the rest of the meal without colorful descriptions, his mother thanked him for recovering his manners. He answers, "Yeah, I bet you thought I was going to fuck up."

Beyond the usual locker room talk, much of the insulting, and debasing language is clearly an assault on womanhood. The worse thing you can call a male recruit is "pussy." I have never heard of a DI shouting "motherfucker" at a trainee. After all, a motherfucker is still a male. C*nt was preferable after pussy. Combat training and aggression were all described as different ways of killing or fucking the pussies. You're going to wind up dead if you turn into a pussy. Sometimes a shoulder fired missile is just a shoulder fires missile. Usually, firing the missile means it's going to be shoved up the ass of the enemy.

At a demonstration of some weaponry (an 80mm mortar, I think), the sergeant instructor was explaining how to seat and adjust the sighting mechanism. In referring to the space allowed between two joined pieces, he said the spacing could be "no wider than a c*nt hair."

From what I've read, observed, and heard from my niece in the Army National Guard, female recruits eventually accept the vernacular of female degrading as something they have to tolerate and even mimic. The men require, one way or another, that female soldiers comply. This is manifest in the participation of female soldiers in the sexual humiliation of Abu Graib prisoners.


Women serving in the U.S. military in Iraq are subject to significant levels of sexual harassment and sexual assault by male soldiers. As you can imagine, reluctance to report such violations is endemic. I've read a news report in the past six months. Sorry, I don't have a reference for you.

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