Moral Low Ground


Federal Judge Orders Release of 2,000 Detainee Torture Photos

Torture and abuse ran rampant at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

Torture and abuse ran rampant at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

A federal judge has ordered the release of nearly 2,100 photos showing the torture and other abuse of detainees, many of them innocent, imprisoned by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan during the George W. Bush administration’s ‘war on terror.’

District Judge Alvin Hellerstein issued a ruling in Manhattan on Friday in which he ordered the US government to “disclose each and all the photographs” in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the American Civil Liberties Union. The government now has 60 days to appeal.

The ACLU had filed suit against the government in 2004, seeking the release of photos, which document torture and abuse committed by US troops. The government refused to hand over the images, arguing their release would endanger American lives.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have fought to keep the photos secret, with the latter collaborating with Congress to secretly change the FOIA law in order to suppress the images in the name of “national security.” But Hellerstein rejected President Obama’s earlier assertion that releasing the photos would “further inflame anti-American opinion and…put our troops in greater danger.”

What do these photos actually show? An unspecified number of the images were taken by US personnel at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, Iraq. In 2004, US Army whistleblower Joe Darby leaked many damning photos showing Americans torturing, abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. Some of the more infamous images show US troops menacing detainees with dogs, dragging them by dog leashes, forcing them to form naked human pyramids and posing for smiling photos beside the corpses of dead detainees, at least one of whom was tortured to death during CIA interrogation.

Prisoners were forced to masturbate in groups while American soldiers, including women, laughed and took photos. At least one detainee, a teenage boy, was raped by an Army translator while a female soldier took photos. Images of the translator assaulting the boy, as well as photos of an American soldier raping a female prisoner, are reportedly among the images blocked by the Obama administration. US forces sometimes deliberately imprisoned Iraqi women as bargaining chips to coerce their wanted male relatives to turn themselves in; it is unclear whether the unreleased sexual abuse photos include these victims.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib and issued a scathing report which concluded that not only did horrific abuses occur at the prison, but that the majority of detainees there—the Red Cross said 70 to 90 percent—were innocent of any wrongdoing.

“The photos are crucial to the public record,” ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a press release. “They’re the best evidence of what took place in the military’s detention centers, and their disclosure would help the public better understand the implications of some of the Bush administration’s policies.”

High-ranking Bush administration officials authorized and executed a brutal torture program in violation of domestic and international law in the name of fighting terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Despite violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996, Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, Federal Anti-Torture Statute, United Nations Convention Against Torture and Geneva Conventions, none of the Bush officials responsible for torture have been brought to justice.

Gen. Taguba’s report ultimately blames President George W. Bush for Abu Ghraib: “The Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture,” the general reported. A bipartisan task force headed by Bush-era Homeland Security undersecretary Asa Hutchinson also concluded it was “indisputable” that the US engaged in torture and that “the nation’s most senior officials” were responsible.

“The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account,” Gen. Taguba wondered. They were not; despite campaign promises to investigate Bush-era crimes, Barack Obama reversed course once elected and protected Bush officials, CIA operatives and military personnel from prosecution.

Only one CIA official was prosecuted and imprisoned for torture-related crimes. But John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison not for torturing detainees, but rather for blowing the whistle on torture.

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers revealing decades of government lies and abuses during the Vietnam War, blasted the Obama administration for “criminalizing the revelation of illegality [while] decriminalizing the illegality—the torture.” Under domestic and international law, Obama is obligated to prosecute all cases in which credible evidence of torture has been found. In his failure to do so, he too is considered a war criminal.

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  1. wildMarch 25, 2015 at 5:38 amReply

    That guy Asa Hutchinson, (mentioned in the article) is now in first term as Governor of Arkansas.


    • Brett WilkinsMarch 25, 2015 at 6:03 pmReplyAuthor

      I didn’t know that! I should have, but I didn’t. Thanks!

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