Saturday, March 5, 2011

Abu Ghraib: inmates raped, ridden like
animals, and forced to eat pork

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington,
Justin Huggler in Baghdad and Leonard Doyle

The abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison continued yesterday with the publication of fresh pictures and sworn statements that detailed a teenage boy being raped, prisoners being ridden like animals and other Iraqis being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in contravention of their religion.

 For the first time video footage of some of the abuse was also broadcast, a development likely to increase the political impact of the scandal.

The new details caused fresh outrage around the Arab world and further rocked the Bush administration ­ already floundering after a week in which US forces killed dozens of guests at a wedding party in Iraq after mistaking them for insurgents.
 The latest pictures and allegations ­ chronicling more calculated attempts to humiliate Muslim prisoners ­ have only added to the suspicion that they were part of a policy formulated at a high level of authority.
Even though the existence of the images was known ­ indeed, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have seen many of the images already ­ their publication put further pressure on Washington as it prepares to hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi administration at the end of June.
Partly in preparation for that handover, a bus full of Iraqi prisoners left Abu Ghraib outside Baghdad yesterday as the US sought to reduce the numbers being held in the jail. But the new pictures and statements overshadowed the release.
In one statement, a prisoner tells how he witnessed a US army translator raping an Iraqi boy, aged somewhere between 15 and 18.
Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, prisoner number 151108, says a female soldier took photographs of the rape. Sheets had been hung to block the prisoners' view, but Mr Hilas says he heard the boy's screams and climbed a door to see what was going on. "The kid was hurting very bad," his statement reads.
The statements were published in The Washington Post, accompanied by images that will haunt America. One shows an Iraqi completely naked, his arms outstretched, his back to the camera. His body is smeared with a thick brown substance that looks like excrement. It is caked around the back of his head.
Yet it is not simply these images and details that are so shocking, but the overwhelming evidence suggesting that, far from being an isolated episode involving a "few bad apples" from Appalachia, as the administration claims, this abuse was part of a systematic, gloves-off approach to dealing with suspected "terrorists" in the post-9/11 world.
Compelling evidence is emerging that responsibility for the abuse goes right to the Pentagon, where an ultra-secret "black operation" was set up to run the interrogation process.
 This unit, under the direction of Stephen Cambone, under-secretary of defence for intelligence, reportedly used theories developed by an academic to guide the torture of the detainees.
The book, The Arab Mind by the late cultural anthropologist Raphael Patai, includes a 25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, stating that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.
 Patai's book was described by The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh as providing an intellectual and practical underpinning of the culture of torture at Abu Ghraib.
Another alleged victim of the orchestrated abuse tells how American soldiers held him down and sodomised him with a truncheon. This prisoner is not being named because he was the alleged victim of a sexual assault. Other prisoners tell how they were fed pork or forced to drink alcohol, which are forbidden to Muslims.
Ameen Saeed al-Sheikh says that he was tortured and ordered to denounce Islam.
Mr Sheikh says that his leg was broken when one of the soldiers started hitting it and ordering him to curse Islam. "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive," he says.
Other photographs show a terrified Iraqi being menaced by a huge black dog while an American soldier stares aggressively on, and a man in women's underwear being forced to stand precariously on two boxes, one leg chained to a doorway and his hands handcuffed between his legs.
These are just some of the photographs the Pentagon tried to suppress.
The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, claimed they could not be released because they might jeopardise the courts martial of seven soldiers charged with involvement in the abuses. The sworn witness statements had been kept secret until they were published yesterday.
Mr Rumsfeld is fighting for his political life.
 The New Yorker report suggests he approved the covert operation, to which he appointed Dr Cambone as leader in order to obtain fast, "actionable" intelligence in pursuit of Mr Bush's "war on terror". The pressure to obtain this information ­ and the increasingly important role of the army's military intelligence soldiers and civilian interrogators ­ grew as the Iraqi insurgency against US forces developed. At Abu Ghraib, it appears this effort was combined with ideas that had been developed by Patai's book. The New Yorker claimed the book was the "bible of the neo-cons on Arab behaviour" and left them with two ideas ­ that Arabs only understood force and that humiliation and shame were their greatest weaknesses.
Specialist Charles Graner, one of seven soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Unit based in Cumberland, Maryland, charged and clearly identified in some of the prisoners' statements, has already said through his lawyer that he intends to plead at his court martial that he was following orders.
He and the others charged will say that they were told by American interrogators to soften the prisoners up for questioning.
It is likely that the hearings will further highlight the role of Major-General Geoffrey Miller, formerly the warden at Guantanamo Bay, who took control of Abu Ghraib last year with a plan to turn it into a hub of interrogation.
He placed the military police under the tactical control of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. Specialist Jeremy Sivits, who pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain at a court martial this week, told the court in his evidence that one of the other accused had told him they had been told to keep abusing the prisoners by interrogators, and that they were doing good work.
That version of events is backed up one of the former detainees at Abu Ghraib, Saddam Saleh, who has come forward to say that he is one of the prisoners in the photographs: the one in which Private Lynndie England is pointing at the genitals of a row of naked, hooded Iraqi men, and grinning.
Mr Saleh, who has since been released, says he only knows that he is the third from the right ­ he was hooded when the picture was taken and could not see Pte England ­ because American soldiers brought the photograph to his cell and pointed him out, apparently in an effort to humiliate him further. That would back claims that the photographs were taken so they could be used to humiliate and demoralise the prisoners.
Mr Saleh has also said that he was tortured for 18 days in Abu Ghraib, but that the torture abruptly stopped. While other prisoners continued to be tortured, he was left alone. At exactly the same time as the torture stopped, interrogators began questioning him in regular sessions. He had not been questioned at all before. If the torture was designed to extract useful information from the prisoners, in Mr Saleh's case it did not work. He says that after what he had been through, he was ready to tell the interrogators anything just to escape further mistreatment.
"Whatever they asked me I just said, 'Yes'. I was desperate," he says in his statement.
Interrogators asked him if he was a member Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish Islamist group that has alleged links with al-Qa'ida. "I said yes," Mr Saleh says, although he says he knew nothing about the group, and he has since been released, which indicates that American interrogators decided he had nothing to do with it. They asked if he was a member of Jeish Mohammed, a Sunni Iraqi resistance group. "I said my cousin was the leader of Jeish Mohammed," Mr Saleh says.
They asked him if he knew Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a militant leader in Iraq with links to al-Qa'ida. "I said, 'Yes', but I'd never heard of him before."
Last night the Pentagon said that 37 deaths involving detainees held by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were being investigated.

There were 33 cases involved, eight more than previously revealed, according to officials.