Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more


Entries in Abu Ghraib (1)


UPDATED Hidden US Torture Photos: The Story (and the Images) Continue

The Salon Gallery of Torture Photos and Video

Related Post: Torture - The Hidden Photos Emerge

torture-photo2UPDATE: Jake Tapper, the White House correspondent for ABC News in the US, has just posted a blog which graphically illustrates the complicity of many in the US media --- wittingly or unwittingly --- in either missing or setting aside the main story. Instead of identifying and focusing on the main story, the content and context of the 2000 photographs and videotapes of detainee abuse, Tapper goes for the sideshow of the White House trashing of the Daily Telegraph's interview with General Taguba.

Last month Enduring America paid a good deal of attention to the Obama White House's decision to defy a court order and hold back 44 photographs, amongst hundreds and possibly thousands, of the abuse of detainees in US facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. We linked to Italian newspapers with a dozen of the images, posting the two most moderate --- the story become our fifth-biggest in our eight months on the Web.

Last week, there was another series of developments --- some illuminating, some confusing, all disturbing. It began on Thursday when The Daily Telegraph of London ran an article based on an interview with General Antonio Taguba, who led the 2004 internal investigation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. According to the newspaper, Taguba said the photos showed ""torture, abuse, rape and every indecency". The Daily Telegraph highlighted "a soldier apparently raping a female prisoner, a translator apparently raping a male prisoner, and instances of sexual abuse involving objects".

None of this is new. As Taguba carried out his initial investigation five years ago, there were leaks pointing to the content, in thousands of photographs and some video recordings, outlined by The Daily Telegraph. Indeed, the electronic magazine Salon published many of the images in 279 pictures and 19 videos. However, as the Iraq conflict escalated, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld survived calls for his firing, and a few low-ranking soldiers were handed prison sentences for Abu Ghraib, the unreleased photos receded from memory, let alone vision.

What made this story notable, five years later, was the reaction of the Obama Administration. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was quick to say that The Daily Telegraph "mischaracterised" the 44 photos involved in the court action. Salon, the same magazine that had published "The Abu Ghraib Files", then got in on the act. It interviewed Taguba, who said, "The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen." Instead, "he was referring to the hundreds of images he reviewed as an investigator of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq". Gibbs then eagerly e-mailed reporters, "Both the Department of Defense and the White House have said the [Daily Telegraph] article was wrong, and now the individual who was purported to be the source of the article has said it’s inaccurate.

Thus, partly because Salon wanted to protect its 2006 exclusive and primarily because the White House wants to keep the story far, far away, the spin was put in motion: nothing new to see here, move along.

Actually, the story should be easy to see, amidst the manoeuvres of politicians and journalists. The 44 photos are important, not necessarily because of their specific images --- a Pentagon official maintains, "These photographs, while disturbing enough, are relatively inconsequential compared to those which were already released in 2004 and 2006" --- but because of the precedent that would be set by their release. For once they are out, the thousands of  photos and tapes will inevitably follow, since the US Government has no legal or political standing to withhold them. As Taguba, who opposes the release of the material, says, "The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

And, even beyond the visual shocks that lies in the full archive, this will be a big, very new deal. Salon's 2006 gallery is limited to images from Abu Ghraib, so the pictorial illusion can be maintained that it was just one prison (and, beyond that, the political illusion of the Obama White House, following its predecessor, that it was just a few rogue troops who have been disciplined for their crimes). The unvarnished, complete gallery would establish how many places where this abuse occurred, from Iraq to Afghanistan to "undisclosed locations" and possibly to Guantanamo Bay. It would establish, once and for all, that these were not isolated incidents but part of a systematic process put in motion not in Baghdad but in Washington.

There may, however, be a twist in the tale. Scott Horton of The Daily Beast, who is carrying out a personal battle with Salon over the investigation, claims --- via "a senior Pentagon official" --- that there is an intra-Administration contest over the photos. While General Raymond Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, was able to block the release of the 44 images in the court action by arguing that US troops would be endangered, General David Petraeus, the overall US commander in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, favours disclosure to "lance this boil". So, according to this official, Obama's announcement on 14 May that he would defy the court order is "a stall tactic: he intends to release them eventually, even if he prevails in court, once the situation on the ground improves."

Hmmm....I'm sceptical, as this feels like another delaying tactic rather than an eventual acceptance that the photos will have to be acknowledged, in public view as well in a court case. "Once the situation on the ground improves", given conditions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, becomes a Never-Never Land of transparency.

So instead there will be the drip-drip-drip of more stories which are not necessarily new, not necessarily exclusive, but still important. There will be more White House denials and misinformation. The Bush Administration men and women behind the photos will escape a public reckoning, and the suspicion --- abroad if not within the US --- will build that President Obama's promise of "the right balance between transparency and national security" is very, very tilted indeed.