The photographs of American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners of war at the Abu Ghraib prison — a site synonymous with Saddam Hussein’s regimen of torture — cannot be dismissed as the result of insufficient training, as some of the perpetrators of these acts have described it.
One doesn’t force naked prisoners onto a pile and then pose with thumbs-up signs by accident. Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II, who posed in pictures, argues he wasn’t trained about the Geneva Convention, governing treatment of prisoners.
“I just kept asking my chain of command for things like rules and regulations. It just wasn’t happening,” he wrote in an e-mail to his stateside family members.
Yet it’s hard to believe that had only the sergeant, and his colleagues, received proper instructions or training, that they would not have treated Iraqis in such an abusive manner. Training or not, it’s a pretty good guess that the sickening images depicted in the photos are not proper ways to behave anywhere at any time.
Most readers have probably by now seen some of the pictures. In one shot, an Iraqi in a black hooded robe, is standing on a box with electrical wires attached to his hands.
Apparently, the wires were not connected to an electrical source, but the prisoner was told he could be electrocuted. In another photo, Private Lynddie England laughs and points at the genitals of an Iraqi man, who has a bag over his head. Then there are the various posed photographs of naked Iraqi men forced to simulate sex acts. And that isn’t the worst of the allegations.
As the New Yorker magazine explained in its recent article, a 53-page official Army report details an ongoing pattern of abuses, including these actions by U.S. military officials: “Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees … threatening male detainees with rape … sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick …”
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the general in charge of Iraqi military prisons, has been suspended. She said she didn’t know what was happening, which isn’t much of an excuse. Frederick also blamed military intelligence, which may be true but doesn’t excuse his inhumane actions. The published photographs don’t show these images described by the New Yorker: “There is the battered face of prisoner No. 153399, and the bloodied body of another prisoner, wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. There is a photograph of an empty room, splattered with blood.”
President Bush is right: Americans who committed these abuses need to be punished. The investigation and punishments should go right up the ladder, encompassing everyone with any responsibility for what happened.