For the Guardian’s Comment is free, “Images that exposed the truth on abuse” is an article I wrote marking the 5th anniversary of the broadcast, on CBS News’ 60 Minutes II, of the first photos revealing the abuse of detainees — or, indeed, what the International Committee of the Red Cross described as treatment “that in some cases might amount to torture” — in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
I’ve taken the opportunity offered by this bleak anniversary to note how the Abu Ghraib photos still demonstrate, sadly, that pictures speak louder then words, and to lament that, after five years, we are still waiting for those who authorized the torture and abuse of prisoners — and in one case, a death that prompted the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer to ask, “Can the CIA legally kill a prisoner?” — to be held accountable.
I am, however, reassured that the publication last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee report into detainee abuse (PDF) prompted chairman Carl Levin to state that the report was a “condemnation” of senior administration officials who “attempted to shift the blame for abuse such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan to low-ranking soldiers,” and, while remaining somewhat ambivalent about the extent to which serving soldiers should be prosecuted for following orders (even if that led to creative acts of sadism that shock the conscience), maintain that senior officials must now be investigated — preferably, I should add, by an independent prosecutor.
If not, the imminent release of more photos — of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, and elsewhere in Iraq — will almost certainly set off tremors of disgust that will test support for President Obama in the Muslim world, and will further challenge the resolve of those, in the United States and other Western countries, who believed that Obama represented “Change We Can Believe In.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. Visit his website at: www.andyworthington.co.uk.
For other articles on Abu Ghraib, see Remember Abu Ghraib? (a review of Mark Danner’s Torture and Truth), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib, and Film Review: Standard Operating Procedure (a review of Errol Morris’ challenging documentary about the scandal). And for other articles on Iraq, see Book Review: Road From Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía, and Iraq’s refugees in Syria: Mike Otterman reports.