Pentagon Blocks Release of Abu Ghraib Images: Here's Why
Editor and Publisher | July 26 2005
By Greg Mitchell
NEW YORK So what is shown on the 87 photographs and four videos from Abu Ghraib prison that the Pentagon, in an eleventh hour move, blocked from release this weekend? One clue: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress last year, after viewing a large cache of unreleased images: "I mean, I looked at them last night, and they're hard to believe.” They show acts "that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane," he added.
A Republican Senator suggested the same day they contained scenes of “rape and murder.” No wonder Rumsfeld commented then, "If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse."
Yesterday, news emerged that lawyers for the Pentagon had refused to cooperate with a federal judge's order to release dozens of unseen photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by Saturday. The photos were among thousands turned over by the key “whistleblower” in the scandal, Specialist Joseph M. Darby. Just a few that were released to the press sparked the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal last year, and the video images are said to be even more shocking.
The Pentagon lawyers said in a letter sent to the federal court in Manhattan that they would file a sealed brief explaining their reasons for not turning over the material. They had been ordered to do so by a federal judge in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU accused the government Friday of putting another legal roadblock in the way of its bid to allow the public to see the images of the prisoner abuse scandal.
One Pentagon lawyer has argued that they should not be released because they would only add to the humiliation of the prisoners. But the ACLU has said the faces of the victims can easily be "redacted."
To get a sense of what may be shown in these images, one has to go back to press reports from when the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal was still front page news.
This is how CNN reported it on May 8, 2004, in a typical account that day:
“U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed Friday that videos and ‘a lot more pictures’ exist of the abuse of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib prison.
"’If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse,’ Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. ‘I mean, I looked at them last night, and they're hard to believe.’
“The embattled defense secretary fielded sharp and skeptical questions from lawmakers as he testified about the growing prisoner abuse scandal. A military report about that abuse describes detainees being threatened, sodomized with a chemical light and forced into sexually humiliating poses.
“Charges have been brought against seven service members, and investigations into events at the prison continue.
“Military investigators have looked into -- or are continuing to investigate -- 35 cases of alleged abuse or deaths of prisoners in detention facilities in the Central Command theater, according to Army Secretary Les Brownlee. Two of those cases were deemed homicides, he said.
"’The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience,’ Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters after Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. ’We're talking about rape and murder -- and some very serious charges.’
“A report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba on the abuse at the prison outside Baghdad says videotapes and photographs show naked detainees, and that groups of men were forced to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped. Taguba also found evidence of a ‘male MP guard having sex with a female detainee.’
“Rumsfeld told Congress the unrevealed photos and videos contain acts 'that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman.’”
The military later screened some of the images for lawmakers, who said they showed, among other things, attack dogs snarling at cowed prisoners, Iraqi women forced to expose their breasts, and naked prisoners forced to have sex with each other.
In the same period, reporter Seymour Hersh, who helped uncover the scandal, said in a speech before an ACLU convention: “Some of the worse that happened that you don't know about, ok? Videos, there are women there. Some of you may have read they were passing letters, communications out to their men….The women were passing messages saying ‘Please come and kill me, because of what's happened.’
“Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys/children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror it's going to come out.