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Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse

This image of a prisoner, Ali Shallal al-Qaisi, being tortured has become internationally famous, eventually making it onto the cover of The Economist (see "Media Coverage" below)

During the war in Iraq that began in March 2003, personnel of the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency committed a series of human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.[1] These violations included physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder.[2][3][4][5] The abuses came to light with reports published in late 2003 by Amnesty International and the Associated Press. The incidents received widespread condemnation both within the United States and abroad, with several media outlets calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.[6][7]

The Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. After multiple investigations, they stated that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were not isolated but were part of a wider pattern of torture and brutal treatment at American overseas detention centers, including those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. There was evidence that authorization for the torture had come from high up in the military hierarchy, with allegations being made that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had authorized some of the actions.

The United States Department of Defense removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and eleven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. Between May 2004 and March 2006, these soldiers were convicted in courts-martial, sentenced to military prison, and dishonorably discharged from service. Two soldiers, Specialists Charles Graner and Lynndie England, were sentenced to ten and three years in prison, respectively. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer of all detention facilities in Iraq, was reprimanded and demoted to the rank of colonel. Several more military personnel who were accused of perpetrating or authorizing the measures, including many of higher rank, were not prosecuted.

Documents popularly known as the Torture Memos came to light a few years later. These documents, prepared shortly before the Iraq invasion by the United States Department of Justice, authorized certain enhanced interrogation techniques, generally held to involve torture of foreign detainees. The memoranda also argued that international humanitarian laws, such as the Geneva Conventions, did not apply to American interrogators overseas. Several subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), have overturned Bush administration policy, and ruled that Geneva Conventions apply.


  • Background 1
    • Iraq War 1.1
    • Abu Ghraib prison 1.2
  • Emergence of the scandal 2
  • Authorization of torture 3
    • Executive Order 3.1
    • Authorization from Ricardo Sanchez 3.2
    • Alleged authorization from Donald Rumsfeld 3.3
  • Prisoner abuse 4
    • Death of Manadel al-Jamadi 4.1
    • Prisoner rape 4.2
    • Other abuses 4.3
    • Systematic torture 4.4
  • Media coverage 5
  • Reactions 6
    • Iraqi response 6.1
    • Response of U.S. government 6.2
    • United States media 6.3
    • Global reaction 6.4
  • Repercussions 7
    • Convictions of soldiers 7.1
    • Senior personnel 7.2
  • Legal issues 8
    • International law 8.1
    • United Nations resolution 1546 8.2
    • Torture Memos 8.3
    • Other legal proceedings 8.4
    • Military Commissions Act of 2006 8.5
  • Later developments 9
  • Popular culture 10
  • See also 11
    • Incidents and coverage 11.1
    • Other 11.2
  • References 12
    • Sources 12.1
    • Notes 12.2
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


Iraq War

The Iraq War began in March 2003 as an invasion of Ba'athist Iraq by an invasion force led by the United States.[8][9][10][11] The Ba'athist government was toppled within a month. This conflict was followed by a longer phase of fighting in which an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the newly formed Iraqi government.[12] During this insurgency, the United States was in the role of an occupying power.

Abu Ghraib prison

Until August 2006, the Abu Ghraib prison was used for detention purposes by both the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq and the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government has controlled the area of the facility known as "The Hard Site". The prison was used to house only convicted criminals. Suspected criminals, insurgents or those arrested and awaiting trial were held at other facilities, commonly known as "camps" in U.S. military parlance. The U.S. housed all its detainees at "Camp Redemption", which is divided into five security levels. This camp built in the summer of 2004 replaced the three-level setup of Camp Ganci, Camp Vigilant and Abu Ghraib's Tier 1. The remainder of the facility was occupied by the U.S. military. During the time that the U.S. military was using the Abu Ghraib prison as a detention facility, it housed approximately 7,490 prisoners there in March 2004.[13]

Emergence of the scandal

Specialist Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a prisoner, known to the guards as "Gus", who is lying on the floor

What became known as "the Abu Ghraib Scandal" came to public attention in 2003 when Amnesty International (AI) published reports of human rights abuses by the U.S. military and its coalition partners at detention centers and prisons in Iraq. These included reports of brutal treatment at Abu Ghraib prison, which had once been used by the government of Saddam Hussein, and had been taken over by the United States after the invasion. On June 20, 2003, Abdel Salam Sidahmed, Deputy Director of AI's Middle East Program, described an uprising by the prisoners against the conditions of their detention, saying "The notorious Abu Ghraib Prison, centre of torture and mass executions under Saddam Hussein, is yet again a prison cut off from the outside world. On 13 June there was a protest in this prison against indefinite detention without trial. Troops from the occupying powers killed one person and wounded seven."[14] On July 23, AI again issued a press release condemning widespread human rights abuses by U.S. and coalition forces. The release stated that prisoners had been exposed to extreme heat, not provided clothing, and forced to use open trenches for toilets. They had also been tortured, with the methods including denial of sleep for extended periods, exposure to bright lights and loud music, and being restrained in uncomfortable positions.[15]

On November 1, 2003, the Associated Press presented a special report on the massive human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib. Their report began; "In Iraq's American detention camps, forbidden talk can earn a prisoner hours bound and stretched out in the sun, and detainees swinging tent poles rise up regularly against their jailers, according to recently released Iraqis." The report went on to describe horrible abuse of the prisoners at the hands of their American captors: "'They confined us like sheep,' the newly freed Saad Naif, 38, said of the Americans. 'They hit people. They humiliated people.'" In response, U.S. Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, at the time in charge of all U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, claimed that prisoners were being treated "humanely and fairly."[16] The AP report also stated that as of November 1, 2003, there were two legal cases pending against U.S. military personnel, one involving the beating of an Iraqi prisoner, the other about the death of a prisoner in custody.

In 2004, the Taguba Report published by the U.S. Army revealed that an initial criminal investigation by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command had already been underway, in which soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion had been charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with prisoner abuse. In April 2004, articles describing the abuse, including pictures showing military personnel appearing to abuse prisoners, came to wide public attention when a 60 Minutes II news report (April 28) and an article by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker magazine (posted online on April 30 and published days later in the May 10 issue) reported the story.[17]

Authorization of torture

Executive Order

On December 21, 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union released copies of internal memoranda from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that it had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These discussed torture and abuse at prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq. One memorandum dated May 22, 2004 was from an individual described as the "On Scene Commander – Baghdad," but whose name had been redacted.[18] This individual referred explicitly to an Executive Order that sanctioned the use of extraordinary interrogation tactics by U.S. military personnel. The methods sanctioned included sleep deprivation, hooding prisoners, playing loud music, removing all detainees' clothing, forcing them to stand in so-called "stress positions", and the use of dogs. The author also stated that the Pentagon had limited use of the techniques by requiring specific authorization from the chain of command. The author identifies "physical beatings, sexual humiliation or touching" as being outside the Executive Order. This was the first internal evidence since the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse affair became public in April 2004 that forms of coercion of captives had been mandated by the president of the United States.[19]

Authorization from Ricardo Sanchez

Documents obtained by The Washington Post and the ACLU showed that Ricardo Sanchez, who was a Lieutenant General and the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, authorized the use of military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, and sensory deprivation as interrogation methods in Abu Ghraib.[20] A November 2004 report by Brigadier General Richard Formica found that many troops at the Abu Ghraib prison had been following orders based on a memorandum from Sanchez, and that the abuse had not been carried out by isolated "criminal" elements.[21] ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said in a statement from the union that "General Sanchez authorized interrogation techniques that were in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and the army's own standards."[22] In an interview for her hometown newspaper The Signal, Karpinski stated that she had seen unreleased documents from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld which authorized the use of these tactics on Iraqi prisoners.[23]

Alleged authorization from Donald Rumsfeld

In November 2006, Janis Karpinski, who had been in charge of Abu Ghraib prison until early 2004, told Spain's El País newspaper that she had seen a letter signed by Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which allowed civilian contractors to use techniques such as sleep deprivation during interrogation. "The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques." According to Karpinski, the handwritten signature was above his printed name, and the comment "Make sure this is accomplished" was in the margin in the same hand-writing. Neither the Pentagon nor U.S. Army spokespeople in Iraq commented on the accusation. In 2006, a criminal complaint was filed in a German Court against Donald Rumsfeld by eight former soldiers and intelligence operatives, including Karpinksi and former army counterintelligence special agent David DeBatto. Among other things, the complaint stated that Rumsfeld both knew of and authorized enhanced interrogation techniques that he knew to be illegal under international law.[24][25][26][27][28]

Prisoner abuse

Death of Manadel al-Jamadi

Manadel al-Jamadi, a prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison, died after a CIA officer and a private contractor interrogated and tortured him in November 2003. The torture included physical violence and strappado hanging, wherein the victim is hung from the wrists with their hands tied behind their back. Although the US military labeled the death a homicide, neither of the two men who caused his death were charged.[29] The private contractor was granted qualified immunity.[30]

Prisoner rape

In 2004, Antonio Taguba, a major general in the U.S. Army, wrote in the Taguba Report that a detainee had been sodomized with "a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick."[31] In 2009, Taguba stated that there was photographic evidence of rape having occurred at Abu Ghraib.[32] An Abu Ghraib detainee told investigators that he heard an Iraqi teenage boy screaming, and saw an Army translator having sex with him, while a female soldier took pictures.[33] A witness identified the alleged rapist as an American-Egyptian who worked as a translator. In 2009, he was the subject of a civil court case in the United States.[32] Another photo shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner.[32] Other photos show interrogators sexually assaulting prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube, and a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.[32] Taguba supported United States President Barack Obama's decision not to release the photos, stating, "These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency."[32] Obama, who initially agreed to release the photographs, later changed his mind, as he believed their release would put troops in danger and "inflame anti-American public opinion".[32]

In other instances of sexual abuse, soldiers were found to have raped female inmates, and senior U.S. officials admitted that rape had taken place at Abu Ghraib.[34][35] Some of the women who had been raped became pregnant, and in some cases, were later killed by their family members in what were thought to be instances of honor killing.[36] In addition, children were raped in front of watching women.[37]

Other abuses

Specialist Charles A. Graner punching handcuffed Iraqi prisoners

In May 2004, the Washington Post reported evidence given by Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik, detainee No. 151362. It quoted him as saying; "They said we will make you wish to die and it will not happen [...] They stripped me naked. One of them told me he would rape me. He drew a picture of a woman to my back and made me stand in shameful position holding my buttocks."[38] "'Do you pray to Allah?' one asked. I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' " [...] "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive." [...] "I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'"[38]

On January 12, 2005, The New York Times reported on further testimony from Abu Ghraib detainees. The abuses reported included urinating on detainees, pounding wounded limbs with metal batons, pouring phosphoric acid on detainees, and tying ropes to the detainees' legs or penises and dragging them across the floor.[39]

England and Graner posing behind a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners, giving the "thumbs up" sign

In her video diary, a prison guard said that prisoners were shot for minor misbehavior, and claimed to have had venomous snakes used to bite prisoners, sometimes resulting in their deaths. The guard said that she was "in trouble" for having thrown rocks at the detainees.[40] Hashem Muhsen, one of the naked prisoners in the human pyramid photo, later said the men were also forced to crawl around the floor naked while soldiers rode them like donkeys.[41]

Systematic torture

A detainee handcuffed in the nude to a bed with a pair of underpants covering his face

On May 7, 2004, Pierre Krähenbühl, Operations Director for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), stated that inspection visits made by the ICRC to detention centers run by the U.S. and its allies showed that acts of prisoner abuse were not isolated acts, but were part of a "pattern and a broad system." He went on to say that some of the incidents they had observed were "tantamount to torture".[42]

Armed forces in the U.S. and the UK are jointly trained in techniques known as resistance to interrogation (R2I) techniques. These R2I techniques are taught ostensibly to help soldiers cope with, or resist, torture if they are captured. On May 8, 2004, The Guardian reported that according to a former British special forces officer, the acts committed by the Abu Ghraib prison military personnel resembled the techniques used in R2I training.[43] Other tactics that were used included "pride-and-ego down" techniques, which attack prisoners' sense of self-worth to make them more willing to cooperate.[44]

The same report stated that:

The US commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, Major General Geoffrey Miller, has confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special "coercive techniques" can be used against enemy detainees. The general, who previously ran the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, said his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.
— The Guardian

Historian Alfred W. McCoy, who authored a book on torture in the Philippines armed forces, noted similarities in the abusive treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the techniques described in the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual published by the United States Central Intelligence Agency in 1963. He asserts that what he calls "the CIA's no-touch torture methods" have been in continuous use by the CIA and the U.S. military intelligence since that time.

An article by Seymour M. Hersh on May 25, 2004 in The New Yorker magazine suggested a connection between the Abu Ghraib incidents and a chain of events set in motion by senior government officials following the September 11 attacks. Specifically, Hersh made a connection to a "special access" or "black ops" program known as Copper Green. According to Hersh, officials concerned with extracting intelligence from terrorists stretched the bounds of interrogation to or beyond the extreme legal limits. Subsequently, methods which were originally intended to be used only on high value Taliban and Al-Qaeda "enemy combatants" came to be improperly used on Iraqi prisoners. The Department of Defense immediately characterized Hersh's report as "outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture".

Media coverage

Associated Press report, 2003

On November 1, 2003, the Associated Press published a lengthy report on inhumane treatment, beatings, and deaths at Abu Ghraib and other American prisons in Iraq.[45] This report was based on interviews with released detainees, who told journalist Charles J. Hanley that inmates had been attacked by dogs, made to wear hoods, and humiliated in other ways.[46] The article gained little notice.[47] One freed detainee said that he wished somebody would publish pictures of what was happening.[46]

When the U.S. military first acknowledged the abuse in early 2004, much of the United States media once again showed little initial interest. On January 16, 2004, the United States Central Command informed the media that an official investigation had begun involving abuse and humiliation of Iraqi detainees by a group of U.S. soldiers. On February 24, it was reported that 17 soldiers had been suspended. The military announced on March 21, 2004, that the first charges had been filed against six soldiers.[48][49] None of these stories received significant coverage in the mainstream press.

60 Minutes II broadcast, 2004

England pointing to a naked prisoner being forced to masturbate in front of his captors[50]
Sergeant Ivan Frederick sitting on an Iraqi detainee between two stretchers

In late April 2004, the U.S. television news-magazine 60 Minutes II, a franchise of CBS, broadcast a story on the abuse. The story included photographs depicting the abuse of prisoners.[51] The news segment was delayed by two weeks at the request of the Department of Defense and Richard Myers, an air force general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After learning that The New Yorker magazine planned to publish an article and photographs on the topic in its next issue, CBS proceeded to broadcast its report on April 28.[52] In the CBS report, Dan Rather interviewed then-deputy director of Coalition operations in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who said:

The first thing I’d say is we’re appalled as well. These are our fellow soldiers. These are the people we work with every day, and they represent us. They wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down [...] Our soldiers could be taken prisoner as well. And we expect our soldiers to be treated well by the adversary, by the enemy. And if we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect [...] We can't ask that other nations do that to our soldiers as well. [...] So what would I tell the people of Iraq? This is wrong. This is reprehensible. But this is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are over here [...] I'd say the same thing to the American people ... Don't judge your army based on the actions of a few.[51]

Kimmitt also acknowledged that he knew of other cases of abuse during the American occupation of Iraq.[51] Bill Cowan, a former Marine lieutenant colonel, was also interviewed, and said: "We went into Iraq to stop things like this from happening, and indeed, here they are happening under our tutelage."[51] In addition, Rather interviewed Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, who was party to some of the abuses. Frederick's civilian job was as a corrections officer at a Virginia prison. He said, "We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things ... like rules and regulations, and it just wasn't happening."[51] Frederick's video diary, sent home from Iraq, provided some of the images used in the story. In it he listed detailed, dated, entries that chronicled abuse of CIA prisoners, as well as their names: "The next day the medics came in and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake [intravenous drip] in his arm and took him away. This [CIA prisoner] was never processed and therefore never had a number."[53] Frederick implicated the Military Intelligence Corps as well, saying "MI has been present and witnessed such activity. MI has encouraged and told us great job [and] that they were now getting positive results and information."[53]

New Yorker article, 2004

In May 2004, Seymour M. Hersh published an article in The New Yorker magazine discussing the abuses in detail, and used as its source a copy of the Taguba report. Under the direction of editor David Remnick, the magazine also posted a report on its website by Hersh, along with a number of images of the torture taken by U.S. military prison guards. The article, entitled "Torture at Abu Ghraib", was followed in the next two weeks by two further articles on the same subject, "Chain of Command" and "The Gray Zone", also by Hersh.[52] Hersh's undercover sources stated that an interrogation program called "Copper Green" was an official and systemic misuse of coercive methods of torture. They said it was deemed "successful" during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. It was strongly criticized in intelligence circles as an improper application to the context of fighting the insurgency in Iraq. This theory, and the existence of "Copper Green", has been denied by The Pentagon.

Later coverage, 2006

In February 2006, previously unreleased photos and videos were broadcast by SBS, an Australian television network, on its Dateline program. The Bush administration attempted to prevent release of the images in the U.S., arguing that their publication could provoke antagonism. These newly released photographs depicted prisoners crawling on the floor naked, being forced to perform sexual acts, and being covered in feces. Some images also showed prisoners killed by the soldiers, some shot in the head and some with slit throats. BBC World News stated that one of the prisoners, who was reportedly mentally unstable, was considered by prison guards as a "pet" for torture.[54] The UN expressed hope that the pictures would be investigated immediately but the Pentagon stated that the images "have been previously investigated as part of the Abu Ghraib investigation."[55] SBS claims not to have published the most shocking pictures due to the degree of their depravity, an example being the sodomy photo.

On March 15, 2006, Salon published what was then the most extensive documentation of the abuse.[56] A report accessed by Salon included the following summary of the material: "A review of all the computer media submitted to this office revealed a total of 1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse, 93 video files of suspected detainee abuse, 660 images of adult pornography, 546 images of suspected dead Iraqi detainees, 29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts, 20 images of a soldier with a Swastika drawn between his eyes, 37 images of Military Working dogs being used in abuse of detainees and 125 images of questionable acts."


Iraqi response

The news website [58]

On May 7, 2004 al-Ansars in response to Abu Ghraib. The masked man who carried out the execution is believed to have been Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Response of U.S. government

The Bush administration did not initially acknowledge the abuses at Abu Ghraib. When the evidence became incontrovertible, the initial reaction from the administration characterized the scandal as an isolated incident uncharacteristic of U.S. actions in Iraq, although this view was widely disputed, notably in Arab countries. In addition, the International Red Cross had been making representations about abuse of prisoners for more than a year before the scandal broke.[59] Vice-president Dick Cheney's office had played a central role in eliminating limits on coercion in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the administration later portrayed as the initiatives of lower-ranking officials.[60] On May 7, 2004, United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility. It is my obligation to evaluate what happened, to make sure those who have committed wrongdoing are brought to justice, and to make changes as needed to see that it doesn't happen again. I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't do that. That was wrong. To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was un-American. And it was inconsistent with the values of our nation.[61]

He also commented on the very existence of the evidence of abuse:

We're functioning in a – with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a wartime situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.[62]

Rumsfeld was careful to draw a distinction between abuse and torture: "What has been charged so far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I'm not going to address the ‘torture’ word."[63]

Several senators commented on Rumsfeld's testimony. Lindsey Graham stated that "The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here."[64] Norm Coleman said that "It was pretty disgusting, not what you'd expect from Americans".[65] Ben Nighthorse Campbell said "I don't know how the hell these people got into our army".[66]

James Inhofe, a Republican member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, stated that the events were being blown out of proportion: "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment [...] [They] are not there for traffic violations. [...] these prisoners – they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. [...] Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."[67]

On May 26, 2004, Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, and Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone, for encouraging policies that led to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and fanned hatred of Americans abroad. Gore also called the Bush administration's Iraq war plan "incompetent" and described Bush as the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon. Gore commented; "In Iraq, what happened at that prison, it is now clear, is not the result of random acts of a few bad apples. It was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy."[68] Rumsfeld was also criticized by both Republican and Democrat lawmakers, including senators John Kerry, and Joe Biden, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. John McCain said that he had "no confidence" in the Secretary of Defense.[69]

United States media

A headline from The Economist, calling for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation

Several periodicals, including New York Times and The Boston Globe, called for Rumsfeld's resignation.[6][70] The cover of The Economist, which had backed President Bush in the 2000 election, carried a photo of the abuse with the words "Resign, Rumsfeld."

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh contended that the events were being blown out of proportion, stating that "this is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of emotional release?"[7][71][72] Conservative talk show host Michael Savage said, "Instead of putting joysticks, I would have liked to have seen dynamite put in their orifices", and that "we need more of the humiliation tactics, not less." He repeatedly referred to Abu Ghraib prison as "Grab-an-Arab" prison.[73]

Political commentator Christopher Hitchens, an Iraq War supporter, opined; "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad....Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day."[74]

Global reaction

A picture, released in 2006, shows several naked Iraqis in hoods, of whom one has the words "I'm a rapeist" (sic) written on his hip
The torture? A more serious blow to the United States than September 11, 2001 attacks. Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves.
— Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, foreign minister of the Vatican.[75]

The Bahraini English-language newspaper Daily Tribune wrote on May 5, 2004, that "The blood-boiling pictures will make more people inside and outside Iraq determined to carry out attacks against the Americans and British." The Qatari Arabic-language Al-Watan predicted on May 3, 2004 that due to the abuse, "The Iraqis now feel very angry and that will cause revenge to restore the humiliated dignity."[76]

On May 10, 2004, swastika-covered posters of Abu Ghraib abuse photographs were attached to British and Indian graves at the Commonwealth military cemetery in Gaza City. Thirty-two graves of soldiers killed in World War I were desecrated or destroyed.[77] In November 2008, Lord Bingham, the former UK Law Lord, describing the treatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, said: "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among some top officials in the Bush administration."[78]


Convictions of soldiers

Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar, where England and Harman served their sentences

Eleven soldiers were convicted of various charges relating to the incidents, with all of the convictions including the charge of dereliction of duty. Most soldiers only received minor sentences. Three other soldiers were either cleared of charges or were not charged. No one was convicted for the murders of the detainees.

  • Colonel Thomas Pappas was relieved of his command on May 13, 2005, after receiving non-judicial punishment for two instances of dereliction of duty, including that of allowing dogs to be present during interrogations. He was fined $8000 under the provisions of Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (non-judicial punishment). He also received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand which effectively ended his military career.
  • [80]
  • Specialist Charles Graner was found guilty on January 14, 2005 of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment, as well as charges of assault, indecency, adultery, and obstruction of justice. On January 15, 2005, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, dishonorable discharge, and reduction in rank to private.[81][82] Graner was paroled from the U.S. military's Fort Leavenworth prison on August 6, 2011 after serving six-and-a-half years.[83]
  • Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick pleaded guilty on October 20, 2004 to conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault and committing an indecent act, in exchange for other charges being dropped. His abuses included forcing three prisoners to masturbate. He also punched one prisoner so hard in the chest that he needed resuscitation. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, forfeiture of pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private.[84][85][86] He was released on parole in October 2007, after four years in prison.[87]
  • Sergeant Javal Davis pleaded guilty on February 4, 2005 to dereliction of duty, making false official statements, and battery. He was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.
  • Specialist Jeremy Sivits was sentenced on May 19, 2004 by a special court-martial to the maximum one-year sentence, in addition to a bad conduct discharge and a reduction of rank to private, upon his guilty plea.[88]
  • Specialist Armin Cruz was sentenced on September 11, 2004, to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge in exchange for his testimony against other soldiers.[89]
  • Specialist Sabrina Harman was sentenced on May 17, 2005, to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge after being convicted on six of the seven counts. Previously, she had faced a maximum sentence of five years.[90] Harman served her sentence at Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar.[91]
  • Specialist Megan Ambuhl was convicted on October 30, 2004, of dereliction of duty, and sentenced to reduction in rank to private, and loss of a half-month’s pay.[92]
  • Private First Class Lynndie England was convicted on September 26, 2005, of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act. She was acquitted on a second conspiracy count. England had faced a maximum sentence of ten years. She was sentenced on September 27, 2005, to three years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to Private (E-1) and received a dishonorable discharge.[86] England had served her sentence at Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar.[93] She was paroled on March 1, 2007, after having served 1 year and 5 months.[93]
  • Sergeant Santos Cardona was convicted of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault, the equivalent of a felony in the U.S. civilian justice system. A military judge imposed a fine and reduction in rank, and he served 90 days of hard labor at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.[94] Cardona was unable to re-enlist due to the conviction, and left the army in 2007. On September 29, 2007, Cardona left the Army with an Honorable Discharge.[95] In 2009, he was killed in action while working as a government contractor in Afghanistan.
  • Specialist Roman Krol pled guilty on February 1, 2005 to conspiracy and maltreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib. He was sentenced to ten months confinement, reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.[96]
  • Specialist Israel Rivera, who was present during abuse on October 25, was under investigation but was never charged and testified against other soldiers.
  • Sergeant Michael Smith was found guilty on March 21, 2006 of two counts of prisoner maltreatment, one count of simple assault, one count of conspiracy to maltreat, one count of dereliction of duty and a final charge of an indecent act, and sentenced to 179 days in prison, a fine of $2,250, a demotion to private, and a bad conduct discharge.

Senior personnel

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had been commanding officer at the prison, was demoted to colonel on May 5, 2005. In a BBC interview, Janis Karpinski said that she was being made a scapegoat, and that the top U.S. commander for Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, should be asked what he knew about the abuse.[97]

Donald Rumsfeld stated in February 2005 that as a result of the Abu Ghraib scandal, he had twice offered to resign from his post of Secretary of Defense, but U.S. President whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Among other things, the logs detail how U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, whose conduct appeared to be systematic and normally unpunished, and that U.S. troops abused prisoners for years even after the Abu Ghraib scandal.[129][130]

In 2013, Associated Press stated that Engility Holdings, of Chantilly, Virginia, paid $5.28 million in a settlement to 71 former inmates held at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. run detention sites between 2003 and 2007. The settlement was the first successful attempt by the detainees to obtain reparations for the abuses they had experienced.[131]

Popular culture

  • Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero created a series of paintings featuring the Abu Ghraib torture after he was shocked by the images shown by the press.
  • British sculptor Tim Shaw created the installation "Casting a Dark Democracy," based on the photograph of the hooded victim standing on the box.
  • Pictures from Abu Ghraib can be seen in Alfonso Cuarón's film Children of Men (2006).
  • The 2007 documentary Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, directed by Rory Kennedy, investigated the abuses.
  • The documentary Standard Operating Procedure (2008), directed by Errol Morris, also explored the events at the prison.
  • The movie Boys of Abu Ghraib (2014), is fictionalized story loosely based on the abuses that occurred in Abu Ghraib.
  • The novel "The Night Crew" (2015) by Brian Haig, a police procedural/legal thriller, is a fictionalized story, loosely based on the legal defense of military personnel charged with abuse of Iraqi prisoners at a fictional prison.
  • The song "Hey Blue Eyes" by American rock artist Bruce Springsteen from his 2014 EP American Beauty was described by Springsteen as "...a metaphor for the house of horrors our government’s actions created in the years following the invasion of Iraq. At its center is the repressed sexuality and abuse of power that characterized Abu Ghraib prison. I feel this is a shadow we as a country have yet to emerge from."[132]
  • The song "Hero of War" by American rock band Rise Against references the mistreatment of prisoners of war at Abu Ghraib.
  • The song "Dangerous Beauty", released by The Rolling Stones in their 2005 album A Bigger Bang, is about Private Lynndie England and her involvement in the Abu Ghraib affair.
  • The song "Holy War" by Australian deathcore band Thy Art Is Murder references the image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi in its music video.

See also

Incidents and coverage




  • Seymour M. Hersh (2004). Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. New York: Harper Collins.  
  • Master Sargeant Michael Clemens, Special Investigator (2010). The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed: American Soldiers on Trial. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books.  


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Further reading

  • Tucker, Bruce and Sia Triantafyllos (2008). "Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib, and the New Imperialism". Canadian Review of American Studies 38 (1): 83–100.  
  • Abu Ghurayb Prison – Sexual exploitation point-of-view
  • The Trials of Abu Ghraib: An Expert Witness Account of Shame and Honor by Stjepan Meštrović
  • Racial Spectacles: Explorations in Media, Race, and Justice (chapter on Abu Ghraib, new media and lynching photography) by Jonathan Markovitz
  • U.S. government documents related to Abu Ghraib
  • "You can't be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel" – interview with Philip Zimbardo, scientist behind the Stanford prison experiment and one of the expert witnesses in the Abu Ghraib trials
  • Bibliography: Iraq Wars: Prisons and Prisoner Abuse by Edwin Moise

External links

On October 22, 2010, nearly 400,000 secret United States Army field reports and war logs, detailing torture, summary executions and war crimes, were passed on to the British paper,

In September 2010, Amnesty International warned in a report titled New Order, Same Abuses; Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq that up to 30,000 prisoners, including many veterans of the U.S. detention system, remain detained without rights in Iraq and are frequently tortured or abused. Furthermore, it describes a detention system that has not evolved since Saddam Hussein's regime, in which human rights abuses were endemic with arbitrary arrests and secret detention common and a lack of accountability throughout the military forces. Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Malcolm Smart went on to say: "Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted. U.S. authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by U.S. forces to face this catalogue of illegality, violence and abuse, abdicating any responsibility for their human rights."[128]

Despite Abu Ghraib- or perhaps because of reforms in its wake- prisoners have more recently said they receive far better treatment in American custody than in Iraqi jails.[127]

In 2010, the last of the prisons were turned over to the Iraqi government to run. An Associated Press article said

On October 29, 2007, the memoir of a soldier stationed in Abu Ghraib, Iraq from 2005 to 2006 was published. Torture Central chronicled many events previously unreported in the news media, including torture that continued at Abu Ghraib over a year after the abuse photos were published.[126]

Later developments

Critics consider the Military Commissions Act of 2006 an amnesty law for crimes committed in the War on Terror by retroactively rewriting the War Crimes Act.[121] It abolished habeas corpus for foreign detainees, effectively making it impossible for detainees to challenge crimes committed against them.[122][123][124][125]

Military Commissions Act of 2006

In June 2014, the U.S. court of appeals in Richmond, Virginia, found that an 18th-century law known as the Alien Tort Statute, allowed non-US citizens access to U.S. courts for violations of "the law of nations or a treaty of the United States". This would enable abused Iraqis to file suit against contractor CACI International. Employees of CACI International are being accused of encouraging torture and abuse as well as taking part in it as the four Iraqi's contend that they were "repeatedly shot in the head with a taser gun", "beaten on the genitals with a stick", and forced to watch the "rape [of] a female detainee", during their time at the prison.[120]

In June 2011, the Justice Department announced it was opening a grand jury investigation into CIA torture which killed a prisoner.[118][119]

On November 14, 2006, legal proceedings invoking prisoner abuse under the command responsibility.[115][116] On April 27, 2007, the German federal prosecutor announced that the government would not pursue charges against Rumsfeld and the 11 other U.S. officials, stating the accusations did not apply, in part because there was insufficient evidence that the acts occurred on German soil, and because the accused did not live in Germany.[117]

On June 27, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeals of lawsuits from a group of 250 Iraqis who wanted to sue CACI International Inc. and Titan Corp. (now a subsidiary of L-3 Communications), the two private contractors at Abu Ghraib, over claims of abuse by interrogators and translators at the prison. The suits had been dismissed by the lower courts on the grounds that the companies held a derivative sovereign immunity from suits based on their status as government contractors pursuant to a battle-field preemption doctrine.[113][114]

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), the US Supreme Court ruled that Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions applied to all detainees in the War on Terror. It said that the military tribunals used to try these suspects were in violation of U.S. and international law. It said that the president could not unilaterally establish such tribunals, and that Congress needed to authorize a means by which detainees could confront their accusers and challenge their detention.[112]

Other legal proceedings

Alberto Gonzales and other senior administration lawyers argued that detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and other similar prisons should be considered "unlawful combatants" and were not protected by the Geneva Conventions. These opinions were issued in multiple memoranda, known today as the "Torture Memos," in August 2002, by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the US justice department.[106] They were written by John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney-general in the OLC, and two of three were signed by his boss Jay S. Bybee. (The latter was appointed as a federal judge in 2003, starting March 21, 2003.) An additional memo was issued on March 14, 2003, after the resignation of Bybee, and just prior to the American invasion of Iraq. In it, Yoo concluded that federal laws prohibiting the use of torture did not apply to U.S. practices overseas.[107] Gonzales observed that denying coverage under the Geneva Conventions, "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act."[108] Congressman Elizabeth Holtzman wrote that Gonzales' statement suggested that policy was crafted to ensure that the actions of U.S. officials could not be considered war crimes.[108][109][110][111]

Torture Memos

In December 2005, John Pace, human rights chief for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), criticized the U.S. military's practice of holding Iraqi prisoners in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. Pace stated that this practice was not mandated by UN Resolution 1546, according to which the U.S. government has claimed a legal mandate permitting its ongoing occupation of Iraq. Pace said, "All except those held by the Ministry of Justice are, technically speaking, held against the law because the Ministry of Justice is the only authority that is empowered by law to detain, to hold anybody in prison. Essentially none of these people have any real recourse to protection and therefore we speak ... of a total breakdown in the protection of the individual in this country."[105]

United Nations resolution 1546

Some legal experts have said that the United States could be obligated to try some of its soldiers for war crimes. Under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war and civilians detained in a war may not be treated in a degrading manner, and violation of that section is a "grave breach". In a November 5, 2003 report on prisons in Iraq, the Army's provost marshal, Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, stated that the conditions under which prisoners were held sometimes violated the Geneva Conventions.

A man is intimidated, or threatened, by at least two dogs

There were several major violations described in the ICRC report. These included brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury; absence of notification of arrest of persons deprived of their liberty to their families causing distress among persons deprived of their liberty and their families; physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to secure information; prolonged solitary confinement in cells devoid of daylight; excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment.[104]

serious violations of International Humanitarian Law relating to the conditions of treatment of the persons deprived of their liberty held by the CF in Iraq. In particular, it establishes that persons deprived of their liberty face the risk of being subjected to a process of physical and psychological coercion, in some cases tantamount to torture, in the early stages of the internment process.[104]

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded in its confidential February 2004 report to the Coalition Forces (CF) that it had documented

Al-Qaeda detainees would likely not be accorded Prisoner of War (POW) status, but the Conventions still provide explicit protections to all persons held in an international armed conflict, even if they are not entitled to POW status. Such protections include the right to be free from coercive interrogation, to receive a fair trial if charged with a criminal offense, and, in the case of detained civilians, to be able to appeal periodically the security rationale for continued detention.[103]

According to Human Rights Watch:

For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

The Convention Against Torture defines torture in the following terms:

The United States has ratified the Bush Administration took the position that: "Both the United States and Iraq are parties to the Geneva Conventions. The United States recognizes that these treaties are binding in the war for the 'liberation of Iraq'".[102]

International law

Graner poses over Manadel al-Jamadi's corpse

Legal issues

The Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense detention operations specifically absolved U.S. military and political leadership from culpability: "The Panel finds no evidence that organizations above the 800th MP brigade or the 205th MI Brigade-level were directly involved in the incidents at Abu Ghraib."[100] Karpinski's immediate operational supervisor and Sanchez' deputy, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, was subsequently appointed Chief of the US Army Infantry School at Fort Benning. Pappas's boss, Barbara Fast, was subsequently appointed Chief of the US Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca.[101]

Michael Chertoff, who as head of the Justice Department's criminal division advised the CIA on the outer limits of legality in coercive interrogation sessions, was selected by President Bush to fill the cabinet-level vacancy at Secretary of Homeland Security created by the departure of Tom Ridge.

was nominated by President Bush to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he began service in 2003. [99]


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