You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.

Evidence from U.S. torture chambers in Iraq revealed
"They destroyed me"

May 28, 2004 | Page 2

ELIZABETH SCHULTE reports on the unraveling torture scandal.

A U.S. soldier asks Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik, a captive of Abu Ghraib prison, whether he believed in anything. "I believe in Allah," Al-Sheik says. "But I believe in torture," the soldier replies, "and I will torture you."

Last week, the sickening evidence of the torture of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib piled up as transcripts of interviews with the victims, hundreds of new photos and even digital videos were released.

The images are horrifying. An inmate cowers in a corner as a soldier sics a large dog on him. A naked prisoner smeared with a brown substance is ordered to walk in a straight line with his ankles in chains. A soldier gives the thumbs-up as he poses next to a dead Iraqi.

Statements that Iraqi prisoners gave to investigators in January describe the horror--U.S. soldiers urinated on prisoners, sodomized one with a chemical light stick and snapped photos as a translator raped a 15-year-old boy. Currently, the deaths of some 30 prisoners are under investigation.

"Don't even talk about torture," 18-year-old Abdul Salam Hussain Jassim told CBS News. "They destroyed me." Meanwhile, a witness to the terror at Abu Ghraib who told ABC News that he believed the military was covering up the extent of the abuse was punished by his superiors and told he could face prosecution--all for telling the truth.

On May 19, the first of the seven soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners, Spc. Jeremy Sivits, was sentenced to a year in prison and given a bad conduct discharge. The Bush administration and the Pentagon brass desperately hope the blame will stop with these seven.

But the responsibility goes much higher--all the way to the top. Paul Bergrin, an attorney who represents one of the seven accused, Sgt. Javal Davis, said the soldiers were following the lead of military intelligence officers.

"They did order it," Bergrin said at a hearing that took place at Camp Victory several weeks before the photos were made public at the end of April. "They were told consistently, 'Soften them up; loosen them up. Look what's happening in the field. Soldiers are dying in droves. We need more intelligence...'

"Nobody put it in writing; no one's going to be stupid enough for that. My client went to Sergeant Frederick and questioned him: 'Should we be following these orders?' And Sergeant Frederick said, 'Absolutely. We're saving American lives. That's what we wear the uniform for.'"

Now it appears that the scandal could engulf Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and other senior military officers. According to a memo from October of last year that was leaked to the Washington Post, Sanchez, the head of coalition forces in Iraq, issued an order giving military intelligence control over almost every aspect of prison conditions at Abu Ghraib, with the aim of manipulating detainees' "emotions and weaknesses."

Sanchez visited the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade's operation, which encompassed Tier 1A at Abu Ghraib, at least three times in October, according to Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, the reservist general who was in charge of the prison. October is the month that the documented torture began.

The military intelligence brigade that took control of the interrogation center was deployed directly from Afghanistan. They brought "special rules" with them. The U.S. military considers prisons in Afghanistan to be outside the jurisdiction of the Geneva Conventions because it defines al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters as "unlawful combatants." But these "special rules" were developed before the Iraq war.

According to the New York Times, between 2001 and 2002, the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the Pentagon signed off on secret Justice Department memos outlining ways that U.S. officials could interrogate prisoners while avoiding war crimes charges. A January 9, 2002 memo by Justice Department lawyers-- written just four months after September 11--provided legal arguments against the Geneva Conventions.

Last year, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself approved a series of "aggressive" interrogation techniques for Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners, according to a general with the Judge Advocate General's office who spoke to the Los Angeles Times. In April 2003, Rumsfeld approved a request by Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who oversaw prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, to use a broad range of extraordinary "nondoctrinal" questioning techniques.

In other words, the orders to brutalize came from the top and were already in place well before the Iraq war even began. The U.S. occupation is unraveling every day as more revelations surface--and with it, Iraqi anger grows.

There's a mural on a wall in Sadr City that sums up what the U.S. occupation means to a growing number of Iraqis. It shows the Statue of Liberty flipping the switch on wires attached to a prisoner at Abu Ghraib.

How the military outsourced torture

THE PRISON torture scandal is exposing the shadowy role of some of the thousands of private contractors that have gotten their claws into Iraq. Specifically, employees of Titan Corp., a California-based company that has provided translators for the military, have been linked to the torture at Abu Ghraib prison.

In his internal Army report on the torture allegations, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said that Titan employee Adel Nakhla, a translator working for the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, was on hand for the now-infamous human pyramid of naked detainees.

Now, according to an internal Army report quoted in the May 21 Wall Street Journal, an unnamed Titan employee admitted to helping hold down three detainees. And a prisoner told military investigators that he witnessed a translator at Abu Ghraib raping a teenage Iraqi prisoner, while a female U.S. soldier took pictures.

Two private companies were hired to help out with the "interrogations" at Abu Ghraib. CACI International supplied interrogation specialists, and Titan supplied interpreters.

These are just two of the companies taking advantage of the piles of money to be made working for the U.S. military in Iraq. At least 20,000 employees of private contractors are serving the military in Iraq, providing security, maintaining vehicles and weapons, guarding U.S. officials and translating Arabic to English--and evidently helping out in the torture.

These contractors aren't subject to the same military legal code as uniformed soldiers. And according to a decree passed by the U.S.'s Coalition Provisional Authority, they're also exempt from Iraq's local laws.

So the Pentagon uses private contractors if it wants to get around the law--in Iraq and around the globe. In Colombia, contractors have been added to the U.S. troop presence to get around a congressional decision that limits the number of soldiers.

But as P.W. Singer of the Brookings Institution told the Wall Street Journal, the Iraq war "pushes the envelope for outsourcing way beyond anything anyone ever dreamed of." Now they've been caught outsourcing torture--and outsourcing the blame, too.

Home page | Back to the top