The Bogus Torture Coverup
The Pentagon is denying the facts: Photographs of Abu Ghraib torture are even more sexually explicit than first reported, including rape and sodomy, writes The Daily Beast's Scott Horton, who has obtained specific and detailed corroboration of the photos.
The Daily Beast has confirmed that the photographs of abuses at
Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, which President Obama, in a reversal, decided
not to release, depict sexually explicit acts, including a uniformed
soldier receiving oral sex from a female prisoner, a government
contractor engaged in an act of sodomy with a male prisoner and scenes
of forced masturbation, forced exhibition, and penetration involving
phosphorous sticks and brooms.
These descriptions come on the heels of a British report yesterday about the photographs that contained some of these revelations—and whose credibility was questioned by the Pentagon.
Click Image Below to View The Daily Beast's image Gallery of Abuse Photos
The Daily Beast has obtained specific corroboration of the British account, which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, from several reliable sources, including a highly credible senior military officer with firsthand knowledge, who provided even more detail about the graphic photographs that have been withheld from the public by the Obama administration.
A senior military officer familiar with the photos told me that they
would likely provoke a storm of outrage if released. The well-informed
source confirmed, just as reported in the Telegraph, that many of the
photographs are sexually explicit, including those mentioned above. The
photographs differ from those already officially released. Some show
U.S. personnel engaged in sexual acts with prisoners and each other. In
one, a female prisoner appears to have been forced to expose her
breasts to be photographed. In another, a prisoner is suspended naked
upside down from the top bunk of a bed in a stress position.
The Telegraph article quoted retired Major General Antonio Taguba,
who directed the official inquiry in 2004 into the abuses at Abu
Ghraib. Taguba told the Telegraph that the "pictures show torture,
abuse, rape, and every indecency." The Telegraph reported: "At least
one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female
prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male
detainee. Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on
prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire, and a
phosphorescent tube. Another apparently shows a female prisoner having
her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts."
In response to the Telegraph account, Bryan G. Whitman, a deputy
assistant secretary of Defense, attacked the newspaper. "That news
organization has completely mischaracterized the images," he said.
"None of the photos in question depict the images that are described in
that article." White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, later in the
day, widened the assault to a general one against British journalism.
"If I wanted to read a writeup today of how Manchester United fared
last night in the Champions League Cup, I might open up a British
newspaper," Gibbs said. "If I was looking for something that bordered
on truthful news, I'm not entirely sure it'd be in the first pack of
clips I'd pick up."
In one withheld photograph, not previously described, Specialist
Charles A. Graner, Jr., an Abu Ghraib guard, is shown suturing the face
of a prisoner, a reliable source tells The Daily Beast. The suturing
appeared to serve no ostensible medical purpose than perhaps Graner's
attempts to humiliate or terrorize the prisoner, the source suggested.
Graner was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in
2005 for charges that included prisoner abuse. A number of the withheld
photographs, according to reliable sources, show Graner engaged in
sexual acts with Specialist Lynndie A. England, another soldier
assigned to duty at Abu Ghraib. She appears in some of the most
notorious photographs disclosed so far, including one in which she
walked a detainee on a leash-enacting a regimen later revealed as an
authorized technique known as "walking the dog."
Other suppressed photographs show a female prisoner assuming
sexually suggestive poses in a chair, while a prison guard appears
behind her in some frames. In another series, prisoners are shown
hooded in a transport with open copies of pornographic magazines in
Still other withheld photographs have been circulating among U.S.
soldiers who served in Iraq. One soldier showed them to me, including a
photograph in which a male in a U.S. military uniform receives oral sex
from a female prisoner.
differ from those already officially released. Some show U.S. personnel
engaged in sexual acts with prisoners and each other. In one, a female
prisoner appears to have been forced to expose her breasts to be
The Obama administration's decision to challenge the Telegraph
account presents a dilemma because many of the photographs have already
been leaked, and they match the very images that Taguba described and
which Pentagon spokesman Whitman denied. The already leaked photographs
can be seen at the Web sites of Salon.com, the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia, the Australian Broacasting Corp. Dateline program, and the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
The suppressed photographs and videos are the subject of a Freedom
of Information Act litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties
Union. The ACLU prevailed against government claims of secrecy both in
the federal district court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Second Circuit. (Full disclosure: I supplied a legal expert's opinion
on the Geneva Conventions, which was cited by both courts in reaching
their conclusions.) Yesterday, the Justice Department filed papers
asking the court to reconsider its decision directing that the
photographs be made public. In its papers, the Justice Department
suggested it would seek to have the matter reviewed in the Supreme
Court if its motion were to be denied.
The immediate pushback against the Telegraph story from the
Pentagon, coupled with the decision of White House press secretary
Gibbs to chime in, suggests the sensitivity of the issue. The
full-scale strike against the Telegraph, the leading conservative
quality newspaper in Britain, broadened into an offensive against the
whole of British journalism, suggesting the precariousness of the
The Pentagon spokesperson, Bryan G. Whitman, who came to prominence
during the Bush administration, has drawn on standard operating
procedures honed during the Rumsfeld era. Instead of offering
correction of supposed factual inaccuracies, he has slammed the
credibility of the publication itself. Yet his statement is both
sweeping and extremely vague, and the claim that none of the
photos reflect the descriptions in the article is immediately belied by
an examination of the photos that have already been leaked.
Whitman has used this sort of bludgeoning attack on news
organizations before. Ask Michael Isikoff at Newsweek. When Newsweek's
April 30, 2005, issue ran a brief Periscope piece referring to an
internal report's description of an incident in which a Quran was
thrown down a toilet, Whitman launched a dramatic attack on the
publication, pressuring it to retract and apologize. The report had, it
later turned out, been correct. In 2007, the ACLU secured, through a
Freedom of Information Act request, a copy of a 2002 FBI report which
documented a prisoner's charge that his Quran has been thrown in the
toilet; five other cases of mishandling Qurans were reported, although
the Pentagon insisted that none of them amounted to desecration.
The most prominent victim in the past of Whitman's disinformation
may have been none other than Barack Obama. On the campaign trail, in
Austin, Texas, candidate Obama said he had gotten a message from an
Army captain in Iraq who described how his unit had been shorted in
munitions and equipment. I learned from reporters that Whitman started
a whispering campaign with the Pentagon press corps telling them (not
for attribution) that he didn't believe Obama's claims were true.
Whitman's game, however, was stopped by ABC reporter Jake Tapper, who
tracked down the captain, interviewed him and fully verified the
Bryan Whitman remains on the job in the Pentagon today. But the
effort to suppress the shocking photographs is already failing, as they
leak to the public and reliable sources verify their authenticity. A
senior military officer told me that in the months before the Abu
Ghraib scandal broke, Pentagon officials engaged in strange maneuvers
to avoiding viewing the pictures. That, he noted, didn't make the
photos any less real. But it apparently made it easier for Pentagon
officials to dissemble about them. That process hasn't stopped.
Scott Horton is a law professor and writer on legal and
national-security affairs for Harper's magazine and The American
Lawyer, among other publications.