Taguba denies he’s seen abuse photos suppressed by Obama
The general told a U.K. paper about images he saw investigating Abu Ghraib — not photos Obama wants kept secret.
By Mark Benjamin
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba denied reports that he has seen the prisoner-abuse photos that President Obama is fighting to keep secret, in an exclusive interview with Salon Friday night.
On Thursday an article in the Daily Telegraph reported that Taguba, the lead investigator into Abu Ghraib abuse, had seen images Obama wanted suppressed, and supported the president’s decision to fight their release. The paper quoted Taguba as saying, “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.”
But Taguba says he wasn’t talking about the 44 photographs that are the subject of an ongoing ACLU lawsuit that Obama is fighting.
“The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen,” Taguba told Salon Friday night. The actual quote in the Telegraph was accurate, Taguba said — but he was referring to the hundreds of images he reviewed as an investigator of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — not the photos of abuse that Obama is seeking to suppress.
In March 2006 Salon published “The Abu Ghraib Files,” 279 photographs and 19 videos collected by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division as it examined the shocking cases of prisoner abuse at the notorious Baghdad prison. The photos depict scenes of extreme cruelty – prisoners forced to publicly masturbate, naked prisoners held in extreme stress positions, or being walked naked by a female guard. Some photos show prisoners bloodied and otherwise injured, with untrained guards tending to their wounds.
Several news organizations have described some of those same images as among the ones Obama is seeking to suppress, when in fact, they’ve already been published by Salon.
Taguba says the Telegraph story got one important fact right: He said he does support Obama’s decision to fight the release of the images subject to the lawsuit, even though he has not seen those images. “No other photographs should be released,” Taguba told Salon, because he worries additional images might threaten the safety of U.S. troops.
On the other hand, Scott Horton claims to have validated the Telegraph report:
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.
by Scott Horton
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 as well as the British newspaper’s source, who claims he was misunderstood.
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 their laps.
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.
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 public-relations effort.
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 account.
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.
It isn’t clear from Horton’s account if the photographs he is discussing are necessarily the specific ones involved in the court case. In any case, it has been clear for a long time from multiple reports that pictures of rape and sodomy at Abu Ghraib exist.
It should also be remembered that many of the pictures the ACLU has fought for years to receive access to are not from Abu Ghraib, but from elsewhere in Iraq. Their importance is not so much the disturbing content, but the graphic evidence they will provide that the abuses of Abu Ghraib were in no sense isolated and could not have been the creations of a few isolated MPs, but were, rather, common throughout the Iraq conflict at that time. That is, that they were either authorized or tolerated up the entire chain of command. That is why the government has fought so hard to withhold those pictures. They would provided a vivid argument for the need for investigation and accountability for US torture.
May 31st, 2009