Passport

Obama, Taguba, and the new Abu Ghraib photos

Back in April, U.S. President Barack Obama said his administration would release photographs of the abuse of detainees in prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here’s from the UPI wire story: The Obama administration, in an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday it will release photos of alleged abusive interrogations. At least 44 ...

Back in April, U.S. President Barack Obama said his administration would release photographs of the abuse of detainees in prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here’s from the UPI wire story:

The Obama administration, in an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday it will release photos of alleged abusive interrogations.

At least 44 photographs will be released May 28, the Los Angeles Times reported. While details of the photos have not been reported, some are said to show U.S. military personnel pointing weapons at suspected terrorists during questioning.

"This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration’s claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer.

The decision was widely applauded at the time; the Obama administration, it seemed, was taking a stand against abusive interrogations and shining a powerful light into some dark corners. 

Obama said, "I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib." He also later said the small number of perpetrators were charged and tried in 2004.

The administration then abruptly changed course, saying it would not release the photographs. The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, explained, "The president believes that the specific case surrounding the damage that would be done to our troops and our national security has not fully been developed and put in front of the court." The ACLU accused the White House of betrayal and stonewalling.

Today — the day the Obama administration would have been required to release the photos, incidentally —  we may have found out why.

Ret. Major General Antonio Taguba, the author of the Abu Ghraib report, described their content to the Daily Telegraph

These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency. I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan. The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.

To be honest, I’m not sure I have much to say about this, beyond that it’s deeply unsettling, and raises more questions than it answers.

For one, I can’t verify that Taguba is speaking about the same set of photos as Obama and the ACLU; I don’t think Obama would have agreed to release the photos if the content were so graphic and dangerous, to the coalition forces and to the victims. 

Second, I don’t know why Taguba, who has been retired for two years, who no longer speaks for the military, gave this interview. The Pentagon has already discredited the paper and said that the description of the photos is inaccurate. 

Third, we know of incidences of sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib. If these photos concern new incidences, I hope that all the perpetrators have been court-martialled and tried, already. The "few bad apples" line is only valid if we have confidence in the oversight and governance of U.S. prisons abroad. (Not really a comparison here, but an n.b., that sexual abuse and prison rape is a systemic problem in the U.S.) 

And finally, nothing yet from the ACLU on their site. I’ll be interested to see what they have to say about this.

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