Abu Ghraib Case Study
A political issue it would inevitably become, as a scant six months remained before the presidential election. The war in Iraq already proved to be a central theme, and a polarized electorate threatened to magnify the political implications. Haunting images of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, the prison once notorious for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s cruelty to his own people, were first released during the airing of CBS’s Sixty Minutes II, on April 28, 2004. Soldiers had gathered and shared these pictures on discs, via e- mail, and even used them as screen savers on computers within interrogation rooms.
The images depicted naked prisoners forced into sexual positions, crawling on the floor, handcuffed to other naked prisoners, or standing with their arms secured above their heads for hours or days on end. The images further revealed soldiers threatening naked prisoners with military dogs and prisoners wearing hoods—their genitals attached to electric wires. Some were bruised, slashed, and even shot to death.
The pictures—utterly graphic, shocking, and undeniable—evoked visceral reactions around the world. President Bush and members of Congress claimed they were not briefed about the problems or allegations before CBS released pictures o television audiences, news organizations, and internet viewers worldwide.
As events continued to unfold in the news, questions about the training and supervision of the prison guards emerged. From Senate hearings and call- in radio shows, American allies and Arab populations, a volley of voices demanded answers. Who should be held accountable for the guards’ actions? Were they instructed to abide by the Geneva Conventions? Why were they taking pictures? What indication did they have from superiors that this was appropriate behavior?
What implications would the revelations have for American support for the war in Iraq, for the presidential election campaign, and perhaps more importantly, for 1 Donald Rumsfeld video clip, CNN Larry King Live, Transcript #050700CN. V22, p. 5, May 7, 2004. This case has been provided for members of the Electronic Hallway, with the express consent of the author, Angela Day, prepared under the general supervision of Jon Brock, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. Special thanks for the expert editorial contribution by John Boehrer.
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Copyright 2004 The Electronic Hallway Donald Rumsfeld and Prisoner Abuse at Abu Ghraib America’s image on a global scale? These questions prompted many commentators, such as CNN’s Larry King to ask, “Does someone big have to go? ”2 The Taguba Report While top officials and politicians apparently remained unaware of events that would soon unfold in a political crisis, military officials had already begun proceeding with investigations. On January 19, 2004, Combined Joint Task Force Seven (CJTF-7)
Lieutenant General (LTG) Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq, requested that higher authorities at U. S. Central Command appoint an Investigating Officer to “conduct an investigation into the allegations of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib Prison, which was also known as the Baghdad Central Confinement Facility. ”3 According to the New York Times, the investigation resulted from pictures and a report submitted anonymously just six days earlier by Army Specialist Joseph Darby, a reservist serving in the 372nd Military Police (MP) Company at Abu Ghraib.
The order to investigate from Central Command charged Major General Antonio Taguba with investigating allegations of abuse, as well as directing him to inquire into accountability lapses and escapes at the prison, general training and standards, internal procedures and command policies within the 800th MP Brigade, in charge of the prison system in Iraq. The report, completed in early March 2004, revealed a disturbing account of leadership failure, and called into question how high the level of culpability would rise.
MG Taguba’s report generally corroborated operational failures outlined in an earlier report by Major General Donald Ryder, submitted November 5, 2003. As Commander of the U. S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, MG Ryder reported on prison operations in Iraq. Although the two reports alleged similar operational problems, they diverged on two important points.
The Ryder Report indicated that no abuse or mistreatment had taken place, and concluded that “military police were not asked to help prepare prisoners for interrogations” as alleged in the later Taguba Report. MG Taguba’s Report was leaked to the press in May 2004, and detailed the abuses only recently revealed to the public as follows: “That between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility (BCCF) numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees.