Abu Ghraib photos reportedly depict rape and sexual abuse

29 05 2009

[trigger warning]

A report in The Daily Telegraph has emerged claiming that the Abu Ghraib photos which President Obama is refusing to release graphically depict rape and sexual abuse.

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.

Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, has reported the existence of such photographs to The Daily Telegraph. Although the allegations of rape and sexual abuse had previously existed, the existence of photos of the acts had not previously been revealed.

The article speculates that:

The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

“These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency,” reported Taguba. But President Obama has in the past claimed 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.”

The Obama Administration is denying that the photos depict the crimes described in the Telegraph article. Many are claiming that the Telegraph misreported information, changed their story, and acted unreliably as a news source.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said:

That news organization has completely mischaracterized the images. None of the photos in question depict the images that are described in that article.

I think if you do an even moderate Google search you’re not going to find many of these newspapers and truth within, say, 25 words of each other.

Let’s just say if I wanted to read a write-up today of how Manchester United fared last night in the Champions League Cup, I might open up a British newspaper. If I was looking for something that bordered on truthful news, I’m not entirely sure it’d be the first stack of clips I picked up.

Whitman has attacked the newspaper’s credibility, claiming that the report shows “an inability to get the facts right.” The Obama administration denying the claims is of course difficult to trust considering the fact that the administration is refusing to publish the photographs.

The existence of ANY of the Abu Ghraib pictures, whether or not they depict rape, is absolutely disgusting and makes me ashamed that our previous administration seemingly sanctioned these horrific crimes. But even if the crimes were not documented in photos, this does not erase the fact that torture, rape and sexual abuse are used as weapons of war at disgusting rates, and reports of sexual abuse and rape of the Abu Ghraib prisoners exist and have not been adequately handled.

According to Tara McKelvey at TAPPED:

While reporting my book, Monstering, I heard about an interpreter who had worked at the prison and allegedly raped a 14-year-old boy, and that there was a video or a photograph of the crime that had been recorded by a female soldier. (It wasn’t Lynndie England — I asked her about it.) Military investigators looked into the alleged crime against the boy – but half-heartedly — and the investigation was eventually dropped. Since there was no photo or video that had been released to the public, it was not a priority.

So what happened to the alleged perpetrator? I spoke (briefly) with the interpreter who was accused of raping the boy as part of research for my book. After returning from Iraq, the interpreter had gotten a job at a LensCrafters in a shopping mall in suburban Maryland, and when I saw him, he was in good spirits, walking through the mall with a take-out pizza in a cardboard box. No word on the 14-year-old boy, who has been released from the prison. The military investigators who were looking into this alleged crime did not put much effort into finding him, at least based on the notes from the investigations that I saw. It was clear that this incident, however terrible, was not a priority for the investigators, apparently because no pictures of what had happened were released to the public.

Whether or not photographs were taken, publicly released video/photo proof should not be necessary to adequately investigate and seek justice in reports of horrific rape and torture.

As McKelvey states: “The Abu Ghraib scandal exists solely because of the photographs: If no pictures had been taken (and then given to a military investigator and, eventually, to the media), there would have been only silence surrounding the horrific crimes that took place at the prison.”

And what’s with this mass pandemonium over this “new” information? If we weren’t all well aware that rape was most likely occurring at Abu Ghraib, we should have been. Ashley over at the SAFER blog notes a 2004 transcript of a talk by journalist Seymour Hersh that clearly discusses rape as one of the methods of torture at Abu Ghraib. Ashley says:

If you didn’t know, you should have. This is absolutely a case of mass guilt. Over a million people have died. There was horrific torture of civilians, including children. In our names. We knew. If we didn’t know, our ignorance was willful, and it had everything to do with the race, nationality, and religion of the victims. We are responsible.

The question of whether or not the photos should be released is incredibly complex. There is the question of survivor’s rights, which tugs at my inclination to want the photos to be released so that the Bush administration and those involved can be properly held responsible for their horrendous actions. It seems downright wrong to release photographs of these horrific experiences without the survivors wanting them to be released. Mark Leon Goldberg makes a good point over at UN Dispatch.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for refocusing “public attention on the torture, humiliation and abuse of prisoners sanctioned by senior Bush administration officials” as Daphne Evitar says. But scanning memeorandum, no one seems to be balancing the rights of victims of sexual abuse with the need to air the previous administration’s dirty laundry.

It’s an incredibly complicated issue, but I strongly do feel that we must make sure that we are not compromising the individual rights of the survivors. These people have been so unbelievably abused without regard for their agency or respect for their humanity. We absolutely should not have the right to again re-traumatize the survivors and take away their agency in publishing these photos without their consent. If we care so much about these crimes, why don’t we care enough about the victims to ask them what to do with the photographs?

It seems so often that the word of survivors is not believed. What is the word of these survivors? Do we even ask? Is the photo proof so valuable to us that we can ignore survivors’ rights? Cannot we simply admit the horrific acts that probably occurred without demanding undeniable photo proof? The Abu Ghraib scandal has been nothing without photos, without proof. Are we so blind that we deny something until it is absolutely undeniable? Or are we just choosing to deny that which we don’t want to face? I understand that without releasing the photos, we may never know for sure what occurred, but we must remember to treat the victims as people and not to ignore their rights and their personal suffering by treating them simply as pieces of evidence.

Taguba reported in the Telegraph that “The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.” Both refusing to release the photos and releasing the photos seem to do little good unless we are somehow denying the occurrence of such torture until we are given photo proof. As Ashley at SAFER says:

Incidentally, if reducing anti-American sentiment (rather than, for example, not raping people) is what we’ve decided we’re most concerned with, restorative justice would do a hell of a lot more to alleviate anti-American sentiment than refusing to release the photos, which, as far as I can see, does precisely nothing toward that end.

Let’s stop denying that it happened and arguing over what photos show what crimes. The absence of photos does not mean that the acts never took place. Let’s instead start doing something to seek justice for the victims, their families, and their communities.

P.S. If you want to see a really ridiculous argument about the photos, check out Susannah Breslin’s article over at DoubleX, claiming that releasing the photos is risky because they are “pornography” and will inevitably “titillate.” Sorry, Susannah, but viewing the rape and torture of others is infuriating and emotional, but the vast majority of people do not consider it to be arousing. To boil this incredibly complex issue of sexual abuse and rape down to a question of “pornography” is ridiculous. The definition of “pornography” in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is “sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.” These photos DO NOT qualify.

other sources: Feministing, Feministe


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