The Photos

I hadn’t seen the photos until today. I hadn’t wanted to.

But I did, today, and I’ll say now: if you haven’t seen them, you can’t understand why you need to be outraged. You can’t understand how absolutely despicable this is.

I’ll ask you: as a citizen, please, look, if you haven’t.

I was a soldier. I was a sergeant, who taught five-hour training sessions on the Geneva Convention and the Laws of War. And I’m disgusted, and I hope you’ll let me tell you why.

The two soldiers in the photographs, as well as the others you may have seen in more recent pictures, will be imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. And they deserve to be, and more. Not only have they violated the military’s rules and international law, they’ve forgotten the reason why such laws exist, the moral imperative: whatever the horrors of war, the people on the other side are human beings, with families, with lives. Most soldiers understand that, and understand better than anybody else the horrors of war. Academics can cry for peace from their ivory towers, but soldiers are the ones being shot at, and they understand that the other guy is just like them, with wives, with kids, with lives. Just like them.

Or at least that was the understanding I saw in the regular, full-time Army. These are part-timers, a weekend a month, two weeks a year. I’ve trained National Guard soldiers, and evaluated reservists. To be blunt: I’m unimpressed. They’re soldiers who think soldiering’s a game, who stuff all four pockets on their BDU tunics with candy, who don’t move during a training exercise because they “don’t feel like it”. A small detail: notice that the fellow with the mustache is wearing a brown leather belt, rather than the female soldier’s regulation black web belt. He’s brought his clothes from home, since he’s not a full-time soldier. It’s a game for him; shits and giggles. Like I said, I’ve trained and evaluated people like him, and most of them are apathetic idiots who want to play G.I. Joe, as long as it isn’t real. (Please don’t get me started on the National Guard evaluation summer in 1994 at Fort Drum. You could see the spittle flecking the Colonel’s lips, the vein thumping ready to burst in his temple when he watched them “train”, as he bitched them out squad by squad and platoon by platoon for their sheer incompetence and apathy.)

And, as I said above, I’ve done training sessions on how to treat prisoners, with full-time regular Army soldiers. I’ve had senior NCOs wear civilian clothes, speaking in Korean or German, harassing junior soldiers who were their supposed captors; I’ve had other NCOs pose as the sort of military intelligence folk apparently in charge at Abu Ghreib, demanding information, demanding that the prisoners be abused or handed over. It’s not easy: two of the PFCs and one of the Specialists in my squad were in tears from the stress of the exercise. But all three of them cocked their weapons and pointed them at the MI folk and told them to back off. (Another, unfortunately, shoved her “prisoner” face-first into her balled-up poncho in order to make him shut up.) Here’s the point: Reservists and National Guard don’t do that type of training, and they shouldn’t have been anywhere near that prison.

Even worse, however, were the chain of command failures and willful malfeasance. You don’t set the fox to guard the henhouse, and for God’s sake, you don’t set the CIA and the Military Intelligence spooks in charge of the prison. If there’s any MOS (military occupational specialty) with more unearned beer-in-the-rear arrogance than the Military Police, it’s Military Intelligence. Yes, I’m a trucker — Transportation Corps, to be all official-like — and I always hated those fuckers, and made sure they came up a couple pallets short of eggs and milk on every load I could. But the culture: of course the CIA and Military Intelligence bossed the rest of them around. What did you expect? What was the tone that the Bush administration had set, from the highest level? Why wouldn’t a soldier suppose that these are “enemy combatants”, without any human rights whatsoever?

I’ll suggest that the events shown in these photographs are driven by a policy dictated from that same highest level: those who oppose American interests in any way — from car theft to car bombings — are terrorists and enemy combatants, and therefore deserve whatever they get, up to and including humiliation, torture, and murder. In other words, the Bush administration set the agenda, the CIA fell in line and dictated policy to Military Intelligence, who ran the prison and made sure that the MPs followed their line. These part-time soldiers, as despicable as they may be, hardly acted alone, but rather did what they did in an environment of comfort and encouragement, as we’ve seen from other pictures of the prison.

And now they’ll be hung out to dry, with zero consequence for Military Intelligence or the CIA, never mind the civilian contractors. Good: in their spineless glee, they deserve to hang and twist and kick. But others do, as well, and much more so. Why is there no talk of the resignation of General Myers, when the four-star Air Force idiot freely admitted that he sat on the report for weeks, and hadn’t even read it yet when the shitstorm broke?

Twelve years ago, I thought joining the Army was a good thing, and loved the people I served with. I got a couple medals, even. I used to be proud of having served. Now? Hell no. I’d never sign up. Not in a million years. The soldiers I knew — Rob, I hope you’ll back me up here — don’t do what you saw in those pictures. Soldiers — my soldiers, my friends — don’t do that.

I’m ashamed of my peers. Deeply. Even more so of my country, of a country that would offer such approval of an administration that enables these practices, and of the sycophantic apologists for that administration. Rumsfeld and Bush are a disgrace to the tradition of honorable military service, and a disgrace to the nation.

The Photos

24 thoughts on “The Photos

  • May 7, 2004 at 1:00 am

    I didn’t look at them and I didn’t continue reading here because I’m not sure what you’ve said. I thought about blogging earlier that I wish they’d put ratings on the articles. I just can’t stand some of it. It doesn’t just disgust me, it plagues me. I found myself driving down the interstate this afternoon with images (just based upon the *snippets* I read) and feeling that I would vomit in my car. God, if I’d known what I was going to read, I swear I would not have read it. I just cannot handle it. I prayed loud freakishly appealing prayers, and turned the radio on to scour it from my brain before I picked up my kids.

  • May 7, 2004 at 10:02 am

    I saw the damn things, and&nbsp. . . hell, the war over there was lost when the torture began again in Abu Gherib, and we deserve to lose it for that reason. I don’t know classical history the way you do, so I can’t make an adequate comparison. Maybe there isn’t one, and we’re something new in history: a loudmouthed, hypocritical, and brutal empire without precedent.

    That’s progress for you. Thanks for the regular GI’s perspective on these shits.

  • May 7, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    Yeah, I’ll back you up on that. Did we not just have a conversation last week where I talked about the “thin line” between soldiers of the Third Reich and any other country’s soldiers. I have already heard that these soldiers are using the excuse “I was just following orders” when questioned why they committed these heinous acts. Absolutely unacceptable.

    I can tell you that most of the people I served with would never have tolerated this type of activity, and don’t get me started about the Generals that I worked for. Wow! If General Burns would have been anywhere around heads would have rolled immediately.

  • May 7, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    And people persist in wondering why there’s so much hatred of America in the Middle East.

    It’s — there aren’t any words. I haven’t been posting about it because I get incoherent with rage.

  • May 10, 2004 at 10:52 pm

    Right on the money, Mike. I offered my own comments on my blog last Friday.

    Several things seem extraordinary about these photos. One is the active participation of several women. I always assumed that women in the military would tame down the locker room impulses. Not here.

    One of the photos showing three naked detainees bound together has 6 or so military personnel chatting or going about other business. In other words, these scenes were ROUTINE. Which means, as you detail so well, that officers and commanders knew what was going on.

    The motive of the photographer(s) escapes me. It was stupid enough to violate regs and the Convention, but to record the violations goes beyond stupid. We may have to invent a new word for it.

    I’ll be interested to see what saturation media coverage does to this story. It’s likely to sap many of their outrage (oh, that was last week’s story). On the other hand, the courts martial will get intensive coverage and the defense lawyers are likely to point to those above in the chain of command.

    And Bush today is still praising Rumsfeld. Up is definitely down.

  • May 11, 2004 at 10:31 am

    Mike, I was in class last night and it just so happened that the PhD student teaching the grad-level course is a 12-year army officer and one of the grad students in the class is a 1st Lt in the Air Force (damned uniformed civilians.) I found it interesting to hear their perspective on this subject. They seemed to be much more interested in punishing the enlisted soldiers than those that were in charge and they viewed this problem to be less systemic than it really is.

    Everyone should know that this problem is so much bigger than the simple photographing of POW’s. This issue has very deep roots and cannot be corrected with a few court martial’s. I am getting sick and tired of hearing how pissed off people are about this issue and how this treatment is not “a true reflection” of the American people. That is such bullshit. No, Americans do not participate in activities such as this on a regular basis, but don’t make us out to be angels and saints. We are far from that. For proof of this just look to our own jail system where prisoners are abused on a daily basis by guards and administrators, or even take a look at our uniformed police officers (use Cincinnati as an example). Unfortunately that is not a sexy topic that Americans like hearing about so most people just avoid it like the plague. If we are so willing to beat up on our own prisoners and citizens why then is it so surprising that abuse would take place against a foreigner in a foreign land?

    I do not agree with the treatment of these prisoners. In fact, just as I posted previously I would never have allowed it let alone participate. I hope that justice prevails at the end of the day, but I am getting sick of hearing the talking heads in the media talk about how this is an aberration. It might be abhorrent, but it is certainly not an aberration. Look at our history…get an education. Sorry, I just had to rant and this place seemed as good as any.

  • May 11, 2004 at 12:05 pm

    Good points, and you’re certainly right about police brutality in American life, although that should never be a reason for us to throw up our hands and declare the situation hopeless.

    So what changes? Beyond the courts martial (that I hope, again, will go all the way up the chain of command), what are the large-scale cultural and contextual things that can be done to lessen the likelihood of such deeds in the future? It’s a tough question, and one without any immediate answer that I can see.

  • May 12, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    I’d like to ask: what is going on now that allows behavior like that of the soldiers towards the prisoners? What goes on here in America that causes them to act out our shadow impulses? Maybe “The American People” are really just plain humans like the rest of the world. Maybe we need to figure out why we are so afraid of facing our flaws and why we need to hold on to this shakey image of perfection even as our institutions fall apart, taking us with them. Any inquiry or trial needs to be thorough and just to avoid perpetuating the problem by scapegoating one person or group of persons. And figuring all of that out is complicated and time-consuming,isn’t it?

    My biggest fear is that the crime will become just another platform issue at the conventions, and we will have forgotten about the horror and the terror we caused and the shame we deserve, while Kerry and Bush use it to bully each other.

  • May 12, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    Joanna, I’m sure Mike has an answer to this. But you’re very on target with your observation that Americans are humans “like the rest of the world” and I like that observation.

    I also find it interesting that gender doesn’t come up in these discussions. Is it too taboo to suggest that gender may play a role in *levels* of violence? Or to even discuss IF it does?

  • May 12, 2004 at 11:37 pm

    Michelle, I think gender does play a big part. And one reason you’re not seeing it discussed is because of the hugely prominent and demonstrative role PFC Lynndie England plays in the initially-seen photographs. She’s a slim, young, conventionally pretty girl, and a smoker, with short-cut brown hair, who in many photos is doing the trigger-finger point towards Iraqi convicts’ genitals. I know you don’t want to look at the photos, but, well, you’re right: there are certainly some gender issues there, both in the photos themselves and in the press coverage. And, having been friends with young enlisted women like PFC England, I don’t know quite how to account for all of it.

  • May 12, 2004 at 11:57 pm

    Joanna, I think I already answered your first question in my original post: what’s going on in America is that the Bush administration has declared people to be “enemy combatants”, without any human rights whatsoever. This, I think, is the source of the contempt for humanity exhibited by these soldiers.

    As such, it’s a rhetorical construct, made very publicly by the Bush administration. I want to believe that Kerry, as a veteran who later opposed the war in Vietnam, might have a different position. So I don’t quite agree with your point about an arbitrary election issue: one candidate seems to me to have a much stronger position than the other on this issue, based on recent events. Bush has yet to publicly admit an understanding of how the events at Abu Ghraib utterly and completely discredit his administration’s foreign policy.

  • May 14, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    They went to free Iraq!!! Not to abuse anyone!
    If most americans are ashamed and mad about the abuse, what do you think that Arabs are feeling?

  • May 14, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    AND we call them Terrorists??????? We need to get the hell out of there and give them their land and dignity back

  • May 14, 2004 at 2:29 pm


  • May 14, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    Three women with Irish names, all commenting within minutes of one another, and all sharing the same IP address and a proclivity for emphatic prose? I’m too fortunate. Thank you, ladies.

  • May 17, 2004 at 1:53 am

    It’s almost funny how worked up people can get over an issue as simple as it is endemic to our society. Limbaugh calls it no more than frat hazing; the powers that be call it “un-American” (whatever that is); the rest of the world calls it arrogant abuse/torture… What I don’t understand is when this type of behavior (guards abusing prisoners) is practiced and rewarded in US prisons in Arizon, Utah and Texas, to name a few, why we are shocked that it has happened in a place worse than Texas? War is bad, war is ugly and all is fair in War… I have never felt bad cheating to win in combat situations, but seriously people, how can we ever face the world without a collective look of shame on our faces I will never know. Wait, we could pull our heads from our asses, get rid of Bush and the cronies of misinformation and get this country back on the right track.

  • June 8, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    check out these links..

    i’m a muslim arab girl.. i respect your feelings and what you all wrote and expressed. we muslim arabs feel way way worse about the mess Amarica did in Iraq the Islamic historical country.
    what i think what worsen any problem with Muslim Arabs and America is miscommunication between the two. there is a great miscommunication and misunderstanding and careless in each to well-know the other. after hundreds of years or more.. throught many centuries.. in communicating with Muslim Arabs in a way or another.. i can tell you and because of all the image the Western world has on Muslim Arabs which caused the abuses on Arabs.. this all is because no one is really willing to know the other, understand what they say and do. this is one. the second reason is when any human see another as a lower level. see them colored, arabs, muslims, just different.. and it means lower than them. God made humans look, think, talk, act, & live different only to see how would they react to the different “others”. And once one forget he was created by one god, with a soul like everyone else and will die as everyone else, once he forget that.. he see himself higher & better.. he subconsiously humilate them by a thought, word or act.
    before September 11, all Arab world used to love America.. we loved your life style and were really influenced by you Americans. we had a great image of “the fair democratic” America even if we always knew that Americans do not love us in return the same way we do!! although, we didn’t care (which was actually strange)! but afterwards.. after pointing on Arabs and especially Muslims for Sep. 11’s we felt fear.. “why all Muslim Arabs??!” we all didn’t do it!! “why America blamed (all) for a crime (some) actually did??!”.. the the war started on Muslims.. Afghanistan then Iraq..
    the Iraq war, and Abu ghraib abuse both were unjustified. they took place based on a pure decision America and others took. belive me, most Arabs thought it was like a hollywood action movie we didn’t believe it could really happen!! we thought America is a legend of justice and a righteous power. no, it isn’t. the American action-movie became a forever nightmare to million humans (humans as Americans), Arabs. humilating one only one human in shouting on him or beating him or phisically abuse him is a sinful crime that could ruin the humilating person himself before the humilated one!!! not humilating millions of humans and in thier own land.. Iraqies. poor humans. although, each human on Earth could be in thier place, no one is excepeted, if god wills.
    but! leaders thinks and sees things quite differently! they want to live more, live better, remain on thier chairs, always rule and lead others as they used to do. they could do anything to stay leaders and powerful. anything. no matter what! “so what if we killed innocent people or non-innocent (no one is sure anyways) in the two tower buildings to have a reason to destroy and own countries and lands.. like Iraq or many comming countries on the list!”
    who is sure about any word newspapers say.. or politicians say? the truth will always be hidden. there are pople who are paid to hide the truth, it is thier job! a history could be earased from memories and changed in books and burned. no one is sure about what is really going on in this world. why people are killed? why countries are being destroyed? why and why.. it’s not a movie anynmore.. it is relaity. and Western poeple do not have good feelings toward Muslim Arabs.. they just don’t as well as they just don’t understand Islam and as they don’t want to try standing where Muslim foots stand. they just don’t give a dman! and it’s ok! but get out of our Arab lands. go & get a life!! go work in your country and make families and live!! don’t kill and pay blood for a unique freedom you want and force other nations to live your freedom!! why don’t you accept the differences?? why can’t you realize that they pure beauty in the world comes from the differences?? why do you want to make all humans your same copy?? this is NOT freedom, can’t you see??!!!
    America today did change one thing at the end! it chagned our love and good image to a very negative one. this is faliure not success. who won the war?! who planned for it? did it end? or it’s just the begining?
    thank god i’m a muslim for one thing (sorry but even if you didn’t well-understand it) thank god because even if it looks like a dark present & future.. but Islam gives us a strength coz it always teaches us how to live as best as we could in struggle. we can do it. we can still have white souls, clean intentions, pure inner selves even if any one of us was beatened to death, lost thier family and beloved ones, or got madly abused.. because in Islam there is one way-out rule which is if a Muslim was forced to do any any thing he does not want then he’d still be pure and on the right path even if he was killed and burried. Heaven is the reward. abused people deserve it.
    Life is God’s creation, he does what he wants, test our inner selves the way He see it.. no problem, (Jeasus & Mohammed faced horrible pains) as he will as he want.. we are still strong and belive in Him in his greatness and in his great will even if we don’t understand it well. even if we cannot see the complete picture as God see it.
    and our lives proves our ends, which means what we choose in life proves the heaven or hell we deserve and end up in. regardless of what we experienced in life.. coz in every situation we have a choice to make.. do this right or wrong. be patient or not. eveyone has a choice in every single situation if he is alive.
    we always have control on our souls and no one else.. no one can weaken or beat or steal our souls.. it is what makes us us! what proves our rightness and what makes us deserve a good end after life. it is not the body that might be forced to do things or that might be in pain and got hurt. it is not the environment we live in if we lost our beloved people and life style.. if we didn’t choose it then we are forced & then we are not really lost. thank god i know and believe in this.
    finally, sorry gentlemen and ladies if i was not a good expressive or if you didn’t understand some of what i wrote or if i had a misspelled words. i hope i speak and write English much better. god bless you & us all

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  • April 26, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    Hi. Im only 16, but im doing research on abuse right now and came across this page. Those pictures brought tears to my eyes. I can only imagine what those people being torutured have gone through, the thoughts and feeling they have. Yanno its amazing how one indivitual could do that to someone and not feel guilt or sympathy. Those people they hurt and made look like fools had families… children. No one in this world, no matter the circumstance should ever be put through that, no one. We talk about being a good nation, and country… look at what our people do to others? We want peace do we? Well that sure in hell wont bring peace. Those soldiers trained to help our country and do good and bring us honor, they didn’t do that. If America wants respect we must show respect… and stripping the enemy down and making them look like fools on camera, taking pictures with our own soldiers beside them smiling does not bring respect from anyone but their selfish inner self. Any person i think who took part in helping commit those horrific crimes should be well punished.. they should never be allowed a position in the army, navy, marines… anything. They make us look like fools… and i thought thats exactly what americans werent? Just something to think about…

  • April 26, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Thank you for the comment, Morgan. The pictures are disturbing, and they raise many uncomfortable questions: questions, as you note, about peace, about dignity — but the flip side to those questions, some people would suggest, are questions about security, about culture. None of them are easy to answer. I’d be curious to hear what conclusions you come to as a result of your research, and would welcome you to post them here, if you’re so inclined.

  • May 3, 2005 at 11:28 am

    That is the nastiest thing i have ever seen people of Amaerica have no right to beat up other human beings like that unless of self deffence i am only 13 but i still know that is the wrong way to go about things how would you feel if they did that to you you might be angery but they did that to you and you did it back you are just as low as they are

  • January 26, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    Great blog, I’m making more time to read the rest of your posts. :P. Keep up the good writing and thanks for your time and efforts writing.

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