A boy no older than 11 years old was among the children held by the US army at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, the former US commander of the facility told a general investigating abuses at the prison. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski did not say what happened to the boy or why he was imprisoned, according to a transcript of her interview with Major General George Fay released by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The transcript of the May 2004 interview was among hundreds of pages of documents about Iraq prisoner abuses the group made public after getting them under the Freedom of Information Act. Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib from July to November 2003, said she often visited the prison’s youngest inmates. One boy “looked like he was eight-years-old,” Karpinski said.

“He told me he was almost 12,” Karpinski said. “He told me his brother was there with him, but he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother. He was crying.”

Military officials have acknowledged that some juvenile prisoners had been held at Abu Ghraib, a massive prison built by Saddam Hussein’s government outside Baghdad. But the transcript is the first documented evidence of a child no older than 11 being held prisoner. Military officials have said that no juvenile prisoners were subject to the abuses captured in photographs from Abu Ghraib. But some of the men shown being stripped naked and humiliated had been accused of raping a 14-year-old prisoner.

The new documents offer rare details about the children whom the US military has held in Iraq.

As more details come out about Abu Ghraib the public recoils from staring into the abyss and seeing the truth of what we have become. These acts were not isolated acts by abberant soldiers, but systemic to the culture of the military, overlooked and even encouraged in the pursuit of information on the Iraqi resistance. Since this appalling scandal broke the administration has worked over-time to pin the blame on low-level grunts and studiously ignored the complicity of senior officers, the CIA, the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and President Bush, who signed the memorandum that authorized the use of torture on Gonzale’s advice; all rewarded with the most senior positions in U.S. government.

Four detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch from the al-Bataween group in October 2004 reported that three children were among those arrested (see above). One of those interviewed, a Sudanese national, said the children “were brought to the interior ministry’s detention facility with us and were tortured and beaten just like us. They were kept there for fifteen days, and when we were moved to the Tasfirat [Transfer Prison], the officials there refused to accept them. We don’t know what happened to them after that, but we heard that they were released.”

So it appears that children were not only detained by Americans but beaten and tortured too.

Documents released by the ACLU posted online recently describe substantiated incidents of torture and abuse by U.S. Marines, including:

  • ordering four Iraqi juveniles to kneel while a pistol was “discharged to conduct a mock execution” (Adiwaniyah, June 2003)
  • holding a pistol to the back of a detainee’s head while another marine took a picture (Karbala, May 2003)
  • severely burning a detainee’s hands by covering them in alcohol and igniting them (Al Mumudiyah, August 2003), and shocking a detainee with an electric transformer, causing the detainee to “dance” as he was shocked (Al Mumudiyah, April 2004).

A Few Bad Apples?
The ACLU have documents that only scratch the surface of the abuse carried out by American soldiers but include entries like this:

Investigation initiated after Playboy Magazine published an article in May 2004, titled “Death and Dishonor,”alleging that soldiers of the 1/15th Infantry Battalion, 3d Brigade, 3d Infantry Division (Ft. Benning, GA), committed numerous war crimes. Soldiers quoted in the article alleged that soldiers assigned to the 1/15th Infantry Battalion had, among other things, raped Iraqi women while on patrol and while guarding a mall in Baghdad, shot an unarmed Iraqi while he was fleeing, hog-tied him and physically assaulted him, “dug inside wounds of EPWs [enemy prisoners of war] while they were incapacitated”; indiscriminately shot unarmed civilian women and children; and shot wounded Iraqi soldiers.

In a signed statement, one member of the battalion said that another had had sex with Iraqis but that he didn’t “know if they were raped or were prostitutes or just wanted sex.”The same soldier states that he “overheard a conversation that [redacted] stuck his fingers in an open wound of a POW”.

Another soldier states that “POW treatment in most cases was very good”but notes one exception in which another soldier hit detainees, burned them with cigarettes, and “stepped on the balls of the POWs”. The soldier who abused the detainees also “stuck his fingers”in the wound of an Iraqi whose arm had been shot.

Another soldier states that he saw “a bus that he suspected contained dead women and children, but [that] it had occurred prior to his unit coming to that area”. The soldier who had sex with an Iraqi woman stated that the sex was consensual and that he had paid the woman $10.

The investigation determined that “there are indications that the allegation of abuse of an EPW while in custody could have occurred; however, there were no direct witnesses and the suspect is deceased. There was no credible information developed sufficient enough to substantiate the allegation”. The investigation was closed on or about July 26, 2004.

In many allegations of abuse, investigations have similarly been closed due to a lack of credible information, even though there were eye-witnesses. In addition to highlighting the torture and abuse of Iraqis by U.S. Marines, the ACLU documents suggest the existence of an internal culture of secrecy.

For example, when describing the Marines’ “rough handling” of Iraqi prisoners, one Navy corpsman noted, “there was a lot of peer pressure to keep one’s mouth shut.”“Abuse of detainees was not aberrational,” said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer. “The Defense Department adopted extreme interrogation techniques as a matter of policy.”

To See is to Know
To see is to know. To know and not speak out? How complacent are westerners! Abu Ghraib diminishes us all. I recoil from these things naturally for I cannot help but put myself in the place of Iraqis who have been debased in this way. On one level it horrifies me but on another I see how the images of the torture also feed and confirm the blatant rascism of those in the west who participate as willing or unwilling voyeurs of this hell reminiscent of Bosch’s art and remain silent. It confirms the superiority of the western values, only we can torture so openly. It is this that we want to impose on others.

Most regimes hide their human rights abuses but when we are exposed, we brush it away as no different from high school pranks. The pain and humiliation of tortured Iraqis is compared to what passes for the everyday in high school? Collectively, hearts sink and western civilization is seen for what it is, a culture based on the subjugation of those we deem to be savage. There is no savagery we will not stoop to, to destroy the savage. Projecting our own savagery, we are blind to the truth that the savage is us.

It is no longer shocking to read of further abuses now that the truth is out. There has been little curiousity about the culture that turns out torturers en masse. None. We were asked not to question the rationale for war because that would undermine the morale of the troops torturing and killing in Iraq, as if they needed cheer-leaders to do what they do so unthinkingly. Support the troops! Let me make this clear I do not support the troops. I would never support murder and torture for any reason, ever!

I am glad that there is a growing movement within the US military to oppose the war, for it is only the soldiers who can stop this insanity. I support them in their endeavours and hope more have the guts to refuse to fight in any more wars for Israel. An increasing number are beginning to talk about their experiences. This is the place where the Americans are the most vulnerable and the Pentagon does not like to talk about, hence the culture of silence and the pressure on soldiers to keep silent.
Thus far, the numbers, compared to Vietnam, are still small. The Pentagon estimated in 2003 that

nearly 3,000 soldiers had deserted — that is, had been AWOL for more than a month — and the number has since grown. The Pentagon says it is not actively trying to track the cases down. A number of things have changed since Vietnam: the volunteer army replaced the draft, conscientious objector criteria are much narrower, Canada is not (yet) an option (although at least a half-dozen soldiers are petitioning for refugee status there; in one case, an effort to have the Iraq war declared illegal has already failed).

But what is the same as Vietnam is a growing sense among soldiers that the civilian politicians making the decisions are prosecuting a pointless, unjust war — and lying about their reasons for it. Established groups, including Veterans for Peace, and new ones, such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, are opposing the war, working to support resisters` and educating GIs about viable alternatives to war…

Many of the current crop of resisters describe similar stories: being deployed to Iraq and seeing that most of the dead there are civilians, that the war is being fought on its own momentum. Many originally believed in the war — the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, the links to 9-11 — but have become skeptical. In most cases, the resisters are not claiming pacifism — they did, after all, volunteer to join the military — but have developed a specific objection to Bush’s war in Iraq. In many cases, soldiers have come to the belief that the war itself is illegal – and thus, so are the orders to fight in it.

You can lock ’em up… Just Don’t Mention the President…
There is another area of weakness that the US administration have and it should be exploited to the hilt, that while the architects of torture go unpunished is that low level grunts were solely responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib. It could never have happened without the full complicity of their senior officers, CIA, Pentagon and ultimately Bush, who on the “advice” of Gonzales, authorised the use of torture.

There seems to be more recognition of the illegality of the war; when officers begin to speak out against Abu Ghraib torture I am inclined to think that the Pentagon and Bush and Blair are heading for disaster. They need soldiers and officers to fight their dirty wars but some are speaking out at last.

What offends me about the Abu Ghraib torture is that the US army and Bush administration have made scapegoats of the lower enlisted soldiers, all of whom have testified that they were following orders. No officer or person of any consequence has been held accountable for what went on in that dark prison.

Since the Nuremberg trials, the world has rejected the “just following orders” defence, and rightfully so. Yet in the military, the lower enlisted are ingrained not to ever question authority until they have a position from which to do so. It is the officers and non-commissioned officers who are responsible for what happens under their noses.

To my knowledge, the army has tried and convicted only two non-commissioned officers, a sergeant and staff sergeant, for their roles in the prison scandal. The other five that the army is holding accountable are all of the rank of specialist or below; four pled guilty, and two are awaiting trial.

Beyond that, the army has relieved some officers and senior non-commissioned officers from their commands, most famously the female Brigadier General that was in charge of the 800th Military Police Brigade that ran Abu Ghraib. But none have been tried in a court of law and held accountable, and as far as I know the army has no plans to do so.

As a former officer, I find this disgraceful. The officers at the top only have the job of supervision – you have to “inspect what you expect”, as one of my old first sergeants used to say. If officers are doing their jobs, talking to the troops, walking the grounds, seeing things with their own eyes, keeping their ears open, there is no way the tortures that occurred at Abu Ghraib could have happened without their knowledge, and they are guilty, at the very least, of complicity.
The issue of accountability for [torture] abuses could ultimately become a populist issue. Soldiers and veterans groups could complain that troops are being made into scapegoats, and that the Pentagon and CIA have sold them down the river.

Groups like Soldiers for the Truth and Veterans for Common Sense have already spoken out against higher-level impunity and are starting to ask tough questions. Why are the current investigations only focusing on lower-level troops like Charles Graner and Lynndie England? Why are the grunts paying for the crimes of the Pentagon top brass, the civilian hawks and the CIA spooks?

Some of the troops still being prosecuted for abuse are exploiting the argument further. Several Navy SEALs facing trial in California for killing an Iraqi detainee in November 2003 have made this case, and threatened to drag the CIA into court as part their legal defense. The government appears to have cut deals with some of the SEALs to keep them quiet. A similar situation is unfolding in a case at Fort Carson, Colorado. And David Passaro, the former CIA contractor on trial in North Carolina, recently invoked a “superior orders” defense. He says he is being made a patsy by the government.

While the focus is on the actions of soldiers at Abu Ghraib, the officers responsible for overseeing them are cleared of any wrongdoing and rewarded with high-profile jobs.

“We were only doing our jobs!”
March 15, 2005: Two of the top officers who served under Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in Iraq — and were responsible for oversight of the units at Abu Ghraib detention facility at the time — have been given new high-profile jobs.

Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, who served as chief of intelligence for Sanchez, will take command of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., on Wednesday.

Cleared of wrongdoing by military investigators, Fast will be handed the colors of the service’s main intelligence training schoolhouse from Gen. Kevin Byrnes, the commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, according to Fort Huachuca spokesman Maj. Paul Karnaze.

The top post at the Intelligence Center has been vacant since Maj. Gen. James A. Marks left in June. Although Fast arrived as Marks was leaving with orders to take over the school, her assignment was put into a nine-month limbo as investigators looked into her role in Abu Ghraib scandal.

An investigation led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger released in August criticized Fast, finding that she “failed to advise (Sanchez) properly on the directives and policies needed” for interrogations and for inadequately monitoring CIA operations at the detention facilities.

Since then, however, internal Army investigations have cleared Fast of any wrongdoing.

“She’s maintained that she had a job to do and got on with,” Karnaze said. While he said Fast will offer a brief news conference after assuming command, he does not expect her to entertain questions about Abu Ghraib.

“Her focus is on the future now,” he said.
Others sadly no longer have a future and the lives of their families will forever be marred by the pain and suffering caused by losing their loved ones.

Senate say “They are not torturing detainees”
In the meantime the US senate drag their feet over investigating US interrogation and torture. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (an architect of the torture who approved its use) commissioned 10 reports all of which found that, surprise, no policy set by senior government officials contributed to the cases of abuse.

March 15, 2005: “Let me assure you again the Senate Intelligence Committee … is well aware of what the CIA is doing overseas,” said Roberts, who acknowledged that there have been problems. “They are not torturing detainees.”

He said launching a formal investigation would consume a great deal of energy, given the committee’s other priorities, and noted that the CIA’s inspector general and the Justice Department are conducting investigations.

He described documented cases of abuse as isolated incidents, saying that “a small group of individuals may have acted on their own in violation of the rules.” Roberts said the committee would open its own inquiry only if it found “any shortcomings” in investigations already underway at the CIA and the Justice Department.

The CIA report is expected to be concluded soon. “I believe the system is working,” Roberts said.