Army Major Gen. Antonio Taguba used blunt language: “U.S. Army soldiers have committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law at Abu Ghraib … sadistic, blatant, and criminal abuses.”
These were the conclusions in a 53-page report on the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib and Bucca prisons in Iraq which he delivered to the Pentagon in February. The administration covered up the explosive report for more than two months until the story was finally aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” At Pentagon request, CBS delayed airing the story for two weeks until they learned that the New Yorker planned to break the story with an exposé by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
The findings are buttressed by dozens of photographs proving that U.S. occupation troops engaged in torture against Iraqi civilians, most of them innocent men and women caught up in U.S. military sweeps.
That torture was carried out in the very prison that gained infamy under the rule of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military police officers considered their practices so routine that they snapped photos and shot videos as they forced their captives to strip naked, and engage in simulated sex and masturbation. Taguba reported that the soldiers broke fluorescent light tubes over their captives’ backs and poured phosphoric liquid on them, raped a detainee with a chemical light and a broomstick, and unleashed attack dogs that in one case severely maimed a prisoner.
The report reveals that many detainees were beaten or shot to death, some while attempting to escape. Taguba quotes Commander Bruce Falcone of the 220th Military Police Brigade saying that MPs shot three inmates dead last Nov. 23 when “detainees rioted in protest of their living conditions.”
The photographs of these U.S. war crimes are now on the front pages of newspapers everywhere, aired on television in every corner of the globe. It has re-ignited long-ignored reports of torture and abuse in other U.S. military prisons around the world, notably Afghanistan and the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
These revelations expose the hypocrisy in George W. Bush’s claim that he ordered the preemptive invasion of Iraq to “liberate” the Iraqi people. On the streets of Baghdad, Iraqis now say angrily that the “occupation troops removed Saddam Hussein and gave us George W. Bush.” This scandal comes on top of 134 dead and 900 wounded U.S. soldiers in April, the worst month since the war began. The numbers of Iraqi dead are unknown but at least 600 civilians have died in the abortive U.S. siege of Falluja, according to Iraqi doctors there.
Polls show American support for the Iraq war plummeting. The White House is in “damage control” mode, pinning blame for the Abu Ghraib atrocities on low-ranking military police. But the responsibility does not stop with a few MPs or commanders. George W. Bush, the commander-in-chief, must answer for these crimes. Gen. Taguba’s report makes clear that “this systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated” and the perpetrators were encouraged by military intelligence to use torture to “soften up” the detainees to “insure a successful interrogation.”
It brings home with full force why the Bush administration exempts itself from international tribunals on war crimes even as it insists that other nations be held accountable for violations of those same laws.
The Bush administration should be held fully accountable under international law. But we the people must also hold this administration accountable for crimes carried out in our name.
Thirty-five years ago, Americans and the world heard revelations of the massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers in the village of My Lai. Those reports, accompanied by graphic photos of the slaughtered women and babies, sent shock waves through our nation, and U.S. public opinion began to tilt heavily against the Vietnam War.
The My Lai atrocities were part and parcel of a bloody U.S. foreign policy. So, too, the Abu Ghraib crimes must be laid at the doorstep of George W. Bush and his administration’s arrogant war policy, with its utter contempt for truth and for human lives. Bush and his top officials are war criminals who should face an international tribunal.
It’s high time to end their immoral imperial crusade. Iraq must be returned to the Iraqi people. Bring the UN in and bring the U.S. troops home.
And we must redouble our efforts for a huge vote to remove George W. Bush from the White House – the most lawless chief executive in history.