Children tortured at Abu Ghraib

The biggest story of the Iraq war is not about missing weapons of mass destruction, or about deep-cover CIA officers getting their covers blown by vengeful White House agents, or even about 900 dead American soldiers. These have been covered to one degree or another, and then summarily dismissed, by the American mainstream news media. The biggest story of the Iraq war has not enjoyed any coverage in America, though it has been exploding across the international news media for several weeks now.

The biggest story of the Iraq war is about the torture of Iraqi children.

A German TV magazine called Report Mainz recently aired accusations from the International Red Cross, to the effect that over 100 children are imprisoned in U.S.-controlled detention centers, including Abu Ghraib. “Between January and May of this year, we’ve registered 107 children, during 19 visits in 6 different detention locations,” said Red Cross representative Florian Westphal in the report.

The report also outlined eyewitness testimony of the abuse of these children. Staff Sergeant Samuel Provance, who was stationed at Abu Ghraib, said that interrogating officers had gotten their hands on a 15- or 16-year-old girl. Military police only stopped the interrogation when the girl was half undressed. A separate incident described a 16-year-old being soaked with water, driven through the cold, smeared with mud, and then presented before his weeping father, who was also a prisoner.

Seymour Hersh, the New Yorker reporter who first broke the story of torture at Abu Ghraib, recently spoke at an ACLU convention. He has seen the pictures and the videotapes the American media has not yet shown. “The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling, and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking,” said Hersh. “And this is your government at war.”

Hersh described the prison scene as, “a series of massive crimes, criminal activity by the president and the vice president, by this administration anyway,” and that there has been, “a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher.”

Reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib and other American prisons have been public knowledge since the release of the Taguba Report. Recently, however, some 106 annexes to the report, previously classified, have also been released. U.S. News and World Report detailed the sum of what is contained in these annexes in an article titled “Hell on Earth.”

In it, U.S. News says, “The abuses took place, the files show, in a chaotic and dangerous environment made even more so by the constant pressure from Washington to squeeze intelligence from detainees. Riots, prisoner escapes, shootings, corrupt Iraqi guards, unsanitary conditions, rampant sexual misbehavior, bug-infested food, prisoner beatings and humiliations, and almost-daily mortar shellings from Iraqi insurgents – according to the annex to General Taguba’s report, that pretty much sums up life at Abu Ghraib.” According to coalition intelligence officers cited in a Red Cross report from last May, between 70 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees held in these prisons were arrested “by mistake.” That means they were innocent.

The orders to treat prisoners in this fashion were not manufactured by the few “bad apples” we have heard about, but came from up on high. Brig. Gen Janis Karpinski, former commander of Abu Ghraib and now scapegoat for the abuses, says the truth about where the orders came from would be revealed in the trials of the accused soldiers. Memos ordering the abuse of prisoners were signed off on by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. The Justice Department and Mr. Bush’s senior legal advisor went out of their way to craft arguments justifying this, claiming that torture isn’t really torture and that the president is basically above the law.

Mr. Hersh will revisit this issue within the next several weeks. In the meantime, the American news media has an obligation to report on this situation. Photographic and videotape evidence of this torture is currently in the hands of the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the U.S. Congress and the White House. It must be released.

We invaded a country based upon the false claim that Iraq was allied with al Qaeda. We invaded a country based on the false claim that there were weapons of mass destruction which needed to be destroyed. We promised freedom and democracy, and instead installed a CIA-trained strongman named Allawi who has all but created a dictatorship in Iraq, and who has been accused of killing Iraqi prisoners by his own hand. Nine hundred American soldiers have died so we could do this.

We took thousands of innocent civilians off the streets in Iraq and threw them into hellhole prisons, where they were beaten, raped, and killed. This story has faded from public view because no new pictures of the abuses have come out in the last several weeks. Those pictures are out there, and they show the rape and torture of children. The international media is reporting on it. Coalition ally Norway may be preparing to flee Iraq because of the allegations regarding these children.

Where is the American news media? Where are the pictures? Who is responsible for this abomination? Torturing children in the name of freedom? Is this what we have become?

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books – “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know” and “The Greatest Sedition is Silence.” This article was reprinted with permission from www.truthout.org.