After U.S. forces captured the prison during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it was placed under the command of Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who led the 800th Military Police Brigade, and in Aug., 2003, was reopened and used to hold criminals and later those suspected of terrorist activities. In September military intelligence officers assumed control of parts of the facility, and the following month Col. Thomas Pappas, head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, assumed command of the prison. In Oct., 2003, International Red Cross (IRC) inspectors detected
serious violations of human rights at Abu Ghraib, and the Army's provost marshal reported grave problems there and at other prisons. As early as April and May, however, the IRC and United Nations had raised concerns about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces. The IRC called some of the violations
tantamount to torture.
In the wake of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 (see 9/11, U.S. President George W. Bush stated (2002) that the Geneva Conventions would not apply to terrorist detainees, who were deemed
unlawful combatants instead of prisoners of war; he also insisted that they would be treated humanely. However, the government sanctioned the use of
enhanced interrogation techniques on real and suspected members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, including such methods as waterboarding (designed to induce a feeling of drowning), which the U.S. military had long considered a war crime. These techniques seem to have been adapted for use at Abu Ghraib, where the military police were encouraged by intelligence officers to
loosen up suspects prior to interrogation.
In Jan., 2004, reports by soldiers of abuse at Abu Ghraib led to an Army investigation headed by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who detailed widespread abuses there in a Mar., 2004, report. Investigations of Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi detention facilities were also conducted and reported by the International Red Cross in Feb., 2004. Beginning in April, reports in the U.S. media explicitly revealed to the public the extent of the physical and sexual abuse of Abu Ghraib detainees, many of whom were civilians who had not been charged; photographs showed the abused, mostly naked Iraqis, some of whom were accompanied by smiling U.S. soldiers. A worldwide outcry followed the release of the photos, and many believe they increased support for the insurgents in Iraq. Later, videotapes of various abuses were also discovered; those and other photographs not seen by the public were described as showing cruel, sadistic, and inhuman acts, including rape, sodomy, and murder.
An Aug., 2004, Pentagon report from a panel chaired by James Schlesinger reported
deviant behavior and a failure of military leadership and discipline at Abu Ghraib. Subsequently, Karpinski was demoted, Pappas reprimanded and fined, and 11 soldiers convicted of crimes. Only one officer, a reserve lieutenant colonel who had commanded the prison's interrogation center, faced court martial, but he was eventually cleared of all charges. The U.S. Defense Dept. rewrote its handbook on interrogation to ban many of the so-called enhanced techniques that had been sanctioned for use in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, but a 2007 executive order by President Bush continued to permit the CIA to use harsh methods in its interrogation of terror suspects. Abu Ghraib was closed as a U.S. military prison in 2006; the Iraqi government reopened it as the Baghdad Central Prison in 2009.
See M. Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (2004); S. Strasser, ed., The Abu Ghraib Investigations (2004); K. J. Greenberg, J. L. Dratel, and A. Lewis, The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (2005); J. Jaffer and A. Sing, Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond (2007); P. Gourevich and E. Morris, Standard Operating Procedure (2008); M. Fallon, Unjustifiable Means (2017); studies by S. M. Hersh (2004), D. Levi Strauss and C. Stein (2004), and T. McKelvey (2007); documentaries dir. by R. Kennedy (2007) and E. Morris (2008).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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