New Prison Images Emerge
Thursday, May 6, 2004
The collection of photographs begins like a travelogue from Iraq. Here are U.S. soldiers posing in front of a mosque. Here is a soldier riding a camel in the desert. And then: a soldier holding a leash tied around a man's neck in an Iraqi prison. He is naked, grimacing and lying on the floor.
Mixed in with more than 1,000 digital pictures obtained by The Washington Post are photographs of naked men, apparently prisoners, sprawled on top of one another while soldiers stand around them. There is another photograph of a naked man with a dark hood over his head, handcuffed to a cell door. And another of a naked man handcuffed to a bunk bed, his arms splayed so wide that his back is arched. A pair of women's underwear covers his head and face.
The graphic images, passed around among military police who served at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, are a new batch of photographs similar to those broadcast a week ago on CBS's "60 Minutes II" and published by the New Yorker magazine. They appear to provide further visual evidence of the chaos and unprofessionalism at the prison detailed in a report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. His report, which relied in part on the photographs, found "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" that were inflicted on detainees.
This group of photographs, taken from the summer of 2003 through the winter, ranges widely, from mundane images of everyday military life to pictures showing crude simulations of sex among soldiers. The new pictures appear to show American soldiers abusing prisoners, many of whom wear ID bands, but The Post could not eliminate the possibility that some of them were staged.
The photographs were taken by several digital cameras and loaded onto compact discs, which circulated among soldiers in the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cresaptown, Md. The pictures were among those seized by military investigators probing conditions at the prison, a source close to the unit said.
The investigation has led to charges being filed against six soldiers from the 372nd. "The allegations of abuse were substantiated by detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence," Taguba's report states.
For many units serving in Iraq, digital cameras are pervasive and yet another example of how technology has transformed the way troops communicate with relatives back home. From Basra to Baghdad, they e-mail pictures home. Some soldiers, including those in the 372nd, even packed video cameras along with their rifles and Kevlar helmets.
Bill Lawson, whose nephew, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, is one of the soldiers charged in the incident, said that Frederick sent home pictures from Iraq on a few occasions. They were "just ordinary photos, like a tourist would take" and nothing showing prisoner abuse, he said.
"I would say that's something that's very common that's going on in Iraq because it's so convenient and easy to do," Lawson said of troops sending pictures home. He added that his nephew also mailed videocassettes "of him talking into a camcorder to [his wife] when he was going on his rounds."
But in the case of prisoner abuse, the ubiquity of digital cameras has created a far more combustible international scandal that would have been sparked only by the release of Taguba's searing written report. Since the "60 Minutes II" broadcast, pictures of abuse have been posted on the Internet and shown on television stations worldwide.
The photographs have been condemned by U.S. military commanders, President Bush and leaders around the world. They have sparked particularly strong indignation in the Middle East, where many people see them as reinforcing the notion "that the situation in Iraq is one of occupation," said Shibley Telhami, who holds the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.
The impact is heightened by religion and culture. Arabs "are even more offended when the issue has to do with nudity and sexuality," he said. "The bottom line here is these are pictures of utter humiliation."