excepts from my 2004 article on Abu Ghraib

Philadelphia City Paper 20-26, 2004
Military Cave-In
What do the Abu Ghraib photos really mean?

by Lewis Whittington

Sometimes a picture is worth more than even a thousand words because it records history. Such is the case with the Iraqi prisoner-abuse photos. Interrogators know that evidence brought forth through physical and psychological torture is contaminated, so what was this really about?

The media proliferation of these images since they were first aired on 60 Minutes II ignited a raging military and political scandal that has government officials scrambling for the damage-control buttons. Last week, the Pentagon made more pictures and video footage of Iraqi POW and detainee abuse available to Congress and the Senate. Members described the evidence as being more of the same, but even worse. For the moment, though, the Nick Berg slaying has put the release of the new crop on hold since the Pentagon thinks it could incite similar atrocities.

That the horrific secrets will eventually come out doesn’t mean that the conspiracy of silence among the military won’t be protected. Facts will be manipulated and officially obscured in an attempt to contain the growing political firestorm. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even beat a quick retreat to Iraq last week for a PR morale mission after being grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee about the abuses.

The images are not simply proof of soldier misconduct; they are proof of military anarchy at a time when the president is trying to insinuate democratic idealism into Iraq as the model way of life for Arab countries. It is not a stretch to think that despite quick-fix efforts, the global reaction will hinder U.S. efforts to bring democracy to Iraq.

What fueled the reaction beyond what might seem like the isolated cruelty by a few was that they included seemingly routine scenarios of coercion involving handcuffing, sodomy and forced real or simulated sex acts mostly among male detainees. But for all the coverage, there is one aspect of the photos that has not been discussed: Some of the shock of the images is that they contain simulated or forced homosexual sex.

Military brass acting surprised at the use of these methods is a further deception. Forced homosexual sex is a long-standing method of psychological and physical submission. Even in ritualized “hazing’ among new recruits, these methods to break soldiers have a long and sullied history in the U.S. military.

…The military is now initiating a ban on any coercive techniques. One wonders that if the incidents were so isolated, what are the brass calling a unilateral halt to?