City of Brass

City of Brass


rape at Abu Ghraib? Obama vs Taguba

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

A British newspaper, The Telegraph, is claiming that the unreleased photos from Abu Ghraib include images of rape and sexual abuse of men and women, as Seymour Hersh alleged a few years back. What makes this claim more credible is that they quote as their source, Maj. General Antonio Taguba, who was the lead investigator conducting the official inquiry into the events at Abu Ghraib. That report can be found online via NPR (PDF) and Taguba was forced into retirement by the Bush Administration for doing his job.

The Telegraph story quotes Taguba in an exclusive interview they had with him, though a transcript of the full interview is not available and Taguba has not yet commented. They quote him as follows:

“These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency. … I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan. The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

Now, I argued earlier that these photos should not be released (yet) for precisely the reason that doing so would indeed imperil our troops, contingent on the personal guarantee that President Obama made that the photos contained no new information. However, I also said that if the photos contained new information about further abuse of detainees that went beyond what we already knew, then the need for justice outweighs the harm. President Obama himself said,

“I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

(my emphasis). It’s impossible to reconcile that statement with Taguba’s assertions above. Taguba says that there is no reason, other than a legal one, to release the photos – but the legal reason is sufficient and paramount.

The blunt truth is this: Either Obama or Taguba is lying.

A charitable interpretation might be that Obama did not see all the photos that Taguba saw; one might imagine a scenario where the military filtered the photos they gave him for review. A less charitable interpretation would be that Obama is speaking the technical truth; Taguba’s report did indeed contain allegations of rape (and, much worse – abuse of children) and so these photos don’t represent “new” information in that sense. And a truly exculpatory scenario might be that the photos to which the Telegraph refers are private ones which are not the same photos to which Obama refers.

We don’t know the truth, because we haven’t seen the photos ourselves and cannot judge. That was the risk that Obama took in choosing not to release them – I supported him in choosing to withhold them, but transparency is always a better policy in the long run from a political sense. Had Obama simply released the photos, he wouldn’t be in this political mess.

So far, Obama has not commented on this (and with his upcoming speech in Cairo next week, it’s obvious why). Taguba has not said anything yet either – and it is notable that the official White House spokesman response avoided criticizing Taguba entirely, and just leveled snipes at the British press.

The ball is in your court, Mr. President. My advice is to resolve it before you go to Cairo.

Related: solid diary on this mess over at Daily Kos. Also I am indebted to Thomas Nephew for taking me up on my offer of guest-posting his disagreement (part 1, part 2) to my earlier argument for withholding the photos. That was a good debate, though the response i had originally planned is rendered moot by these new revelations. We will be discussing this at Talk Islam as well. Finally, we need to remember: torture is terror.



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