On the third day of the hearing at the army tribunal in Fort Bragg in North Carolina, attention has turned from Lynndie England, accused of having tortured Iraqi prisoners. The tribunal must decide if the female soldier will be court-martialled after, on Thursday 5th August, witnesses revealed the climate of violence, threats and impunity which existed in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.
Special agent Tyler Pieron interrogated the prisoners. He had a long talk with the soldier Joseph Darby on 13th January 2004, the evening on which the latter, at first anonymously, denounced the abuse and handed over a CD containing the famous photographs to corroborate it. “Joseph Darby was concerned for his safety and the lives of the prisoners. He was frightened of corporal Charles Graner and Sergeant Jeval Davis [who will be court-martialled], both known for being extremely violent. They were the big shots of the high security section. According to what I learned from testimonies collected during the investigation into the torture, Corporal Graner seemed to be the leader. He threatened me.” Tyler Pieron added that “abuse was commonplace throughout the prison”.
Israel Rivera, a military intelligence analyst, took part in some interrogations. He reveal what he saw in the high security section of Abu Ghraib at the end of October 2003: “In the night of 24th-25th, three prisoners thrown naked on the floor, their hands tied, and placed in such a way that it looked like they were having sex” with several guards looking on in an amused fashion, including Charles Graner. “Everyone was laughing and having a good time.”
Armin Cruz, who was there and who worked for military intelligence, “explained that the prisoners had been involved in the rape of a boy. ‘One held him and one raped him while the other watched.’ Armin Cruz looked me in the eye and said: ‘you’re not going to tell anyone about this.’”
Israël Rivera didn’t say anything about it until January 2004 when there was an official investigation in Abu Ghraib. Armin Cruz is the first intelligence officer to be exposed for taking part in the abuse.
Special agent Manora Iem also questioned prisoners. “On the way to an interrogation in the high-security section, I remember seeing a prisoner tied to the ceiling of his cell, his arms above his head, feet barely on the ground. When I asked what was going on, the military police officer present told me that was what Iraqi guards did. I alerted my superiors.” In January 2004, Manora Iem was involved in the investigation into the abuse. “I questioned prisoners about the ill-treatment they had suffered. Those who cooperated mentioned corporal Graner, a woman whose description matched Lynndie England and Sergeant Jeval Davis. One prisoner reported having a gun pointed at his head and a guard said: ‘I could kill you if I wanted to.’”
Helga Aldabe-Moreno, a nursing auxiliary, looked after the prisoners. One evening, as she went to visit a sick prisoner in the high-security unit, she remembers seeing “three military police officers standing around a pyramid of prisoners, naked, with their heads covered by a bag. All the prisoners in that area, whether in their cells or not, were naked”.
Rick Hernandez, Lynndie England’s civilian lawyer, quoted a written testimony “reporting the existence of a prostitution network within the military police at Abu Ghraib”.
After three days of hearing, the testimony seems to describe two distinct stories: that of a handful of soldiers, including Lynndie England, who thought they could do whatever they wanted in a prison where the officers seemed to have disappeared; and that, also at Abu Ghraib, of the methods, considered legal by the army, to make prisoners talk. It involved physical and mental pressure, notably sleep deprivation and starvation and the systematic use of nudity. Prisoners that the army wanted to talk obtained clothes as a reward for their cooperation.
Special agent Neal Gruhn worked at Baghdad international airport. He was called in to assist with the investigation into the abuse. He questioned a translator called Musef who worked for the contractor Titan and remembered two incidents. “One prisoner had to cross the entire prison, naked, before being interrogated and another, also naked, when a military police officer put his hand on his hip and asked him if he liked it.”
For the defence, if such methods had not been used, some guards would not have felt authorized to subject prisoners to whatever else took their fancy.
“We now have a clear image of multiple sexual abuse committed by people other than Lynndie England, who are not being charge”, states Rick Hernandez.
Captain Brent Fitch was the legal advisor to the American army in Iraq and tried to defend the institution on Thursday. “If an interrogator wanted to deviate in his approach, he would have to request an exemption. After coming up the chain of command, the request was put to me. I received one or two a week, and General Ricardo Sanchez [who commanded the American forces in Iraq] was informed. If the request was authorised, the interrogation took place in a room with a two-way mirror, which allowed people outside to know what was happening.”
So much for the theory. Captain Jonathan Crisp, Lynndie England’s lawyer, reminded the same Captain Fitch that the army had repeatedly refused the International Committee of the Red Cross access to certain prisoners, contrary to the Geneva Convention recognised by the American army.
The mobile phone: a radical change
Jean François Leroy, director of the Visa pour l’image festival, noticed, at the start of April, just before the Abu Ghraib scandal, a turning point in press photography: “The Reuters agency had broadcast an image showing a Palestinian militant photographing the funeral of another Palestinian with a mobile phone. I never thought that onlookers would vie with professionals. The fact that in twelve seconds, just anybody can send any photograph from a mobile phone changes things considerably!”
Christian Caujolle, director of the Vu agency, adds: “Showing photos of Abu Ghraib at Visa is even more important because these documents signal a radical change in the status of the profession. Professional reporters will have to get used to coexisting with images – I won’t call them photographs – by amateurs and, as a result, redefine their role and their approach.”
At the start of August, the Dutch press agency ANP announced to its clients that it would offer photographs taken by amateurs: “With digitization, lots of people have cameras on them, so they can quickly take photographs of events”, say ANP, who are aware of the risks of tampering. The agency is stepping up its system of collecting images from witnesses which has been used for a long time, notably during disasters and bombings.
Mr Leroy stresses another effect of mobile phones having cameras: “Hopefully, technological developments will make life more difficult for dictators. We’ve learned that the Americans prohibited their soldiers from carrying mobile phones with cameras during operations. It’s ridiculous: how can you rewind technology?”
Michel Guérin, “Le Monde”, 19 August 2004