After nearly 12 years of legal battles, the U.S. Department of Defense finally released 198 photos on Friday depicting prisoner abuse committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon refuses to release the remaining 1,800 photos due to the fact that the suppressed images of further detainee abuse are even more grotesque and denigrating.
Six months before the initial publication of Abu Ghraib prison photos, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any records, including photos, related to prisoner abuse taking place in U.S. detention centers overseas. Although the government refused to comply with the FOIA request, a court ordered the Defense Department to release the photos in 2004. While the government appealed the court’s decision, the remaining Abu Ghraib photos were leaked and published online in 2006.
Despite the fact that President Obama promised to release all 2,000 of the prisoner abuse photos, he immediately reversed his decision in 2009 while failing to live up to his false assurances of transparency. On Friday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter finally decided to release 198 photos depicting mostly contusions and lacerations on the heads, torsos, and extremities of detainees abused by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most revealing aspect about the decision to only release 10% of the photos is the DoD does not want the public to know how atrocious and degrading the remaining 1,800 pictures are.
“It forces you to ask what might be in the other photos that are still being withheld,” Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer, told The New York Times. “These ones show individuals with injuries of various severity. What’s in the 1,800 photographs the government still hasn’t released?”
According to the ACLU, the photos still being withheld include images of a 73-year-old Iraqi woman detained and allegedly sexually abused and assaulted by U.S. soldiers. The Army report of the incident describes soldiers forcing the elderly woman to “crawl around on all-fours as a ‘large man rode’ on her,” striking her with a stick and calling her an animal.
Other suppressed photos include images of U.S. soldiers staging a mock execution of a bound Iraqi teenager and the corpse of a handcuffed Iraqi farmer. Muhamad Husain Kadir had been wearing handcuffs when an American soldier shot him dead at point-blank range. The suppressed photo was taken shortly after his death.
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Using the leaked Abu Ghraib photos as a cogent indicator of what the U.S. government does not want released, those macabre images revealed the military’s inhumanity and utter contempt for the Geneva Conventions. The Abu Ghraib photos included images of naked Iraqi detainees covered in blood and feces, as U.S. soldiers forced them to engage in homosexual acts while posing over their battered corpses. A few of the photos included soldiers smiling and posing over the corpse of a detainee named Manadel al-Jamadi.
At the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003, Manadel al-Jamadi died in a shower room under CIA interrogation with his arms tied behind his back. Although former Specialist Charles Graner Jr. was sentenced to 10 years in prison for torturing his prisoners and posing over al-Jamadi’s corpse for a picture, Graner only served six and a half years of his sentence. CIA interrogator Mark Swanner was not charged with al-Jamadi’s death.
In 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released an executive summary detailing the CIA’s use of torture on detainees. According to the summary and related prisoner abuse trials, enhanced interrogations included waterboarding, forced rectal suppositories, beatings, stabbings, electric shocks, and various other forms of torture. Although President Obama issued an Executive Order ending the use of enhanced interrogations, presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have vowed to reinstate torture if elected.
“Today’s release illustrates just a small portion of the real-life horror story that was the U.S. government’s practice of torture,” Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program, wrote in a statement on Friday. “Prosecutors should review these and other documents for evidence of torture and other ill-treatment. These photos are not only reminders of torture committed by U.S. personnel, they may provide potential new evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”
Shah continued, “The torture perpetrated by the U.S. was not just the work of ‘a few bad apples’ – it was systemic and ordered by the highest levels of government. Senior U.S. government and military leaders and others who devised, authorized and ordered abusive and unlawful practices deployed by U.S. forces must be held accountable. There must be arrests and there must be prosecutions. The U.S. cannot – and, frankly, will not – be seen as a leader on human rights if it continues to turn a blind eye to its own abuses.”
Because the DoD refuses to release 90% of the photos depicting detainee abuse, the public can only speculate on the severity and grotesqueness of those remaining images based on declassified military reports and the leaked Abu Ghraib pictures. The Pentagon claims that it must suppress the remaining 1,800 photos because the release of those images would endanger the lives of Americans. But American lives were placed in peril the moment the U.S. government decided to construct a legal justification for committing torture on detainees while imprudently taking photographs and videos of their abused victims.
Andrew Emett is a Los Angeles-based reporter exposing political and corporate corruption. His interests include national security, corporate abuse, and holding government officials accountable. Andrew's work has appeared on Raw Story, Alternet, Activist Post, and many other sites. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewEmett and on Facebook at Andrew Emett.