Monday, July 13, 2009

I've Seen 1,200 Torture Photos

By David Swanson

This moment, in which the Attorney General of the United States claims to be considering the possibility of allowing our laws against torture to be enforced seems a good one in which to reveal that I have seen over 1,200 torture photos and a dozen videos that are in the possession of the United States military. These are photographs depicting torture, the victims of torture, and other inhuman and degrading treatment. Several videos show a prisoner intentionally slamming his head face-first very hard into a metal door. Guards filmed this from several angles rather than stopping it.

The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) of Australia revealed several of these photographs, video of the head slamming, and video of prisoners forced to masturbate, as part of a news report broadcast in 2006. But the full collection has not been made available to the public or to a special prosecutor, although it was shown to members of Congress in 2004. When these photos are eventually made public, I encourage you to take a good look at them. After you get over feeling ill, it might be appropriate to consider Congress' past 5 years of inaction. You'll be able to feel sick all over again.

In January 2004, the military seized photos and videos that were on computers and cell phones at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Those related to the abuse of prisoners amounted, as far as I know, to those in the collection I've looked at. So, this collection does not include images of torture or mistreatment that may have taken place at Abu Ghraib after that date or at other locations at any time. I have reason to believe that such photos also exist in large quantity and depict types of abuses we have not yet seen.

Most people have seen fewer than 100 photographs from Abu Ghraib. I have posted online many of those that have been made public. These are not a bad representative sample of the whole, but they are far from complete. There are, among the more than 1,200 photos, images of prisoners and of military personnel that have not been published. There are gruesome scenes here that we have not publicly seen a single image of. And the images that we have seen are, in most cases, a single image or two from a long series of photos of an incident. In many cases, the collection includes multiple series of images from one event shot with multiple cameras. The public images have in many cases been cropped and/or censored to hide faces or genitals. In the uncropped versions there are, in some cases, additional people in the frame.

Were these Abu Ghraib photos all made public, but those from other times and places kept hidden, and were we unaware of the executive orders, Justice Department memos, presidential signing statements, congressional reports, Red Cross reports, presidential and vice presidential televised confessions, and so forth, the military could still claim this was the isolated work of a few "bad apples". But we would have a better understanding of what that work was.

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