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2004-04-30

Abu Ghraib: New Warden, Same Prison

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As CBS broadcasts pictures of U.S. soldiers committing acts of abuse against Iraqi prisoners, we go to Iraq for a report on the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad where thousands of Iraqis are imprisoned and subjected to human rights abuses by their new jailers–the U.S. military. [includes rush transcript}

The US military is pursuing a criminal investigation into allegations that US soldiers committed acts of abuse, humiliation and torture against prisoners in Iraq.

CBS News this week broadcast pictures said to have been taken last November and December inside the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad where US forces are holding thousands of prisoners captured since the beginning of the invasion.

One picture depicts an Iraqi soldier standing on a box with wires attached to his hands. He was reportedly left on the box for a long period and told that he faced electrocution if he fell off. Another shows prisoners kneeling on each other in a human pyramid, naked except for hoods covering their heads. Another shows naked prisoners being forced to pretend to have sex with one another. Many of the photographs show US soldiers smiling and flashing thumbs-up signs.

US officials revealed last month that six soldiers faced courts martial for possible violations of the rights of Iraqi prisoners they had been guarding, but offered few details at the time.

The investigation began when a US soldier from the prison reported the abuse and turned over the photographs, which eventually found their way to CBS.

Following the airing of the photographs, US officials now admit that the affair has become even more far-reaching.

  • Aaron Glantz, of Free Speech Radio News reports on human rights abuses of Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’ll continue now with the next segment. The U.S. military is pursuing the criminal investigation into allegations that U.S. soldiers committed acts of abuse, humiliation and torture against prisoners in Iraq. CBS News this week broadcast pictures said to be taken last November and December inside the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison near Baghdad, where U.S. forces are holding thousands of prisoners captured since the beginning of the invasion. One picture depicts an Iraqi soldier standing on a box with wires attached to his hands. He was reportedly left on the box for a long period and told that he faced electrocution if he fell off. Another shows prisoners kneeling on each other in a human pyramid, naked except for hoods covering their heads. Another shows naked prisoners being made to pretend they’re having sex with one another. Many of the photographs show U.S. soldiers smiling and flashing "thumbs up" signs. U.S. officials revealed last month that six soldiers face court martials for possible violations of the rights of the Iraqi prisoners they have been guarding, but offered few details at that time. The investigation begam when a U.S. soldier from the prison reported the abuse and turned over the photographs which eventually found their way to CBS. Following the airing of the photographs, the U.S. officials now admit that the affair has become even more far-reaching. Aaron Glantz of Free Speech Radio News reports on the human rights abuses of Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad.

AARON GLANTZ: The mighty Tigris river runs through the center of Abu Sifa, a farming village an hour’s drive north of Baghdad. Cattle graze on the side of the road and date palms sway in the wind. Rejan Mohammad Hassan stands in front of the rubble that was her house and recalls the night last summer when the American Army took her sons and destroyed her house.

REJAN MOHAMMAD HASSAN: Early in the morning, they took us from the home and asked us to stand around. When we asked them, the Americans started to beat the women. After that, two tanks came to our house and started to shoot, using the machine guns on top of the tanks, and then two from the head of the tanks.

AARON GLANTZ: By the time the American Army left Abu Sifa an hour later, 73 men from the village had been rounded up, including all four of Rejan Mohammad Hassan’s sons. Villagers say the Americans didn’t find the arms caches they were looking for, but the soldiers did confiscate several trucks and large sums of cash. Nine months later, 15-year-old Ahmed tar Hassan is only one of two villagers to have emerged from custody.

AHMED TAR HASSAN: For the first six days, we were all staying in open fields surrounded by razor wire. There was no tent and no mat under us, and we were exposed to the sun and the rain. There were no toilet facilities, so we had to relieve ourselves out in the open. It was impossible to sleep. Every night the American soldiers threw pebbles at us all night long.

AARON GLANTZ: Eventually Ahmed says he was transferred to Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. There he was held in solitary confinement in a three-foot by four-foot cell. The same cell used to keep political prisoners during the reign of Saddam Hussein. He says he was not allowed outside to exercise. He says he was not allowed to see his family, and not allowed to see a lawyer.

AHMED TAR HASSAN: At night they would throw a dog in the cell to frighten me. It was kind of a wolf dog, a police dog. One of the soldiers just entered into the cell every night. Every night it was a different soldier and his dog and finally a Japanese man from the Red Cross visited us. I talked to him. After that, they stopped bringing the dog.

AARON GLANTZ: Ahmed says that the dog went away after he complained to a Red Cross observer who came to his cell. After nine months in prison, the American military released Ahmed tar Hassan, never charging him with any crime. Stories like these are commonplace in Iraq, and have been easy to find for most of the year-long occupation. Few Iraqis are likely to be shocked by the photos shown on "60 Minutes" this week, photos which show American soldiers in uniform posing with naked Iraqis. In one picture, an Iraqi prisoner is shown standing on a box with his head covered, wires attached to his hands. The military says he was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted. Many here are disgusted by statements like this one from Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt:

MARK KIMMITT: What would you tell the people of Iraq? This is wrong. This is reprehensible, but this is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are over here. I’d say the same thing to the American people. Don’t judge your Army based on the actions of a few.

AARON GLANTZ: A report released last month by Amnesty International notes regular reports of torture and beatings perpetrated against prisoners in American custody. The report also alleges prisoners are regularly subjected to sleep deprivation, hooding and bright lights. While noting the allegations are as yet unproven, Amnesty International condemns the American Army for not allowing independent monitoring of the prisons. Sa’ad Sultan Hussein, lawyer for the American-appointed Iraqi Ministry for Human Rights says that the occupation force has promised to allow his agency to open an office at Abu Ghraib, but so far the Americans have only given his teams guided tours of the prison.

SA’AD SULTAN HUSSEIN: I have only seen what they wanted me to see. We didn’t enter the room for interrogation. We were not aloud to witness any interrogations.

AARON GLANTZ: Then there are those who have simply disappeared into American custody. It’s been a year since 70-year-old Boyad Said Jassen last saw his son, Riyadh, who was conscripted into the Iraqi Army to fight the American invasion. He said Riyadh was last seen at a battle at Al Yousefia 15 miles south of Baghdad.

BOYAD SAID JASSEN: A friend of my son told me my son was wounded, and that the Americans picked him up and took him, but to where, nobody knows.

AARON GLANTZ: Boyad Said Jassen quakes as he speaks. He says he visited every American prison in the Baghdad area, including Abu Ghraib, before hearing about the Anglo American P.O.W. Prison at Um Qasr in southern Iraq. During last year’s war, George Bush’s "coalition of the willing" took more than 7,300 prisoners.

BOYAD SAID JASSEN: I went to Um Qasr in al Basra, a prison run by the British and American forces. I described the situation. And when they checked their computer, they said my son’s name is in their record. So I asked them where he is, and they told me, "we can’t tell you now because of the security situation."

AARON GLANTZ: Again, Sa’ad Sultan Hussein, chief lawyer for the Ministry of Human Rights, appointed by the Bush administration:

SA’AD SULTAN HUSSEIN: The major problem that Iraqi people suffer from is random capture by the U.S. military. They have disappeared and no one can tell where they are or the reason for their capture. They even don’t allow the families to visit them and the Geneva Convention says they must allow the families to visit.

AARON GLANTZ: Another of those missing in custody of the U.S. military is the eldest son of Hussein Salem Khleff. On April 6 last year during the middle of the war, Hussein’s entire family was traveling down a main road south of Baghdad, fleeing the front in the family mini bus.

HUSSEIN SALEM KHLEFF: We were surprised by the American forces. They just started shooting over the car. My brother was on top of the trailer carrying a white flag of peace. A bullet hit his leg. The American forces came towards us and then the Americans climbed on the trailer. When they saw that a bullet hit his leg, they called for a medic.

AARON GLANTZ: After a half hour wait, Hussein Salem Khleff says an American medical helicopter came and took his son away. That’s the last time that Hussein saw his son.

HUSSEIN SALEM KHLEFF: They told me we are heading for Baghdad, but when he gets well, we will bring him to the same place he was wounded. I have searched for him in every American base. Nobody can tell me where he is.

AARON GLANTZ: A year after his son disappeared, Hussein Salem Khleff has given up on formal processes. He has taken to posting photos of his missing son on lampposts around Baghdad. He’s asked Arab satellite TV stations like al-Jazeera to show the photo on a regular basis. So far, nothing has worked. For Democracy Now!, I’m Aaron Glantz in Baghdad, Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Aaron Glantz from Free Speech Radio News reporting from Baghdad. You’re listening to Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in 60 seconds.

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