"Do You Pray to Allah?"


"Do you pray to Allah?" one [U.S. soldier] asked. "I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' "

That's from today's Washington Post, in a story about how prisoners were treated at Abu Ghraib. It doesn't make for light reading:

Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets.

The fresh allegations of prison abuse are contained in statements taken from 13 detainees shortly after a soldier reported the incidents to military investigators in mid-January. The detainees said they were savagely beaten and repeatedly humiliated sexually by American soldiers working on the night shift at Tier 1A in Abu Ghraib during the holy month of Ramadan, according to copies of the statements obtained by The Washington Post.

The Post story is here. It is not clear from the Post account whether the prisoners involved in these accounts were suspected of any sort of serious involvement with the insurgency, al Qaeda, etc.

I continue to think (hope) that a thorough and public investigation of the prisoner abuses may mitigate the worst damage done by the scandal. But that may be becoming a ridiculous hope.

Indeed, for all the gasps drawn after Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece about the creation of a super-secret interrogation team, I think most people–in America and elsewhere–are not in the end troubled by the existence of such a squad per se, if its activities are very tightly circumscribed and directed only at known, top al Qaeda suspects such Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It's the idea that the same sort of coercion–and outright torture–is being used indiscriminately on a more-general prison population to absolutely no particular intelligence or military purpose.

Mark Bowden's haunting story in the Atlantic last fall, "The Dark Art of Interrogation," rightly a finalist for a National Magazine Award in the public interest category, asked the difficult moral question, "Many veteran interrogators believe that the use of such methods [i.e. methods that contravene the Geneva Conventions] to extract information is justified if it could save lives….It may be clear that coercion is sometimes the right choice, but how does one allow it yet still control it?" What we may be learning is that there is no good answer to that question.