Exposed at Abu Ghraib: Torture of U.S. Rule

Revolutionary Worker #1240, May 16, 2004, posted at

Day after day, there is more. Much more. More horrific pictures, depraved videos, and the heart-rending testimony of former prisoners.

The U.S. interrogators, officially called "Human Exploitation Teams" (HETs) have been terrorizing, raping, torturing and murdering prisoners in Iraq.

When Secretary Rumsfeld testified before Congress on May 7, he admitted that even more evidence was going to come out. "It's going to get a good deal more terrible, I'm afraid," he said.The next day, senior military officials told NBC News that the next round of images showed U.S. soldiers beating an Iraqi prisoner to the brink of death, and guards raping a Iraqi female prisoner and young boys held in Abu Ghraib.

A British government envoy, Ann Clwyd, now reports that last year at Abu Ghraib, U.S. soldiers put a harness on an elderly Iraqi woman and made her crawl on all fours, while one of them rode her like a donkey.

Former female prisoners have reported repeated torture-by-rape in the women's wing of Abu Ghraib. And there is new proof that U.S. interrogators repeatedly tortured people to death around the world.

The shock of the published pictures has brought millions of people face to face with the actual deeds of U.S. occupation. Here is a glimpse of a long-suppressed, heatedly denied reality--and the reactions have been explosive. This gruesome evidence is shattering U.S. government claims to be liberators--in Iraq or anywhere else.

These atrocities were no "exception" or "aberration." The techniques of Abu Ghraib were developed and refined over decades of vicious interrogations in all the many wars and interventions the U.S. has waged. There are countless people, who in countless prison cells all over the world--including in the U.S.--have seen this face of U.S. rule.

Look at those photos again: This is what U.S. domination and U.S. democracy looks like.

For many people in the U.S., that truth is as shocking and difficult as the photographic evidence itself. Many in the U.S. desperately want to believe that the U.S. army is "the good guys." Many look at the relative prosperity and "democratic" trappings of U.S. society--including its so-called "rule of law" and electoral procedures--and assume that this (or something like it) is what the U.S. troops would bring to foreign countries.

And even in oppressed countries, there is a widespread tendency to believe that the goal is, somehow, to win for their countries the kind of democracy (and the corresponding economic conditions) that seem to exist in the U.S.--even while the U.S. is directly oppressing them!

And with such views come the dangerous hopes that a U.S. invasion might (perhaps, somehow) prove to be a "good thing" (especially for those with "failed states," or harsh governments or desperate crises of famine and genocide). Such false hopes are reinforced, every day, by this government, the media and the democratic opposition.

After it became clear there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (and so the invasion was not some act of preemptive "self-defense")--the White House then claimed that the invasion was to "liberate" the Iraqi people from the horrors of their past government. And now, every discussion of these atrocities is accompanied by disclaimers that none of this ("of course"!) reflects the larger U.S. mission, or its role in the world, or its motives, or the usual behavior of its troops.

These are illusions. And the evidence of Abu Ghraib shows how dangerous those illusions are.

Here is the sharp contradiction playing itself out before our eyes: The troops of the great "democratic superpower" storm into Iraq and carry out the most outrageous fascist atrocities. They label anyone who falls into their hands "terrorists" and then arrogantly proclaim that none of the rules of war or basic humanity apply. On one level the torturers of Abu Ghraib were determined to identify the networks of resistance in Baghdad, but on another level the outrages of this prison and similar prisons were designed to simply brutalize the many thousands of prisoners who passed through their hands--to terrorize the whole larger population outside.

This shows, in a profound way, the nature of this war--which is not a mission of "freedom and democracy"--but an imperialist invasion to dominate Iraq and the surrounding Persian Gulf, to seize control of the labor, wealth and strategic territories of this region, in direct opposition to what the people living there need and want.

And on an even deeper level, it reveals that the political and economic system of the U.S. (including the democratic trappings of its political system) rest in fundamental ways on the continued and expanded exploitation of people all over the world--and on fascist terror in the oppressed nations.

Sometimes this reality comes to the surface.

This is just such a time.

The real guarantor of the stability and capitalist "democracy" in the U.S. is not the stacks of laws or pompous courtrooms. It is the calculating bomber pilot dropping bombs on Fallujah, the secret Delta-Force death squad invading the Philippines, the brutal CIA torturer of Abu Ghraib and a dozen other prisons around the world. They are there to defend the U.S. domination over vast stretches of the globe, and they do it through the most brutal and ruthless suppression of the people--because both history and the current situation teaches these killers--and the ruling class that commands them--that this is the only way that their ugly mission can be done.

The victims of Abu Ghraib, at great risk, are stepping forward to speak. Whistle-blowers at various levels in the U.S. have dared to expose these photos and events. People all over the world have demanded to know more, and are piecing together the facts that emerge. All this has created a rare glimpse into the usually clandestine and secretive workings of an empire.

Everyone needs to take a clear-eyed look at the hard truths this brings to the surface.

What America Has Done

"This does not represent the America that I know."

President George Bush, May 5

During the U.S. invasion a year ago, Iraqi people stormed the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. They freed the prisoners and left a ruined, empty shell behind. Now we know that the U.S. occupation authorities rebuilt this prison.

While they talked of "liberating" Iraq's people, their troops and interrogators were busy torturing, raping and murdering Iraqi people. The majority of these prisoners, according to the Pentagon's own report, were civilians caught up in the military sweeps of Baghdad neighborhoods and held without charges or trials.

When the U.S. high command learned in January that photographic evidence of torture was circulating on CDs-- they quickly tried a massive cover-up. They secretly transferred some low-level soldiers, retired their commander, commissioned a secret internal report on the potential damage, and then tried to prevent CBS from reporting on the pictures.

The pictures leaked out anyway--including sexual tortures, forced masturbation, handcuffing naked men to each other in piles. Female soldiers had been brought in to mock the naked prisoners and, in one case, hold an Iraqi man on a leash, like a dog, as he curls up naked on the ground in agony. More leaks followed--of how prisoners were kept naked in tiny isolation cells, without ventilation or toilets. And how prisoners were forced to beat each other.

The internal (and previously suppressed) Pentagon report was then revealed by reporter Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine. This report on Abu Ghraib by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba documents "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses"--including using attack dogs on prisoners and "sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps with a broomstick."

Now, unable to deny such crimes, the U.S. government is doing damage control. On May 7, Rumsfeld said that the tortures of Abu Ghraib were "inconsistent with the teachings of the military to the men and women of the armed forces, and it was certainly fundamentally un-American."

Let's tear off the blinders and illusions--and look at things the way they really are!

Over and over U.S. forces have carried out the most ruthless suppression and torture of resistance forces, and even more widely they have hired and unleashed local death squads to do the dirtiest work for them.

The stories of these atrocities are a history of modern American interventions--from the "tiger cages" of Vietnam to the death squads of El Salvador and the torture chambers in Pinochet's Chile. The U.S. has sent its CIA trainers to places like Peru and Nepal--where government torturers daily rape and brutalize captured Maoist guerrillas. To this day, the U.S. Army maintains its notorious "School of the Americas" at Fort Benning, Georgia-- where military torturers, death squad leaders, counterinsurgency experts and coup-makers are trained for the armies of Latin America.

Yet President Bush announced after the pictures of Abu Ghraib came out, "That's not the way we do things in America."

Right there we have to stop and again challenge his lies!

Not only are such atrocities standard for the operations of the U.S. forces around the world, they are vividly familiar to many people who live inside the United States itself. The U.S. is a starkly divided class society. Perhaps those with privileges and status believe Bush's words, and can't imagine themselves being stripped, beaten and sodomized behind bars in the U.S.

But many people here in the heart of the empire have a very different view of "the way we do things in America."

How many of our youth are beaten in courthouse elevators and ordered to give up the names of their posse? How often are limp corpses are taken out of police interrogation rooms, with paperwork that says "found hung in his cell"?

Ask the prisoners of America about the widespread rape and humiliation behind bars--and whether it is officially encouraged as part of the punishment!

Ask Abner Louima about police rape with a broomstick. And ask the people of Black and Latino communities how often police torture and murder is covered up, denied, or else blamed on a "few bad apples."

Come look in the dark stifling punishment cells of state prisons where prisoners are thrown in naked and then forgotten.

Come look at the high-tech hell of California's Pelican Bay SHU--where prisoners are tortured using sensory deprivation cells and forced to fight in gladiator contests by their guards.

The photos from Abu Ghraib repeatedly show Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. in photographs giving the "thumbs up" over piles of naked Iraqi men. This same Graner was originally trained as a guard in SCI Greene--the notorious prison in southwestern Pennsylvania where political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is held on Death Row, and where the racist abuse of prisoners has been scandalous.

Torture on Command

"What took place in that Iraqi prison was the wrongdoing of a few."

President George Bush, May 8, 2004

"What we have described is part of a pattern and a broad system."

Red Cross director Pierre Kraehenbuehl, May 7, on how his teams found abuse and torture in U.S. prisons in Iraq

"We were told that [Military Intelligence] had different rules."

Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26, guard at Abu Ghraib

The U.S. government insists--in every possible forum--that the atrocities of Abu Ghraib were just the horrible acts of a few "bad apples" (with perhaps some troubling "laxity" in the chain of command). But this shameful cover-up theory is shredded from every side.

The torture process in Abu Ghraib was a carefully constructed operation. Professional teams of interrogators from the CIA and Marine Military Intelligence set up a "hard site" within Abu Ghraib prison--where they tortured, interrogated and killed prisoners. They trained MPs to "soften up" the prisoners first--using the extreme and brutal means revealed in so many photos. And to do this they gathered experienced and sadistic prison guards from the U.S. and put them in charge of a squad of gung-ho cop-wannabees, and trained the crew in psycho- logially targetted brutality and humiliation.

The Pentagon's own Taguba report documents that the abuses were "systematic" and that interrogators from Military Intelligence (MI) and the CIA "actively requested that guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses." These low-level MPs would never have posed, leering, for these photos of torture and swapped them so casually if they didn't see all this as an approved part of their "jobs." The interrogators told the guards, "Loosen this guy up for us," and "Make sure he gets the treatment"--and praised them saying, "Good job, they're breaking down real fast."

These operations in Abu Ghraib was fine-tuned on orders from the high command. Last summer the high command was reportedly dissatisfied with the information gotten out of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. They sent Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller (commander of the top-secret military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba) to Abu Ghraib in early September. One general said Miller described his task as "Gitmo-izing" the operations at Abu Ghraib- -meaning that the methods put in place were copied from the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.

One of Miller's recommendations (known from the Pentagon's Taguba report) is that MP prison guards should act as "enablers for interrogation," breaking down prisoners through abuse.

The torture by low-level MPs was only the opening--in a process that led to the real interrogation by professional "human exploitation teams." Very little is known about those tortures, and not a single intelligence officer or "civilian contractor" of those "HETs" has been charged or even named in these events. The employers of the contract torturers claim that the Pentagon never made any complaints to them.

One thing that is becoming clear: The methods of the HETs were even more extreme than the abuse by MPs. The HET in Abu Ghraib routinely brought in captives without paperwork, so there would be no records when such "ghost detainees" were tortured to death. A photograph shows one of these dead, packed in ice for later disposal. The diary of one prison guard refers to this dead man as an "O.G.A. prisoner." (O.G.A. stands for "Other Government Agency" a term used for the often-unnamable CIA.) The CIA moved prisoners around to hide their actions from Red Cross teams.

U.S. Army officials told Reuters that at least 25 prisoners have died in U.S. custody. There are investigations into at least 13 of these deaths--including several CIA murders of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Global Network of Torture

"If you don't cooperate, we'll just send you to Guantánamo."

Threat made by U.S. interrogators to prisoners all over the world

"A Briton released from Guantánamo alleged that, as in Abu Ghraib, sexual humiliation was identified by U.S. officials as a way of breaking Muslim detainees. Abuse allegations against the U.S. have now surfaced in Iraq, Guantánamo, Bagram, in Afghanistan, and even in Gambia, where a British businessman told the Guardian he was threatened with rape and beatings while being questioned by U.S. agents."

Guardian , May 6

The U.S. is holding prisoners in a network of prisons across the world--and these operations are wrapped in intense military secrecy.

In Guantánamo, Cuba, the U.S. government has held more than 700 prisoners from 44 countries--without charges, trials or public evidence--and claimed that the facilities are outside the reach of U.S. courts and not covered by the Geneva Conventions. The Guantánamo Bay camp is literally a "law-free zone" where the U.S. president and his agents claim the right to do whatever they want--including executing them after secret "military tribunals."

In Iraq, the U.S. holds at least 10,000 prisoners, with very little accounting. There are no charges or trials. Often their families know nothing about them. But now we are all starting to find out the kind of treatment they have gotten.

In Iraq too the U.S. is creating "law-free zones"--operations, including interrogations, are increasingly performed by "private contractors" who are outside Iraqi law and U.S. military law.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. has held large numbers of prisoners in a network of secret camps--also usually with no charges, trials, legal access, or family notification. Human rights organizations have charged widespread abuses here-- including beating and exposure to freezing temperatures. At least two deaths are being investigated as murder.

And meanwhile, there is a global system of "rendering" U.S. captives to allied countries for torture-- including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Morocco.

Resolve, Arrogance and Crisis

"The United States has been humiliated to a point where government officials could not release this year's international human rights report this week for fear of being scoffed at by the rest of the world."

New York Times editorial, May 7

"We are in danger of losing something much more important than just the war in Iraq. We are in danger of losing America as an instrument of moral authority and inspiration in the world. I have never known a time in my life when America and its president were more hated around the world than today."

Thomas Friedman, major Middle Eastcolumnist and expert, May 6, 2004

Everywhere across the planet, people reeled in horror over the photos of leering U.S. torturers and their victims. Opponents of U.S. domination feel emboldened. Victims of the U.S. feel encouraged to speak out and fight back. Supporters of U.S. domination feel betrayed and isolated.

Overnight a heated debate has erupted in the ruling class over how to recover, and how to press ahead. The divisions within the U.S. ruling class are sharpening. There have been open calls, in the Congress and editorial pages, for the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld. There is open talk in some ruling class circles that the U.S. presence in Iraq may now be too "radioactive" to pull off its own victory over the resistance. And there is a sickening mix of apology and arrogant resolve from Bush and Rumsfeld and their top generals--who claim, of course, that they did not know and will not tolerate. And yet in the middle of all this, the U.S. military has launched new bloody attacks in Shiite strongholds across southern Iraq.

The tremendous turmoil of this period, what Chairman Avakian calls that "cauldron of contradictions," is churning fiercely. The desperate attempts by the U.S. to suppress resistance in Iraq has produced these monstrous crimes--but then they have come to light in a way that allows millions of people to catch a glimpse of the true face of U.S. domination. Opposition is both broadening and hardening, even while the crisis has intensified some rather deep fractures within the U.S. ruling circles.

It is a moment to seize.


"If one is conscious of the reality that the world is dominated by imperialism, and if one has any inkling of the consequences of this for the great majority of the world's people, then one should feel compelled to help shatter the whole imperialist system and its entire framework, to remake social relations on an international scale."

Bob Avakian, Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?