The American military made a strange and ill-starred decision when it chose to incarcerate Iraqis in Abu Ghraib, the prison that had become a byword for torture under Saddam Hussein and a symbol of everything the invasion of Iraq was supposed to end. As United States officials have known for months, some of the American soldiers brought their own version of sadism to the site. Now that the rest of the world knows as well, the Bush administration will have to do more than denounce the scandal as the work of a few bad apples.
Last week, CBS News broadcast pictures of a handful of smirking soldiers, male and female, abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners. While the news — and the pictures — rocketed around the globe, the military revealed that most of the guards in the pictures were already under arrest and that Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski of the Army Reserve, who ran the military prisons in Iraq, had been admonished and suspended from command in January. Now, months later, the military says it is investigating the allegations.
But it is far from clear that the American brass has done everything it needs to do. Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared on CBS yesterday to offer assurances that "we took very quick action to investigate that situation." But General Myers said he had not yet read a corrosive internal report on the military prison system written in February. "It's working its way to me," he told Bob Schieffer of CBS.
That report, prepared by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, was described by Seymour Hersh in this week's New Yorker. He quoted General Taguba as saying the military police and intelligence officials had committed "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses," including sodomizing a prisoner "with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick..."