The hidden horrors of Abu Ghraib

The Pentagon refuses to release images of torture at the Iraqi prison.

Published July 25, 2005 4:19PM (EDT)

Last Friday was the deadline set by a federal judge for the Pentagon to release a stash of photographs and videotapes showing graphic proof of the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The government ignored the deadline. Instead, in a secret brief filed with the court, it argued -- as it has done ever since the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the photos last year -- that it shouldn't have to release the evidence.

Nobody knows what the government's latest argument is, but it may have something to do with the hit President Bush's flowery rhetoric may take if pictures of "freedom on the march" are shown to the world. As Editor & Publisher points out in a nice compilation of public comments about the secret images, we haven't yet seen the worst of Abu Ghraib. Not by a long shot.

Donald Rumsfeld said last year that the images in question are "hard to believe," and that what they show "can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane." And here's what Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, said of the pictures after they were screened for members of Congress last year: "The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience... We're talking about rape and murder -- and some very serious charges."

Seymour Hersh, the New Yorker writer who was one of the first reporters to see the pictures, has offered even more graphic descriptions. At an ACLU convention last year, Hersh said: "Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib... The women were passing messages out saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."

No senior Pentagon official has so far lost his or her job over what happened at Abu Ghraib. Is it any wonder, then, that they're so zealously hording every bit of evidence of the horrors that occurred there?

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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