Abu Ghraib redux?

More prison abuses uncovered in Iraq

Published November 16, 2005 3:56PM (EST)

It's hard to know just how infamous President Bush's remarks last week that "we do not torture" will become. Will they be as notorious as other nuggets of White House propaganda such as the "Mission Accomplished" slogan that served as a backdrop to Bush's "Top Gun" moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln? Or how about Condoleezza Rice's well-known comments referring to Iraq's supposed WMD program and the potential for a "smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"?

The only reason we bring it up is because some of the recent news out of Iraq reveals that a secret prison was discovered in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad, with reports that the 173 captives -- apparently mostly Sunni Arabs -- held there were subjected to torture. The Interior Ministry's undersecretary for security, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, told CNN flat out that the detainees were being abused and that "I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralyzed and some had skin peeling off various parts of their bodies."

So apparently Bush's "do as we say and not as we do" policy regarding the use of torture in the handling of terror suspects may not be as effective as he had hoped, as it looks as if the Iraqi government could be taking its cues from this president's insouciant attitude toward Geneva Convention principles.

One would think that after the disastrous toll the Abu Ghraib scandal took on America's image abroad, policymakers would be doing everything they can to eliminate this sort of abuse -- by our government and the proxies we work with around the world. But, sadly, this isn't this case. So as Vice President Dick Cheney fights to exempt CIA employees from a torture ban, and news has emerged of secret "black sites" used by American intelligence operatives to "interrogate" terror suspects overseas, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., attempts to deny the rights of habeas corpus to detainees the U.S. has in custody, it seems all too likely that Bush's latest phrase may take the top prize of infamy.

By J.J. Helland

J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York.

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