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Tracing the Trail of Torture

Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantanamo to Iraq

| Mon Mar. 6, 2006 4:00 AM EST

They told him, "We are going to cut your head off and send you to hell."

Ali Abbas, a former detainee from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, was filling me in on the horrors he endured at the hands of American soldiers, contractors, and CIA operatives while inside the infamous prison.

It was May of 2004 when I documented his testimony in my hotel in Baghdad. "We will take you to Guantanamo," he said one female soldier told him after he was detained by U.S. forces on September 13, 2003. "Our aim is to put you in hell so you'll tell the truth. These are our orders -- to turn your life into hell." And they did. He was tortured in Abu Ghraib less than half a year after the occupation of Iraq began.

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While the publication of the first Abu Ghraib photos in April 2004 opened the floodgates for former Iraqi detainees to speak out about their treatment at the hands of occupation forces, this wasn't the first I'd heard of torture in Iraq. A case I'd documented even before then was that of 57 year-old Sadiq Zoman. He was held for one month by U.S. forces before being dropped off in a coma at the general hospital in Tikrit. The medical report that came with his comatose body, written by U.S. Army medic Lt. Col. Michael Hodges, listed the reasons for Zoman's state as heat stroke and heart attack. That medical report, however, failed to mention anything about the physical trauma evident on Zomans' body --- the electrical point burns on the soles of his feet and on his genitals, the fact that the back of his head had been bashed in with a blunt instrument, or the lash marks up and down his body.

Such tales -- and they were rife in Baghdad before the news of Abu Ghraib reached the world -- were just the tip of the iceberg; and stories of torture similar to those I heard from Iraqi detainees during my very first trip to Iraq, back in November 2003, are still being told, because such treatment is ongoing.

Institutionalizing Torture: Abu Ghraib

While President Bush has regularly claimed -- as with reporters in Panama last November -- that "we do not torture," Janis Karpinski, the U.S. Brigadier General whose 800th Military Police Brigade was in charge of 17 prison facilities in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib back in 2003, begs to differ. She knows that we do torture and she believes that the President himself is most likely implicated in the decision to embed torture in basic war-on-terror policy.

While testifying this January 21 in New York City at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, Karpinski told us: "General [Ricardo] Sanchez [commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq] himself signed the eight-page memorandum authorizing literally a laundry list of harsher techniques in interrogations to include specific use of dogs and muzzled dogs with his specific permission."

All this, as she reminded us, came after Major General Geoffrey Miller, who had been "specifically selected by the Secretary of Defense to go to Guantanamo Bay and run the interrogations operation," was dispatched to Iraq by the Bush administration to "work with the military intelligence personnel to teach them new and improved interrogation techniques."

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