A Confusing Contradiction in the Pentagon’s Torture Photos Story

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I’ve been following Mark Benjamin’s excellent reporting in Salon on the photos being withheld by the Obama administration. After the Telegraph reported Gen. Antonio Taguba’s allegations that photos exist that “show rape” of detainees, Benjamin spoke to Taguba, who did not withdraw his claim that the photos exist but clarified that he was not talking about the photos Obama is withholding, which he hasn’t seen. In the course of investigating Taguba’s claim, Benjamin asked a Pentagon spokesman whether there were any more photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib beyond those that Salon already published in 2006. The official said no. But I’ve read Salon‘s summary of the 279 photos and 19 videos it published in 2006, so I did a double-take at this passage from Benjamin’s article Tuesday:

[A Pentagon] official further clarified that the Defense Department is not withholding any additional images or video of apparent detainee abuse from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Salon published all of that material back in 2006, which included images of prisoners being forced to masturbate and to simulate oral sex. The Pentagon is not aware of any other images of abuse from the prison. “You have the whole set of Abu Ghraib,” the official said. “There are no ‘X Files’ of images sitting somewhere else of Abu Ghraib.”

Back in 2006, when Salon published “the Abu Ghraib files,” the story wasn’t as clear:

While we want readers to understand what it is we’re presenting, we also want to make clear its limitations. The 279-photo [Criminal Investigation Command, or CID] timeline and other material obtained by Salon do not include the agency’s conclusions about the evidence it gathered. The captions, which Salon has chosen to reproduce almost verbatim (see methodology), contain a significant number of missing names of soldiers and detainees, misspellings and other minor discrepancies; we don’t know if the CID addressed these issues in other drafts or documents. Also, the CID materials contain two different forensic reports. The first, completed June 6, 2004, in Tikrit, Iraq, analyzed a seized laptop computer and eight CDs and found 1,325 images and 93 videos of “suspected detainee abuse.” The second report, completed a month later in Fort Belvoir, Va., analyzed 12 CDs and found “approximately 280 individual digital photos and 19 digital movies depicting possible detainee abuse.” It remains unclear why and how the CID narrowed its set of forensic evidence to the 279 images and 19 videos that we reproduce here. [Emphasis added.]

Were those 1000+ photos and 70-odd videos from the first CID report ever released? If not, how does one reconcile the two sets of numbers? I suspect this may be another example of the Pentagon determining that those photos that appeared to show detainee abuse did not (detainees with bruises that were not induced by abuse, for example). That’s one of the things the Pentagon spokesman told Benjamin about a set of 2,000 photos that are the subject of an ACLU lawsuit. In any case, I’ve emailed Benjamin to ask if he can clarify the confusion. I’ll update this post when he responds.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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