Not since Vietnam have widely publicized images registered in such an intimately disturbing way. By depicting the smiling, relaxed faces of soldiers in command of naked, huddled and often faceless figures, the photographs bypass our socialized filters and strike to some appalled and agitated place in all of us. At once casual and formally contrived, static and sadistic, the Abu Ghraib photographs are, in some way, horribly compelling.
And then what to make of the thunderclap that followed, with the grainy, premonitory video stills that freeze-frame those moments before the Nicholas Berg beheading? We are all witnesses, willingly or not, to a collective haunting at the precipice of human behavior. These unguarded images have accomplished that in a way no other dispatches from Iraq have.
Abuse, torture — call it what you will: Graphic depiction of captors forcing their captives to strip, pose and play-act in sexual scenarios violates the basic moral and ethical grounds on which the Geneva conventions rest. Darker deeds are suggested as well. One photograph shows a hooded and robed prisoner perched on a wooden box with arms outstretched and electric- shock wires attached to both hands.
Critics of the war and its aftermath found compelling, confirming evidence of a toxic foreign policy. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, defending his troops and his job, insisted that the sins of a few must not be an indictment of the many.
Psychologists, human rights workers, religious thinkers, editorialists and election-year politicians weighed in with their own carefully measured perspectives. And then there was the catharsis line of reasoning from talk radio pundit Rush Limbaugh.
The shots at Abu Ghraib fall somewhere in between, which may contribute to their vexing fascination and unshakable persistence. Taken in a casual way for as yet unclear purposes, the photographs have none of the grit, grandeur or tenderness that mark conventional wartime photography.
Here, instead, we have the leering, frat-party prank of Pfc. In another image, U. Charles Graner stands, arms folded, behind a heaped pyramid of crouching naked bodies. The jovial mood is jarring and discordant. So is the offhand, snapshot look of the photos. Some are carefully, woodenly posed, like shots of tourists in front of a roadside monument or Grand Canyon view.
Others, such as the blurry view of tightly leashed dogs snarling at a cringing naked man, are the hurried candid action shots of a camera hungry to catch it all. Then, too, there are the echoes that any photographs of unclothed prisoners touch off. None of this fully accounts for the insinuating force of these photographs. Their mere existence and wide-scale distribution cast an implicating stain. What happened at Abu Ghraib cannot be compared to the lawless murder of black men over all those decades.
No moral equivalence is intended or should be drawn. But our experience through photographs of the prison abuse is uncomfortably familiar. The shameless dash and carefree bravado of these images are intrinsic to the sense of evil unleashed. That the release of these deeply unsettling photographs was followed by the grisly videotaped murder of Nicholas Berg seems dreadfully fateful, regardless of the actual motive of that killing.
None of this will — or should — fade from our consciousness soon. These photographs will be an American family album of our haunted memories. E-mail Steven Winn at swinn sfchronicle. Thursday, May 20, The photos, broadcast on Thursday, show Army Specialist Charles Graner grinning with his thumbs up as he peers into the camera over an unidentified body lying on a black body bag. A second almost identical picture was taken of Specialist Sabrina Harman over the same body. Both were shown on CNN television.
Both photographed soldiers are among seven US guards at Abu Ghraib charged with prisoner abuse. One of them, Jeremy Sivits, was sentenced to one year in jail on Wednesday in Baghdad, in the first court martial over the prisoner abuse scandal.
Numerous photographs of US soldiers posing before naked, hooded and often handcuffed Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib have made the round of international media since last month. Hundreds more have been shown only to US lawmakers and kept by the Pentagon as evidence in upcoming courts martial.
The widespread abuse — which the Red Cross has said is tantamount to torture — has severely sullied US reputation in Iraq and the entire Arab world. Charles Graner, purportedly shows Graner with military intelligence and military police personnel at Abu Ghraib prison. William Calley, who claimed he was just following orders when he directed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. But it could help the Army guards accused of abusing Iraqis inside the Abu Ghraib prison avoid long sentences, and just might get them off the hook entirely, if they can prove there were such orders and establish who gave them, experts in military justice say.
President Bush characterized the abuse as the failings of a few renegade soldiers and promised that those responsible will be quickly punished. One of the seven guards, who tearfully pleaded guilty in Baghdad Wednesday and will testify against the others, has said that the mistreatment was not authorized by superior officers. Sivits told military investigators. But most of those accused said they were just following the orders of intelligence officers and civilian contractors who told them to humiliate the prisoners and thereby make them more willing to reveal information.
In letters home to his family, Staff Sgt. Some members of Congress want to investigate whether the Bush administration erected a legal foundation that opened the door for the mistreatment by announcing in that al Qaeda detainees did not qualify for protection by the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits mistreatment.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Military law experts could not recall a single case in which the superior orders defense completely cleared a defendant, but said it often works to reduce prison time.
Davis, 26; Frederick, 37; and Graner, 35, face charges along with Spc. England, 21; and Spc. Graner can be seen grinning broadly behind a pile of naked Iraqis in one photograph; others show England holding a naked prisoner by a dog leash and Ambuhl posing with detainees on leashes.
Harman is seen smiling over a pile of naked prisoners. Davis is said to have stepped on the toes and fingers of prisoners. Frederick is accused of forcing prisoners to masturbate and form naked human pyramids.
A teary-eyed Sivits, 24, took some of the most explosive photographs. He pleaded guilty to four reduced abuse charges — the equivalent of misdemeanors — and is expected to testify against others.
Eleven were sentenced to death, three were acquitted and the others were sent to prison. In Vietnam, the defense did not help Calley, who was sentenced to life in prison in for ordering his Charlie Company to kill everyone in the village of My Lai. Still, some believed he was made a scapegoat for an undisciplined Army, and President Nixon ordered him released after three years.
The defense may be more successful in the prison-abuse scandal than in cases involving genocide or murder. There is no dispute that murder is wrong, and that an order to commit murder would be an unlawful order. But laws governing proper interrogation tactics are more open to interpretation. It is unclear whether fellow soldiers on the court-martial juries would be sympathetic toward the accused. Many serving in Iraq may blame the scandal for making their tour more dangerous.
Then again, they also know how hard it can be to disobey a potentially illegal order, said David Sheldon, a Washington-based military attorney. The photo is one of the hundreds of unreleased pictures and videos that display techniques not seen in earlier images of prison abuse. Washington Post A US soldier with his right arm and fist cocked appears prepared to strike one detainee in a pile of detainees in the Abu Ghraib detention facility outside Baghdad.
Washington Post An unidentified soldier appears to be kneeling on naked detainees in a photo from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Washington Post In what appears to be a hallway, a hooded detainee, seems to be handcuffed in an awkward position atop two boxes.
Washington Post photo A U. The new pictures and videos go beyond the photos previously shown in the media, displaying a variety of abusive techniques and U. Photos and videos from Abu Ghraib were presented to Army investigators in January. The images began surfacing publicly last month, severely damaging the U. The Post said one video clip showed five hooded and naked detainees standing against the wall in the darkness, each masturbating, with two other hooded detainees crouched at their feet.
Another segment of video showed a prisoner handcuffed to the outside of a cell door, slamming his head into the green metal, the newspaper said. Another photo showed a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit recoiling from a snarling dog, it said. In a description of some photos the article said: A prisoner in flexible handcuffs is made to use a banana to simulate anal sex. Two naked male detainees are handcuffed to each other.
A naked detainee hangs upside down from a top bunk. But in one photo a soldier is seen cocking his fist as he holds a hooded detainee in a headlock amid a pile of several detainees. Later he is seen kneeling atop the pile, flexing his muscles, a broad smile on his face, the newspaper said.
Congress and that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had warned might become public. A Pentagon spokesman was not immediately available for comment. Lawmakers saw more than 1, images from the investigation of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.
The Post also said it had obtained 13 previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the prison that further detailed abuse. Many of the detainees described how they were sexually humiliated and assaulted, threatened with rape and forced to masturbate in front of female soldiers, according to the newspaper.
The statements added allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals and forced to retrieve their food from toilets, the newspaper said. By Randy Dotinga Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor Buffeted by a roiling debate over explicit images of violence, American news organizations are walking a fine line between good journalism and bad form as they try to cover the war in Iraq without alienating readers and viewers.
Is it time to downplay the prison-abuse photos to help protect US soldiers, or time for the media to throw all its unpublished images onto the Internet? This photo is one of hundreds depicting the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the hands of US soldiers.
Mainstream newspapers and major TV networks have been groping for a middle ground as they cover both the prison-abuse scandal and war casualties while rejecting the most violent and obscene images. Some TV news programs chose to show the moment when Mr.