By Sherwood Ross
Muslim prisoners held in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were submerged in water-filled garbage cans with ice or put naked under cold showers in near-freezing rooms until they went into shock, Sgt. Javal Davis, who served with the 372nd Military Police Company there, has told a national magazine.
Davis, from the Roselle, N.J., area, said while stationed at the prison he also saw an incinerator with “bones in it” that he believed to be a crematorium and said some prisoners were starved prior to their interrogation.
Another soldier that had been stationed at Abu Ghraib, M.P. Sabrina Harman---who gained dubious fame for making a thumbs-up sign posing over the body of a prisoner she believed tortured to death---said the U.S. had imprisoned “women and children” on Tier 1B, including one child was as young as ten.
“Like a number of the other kids and of the women there, he was being held as a pawn in the military’s effort to capture or break his father,” write co-authors Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris in the March 24th issue of The New Yorker magazine, which describes Abu Ghraib in a 14-page article titled “Exposure.”
They assert “the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was de facto United States policy. The authorization of torture and the decriminalization of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of captives in wartime have been among the defining legacies of the current Administration.”
They add that the rules of interrogation that produced the abuses documented in the prison ”were the direct expression of the hostility toward international law and military doctrine that was found in the White House, the Vice-President’s office, and at the highest levels of the Justice and Defense Departments.” (President Bush has insisted “We do not torture,” The Associated Press reported on November 7, 2005.)
Imprisoning suspects in a war zone, torturing and/or murdering them, and holding their wives and children as hostages, are all banned practices under international law. Some prisoners died from rocket attacks on the compound.
Harman said she didn’t like taking away naked prisoners’ blankets when it was really cold. “Because if I’m freezing and I’m wearing a jacket and a hat and gloves, and these people don’t have anything on and no blanket, no mattress, that’s kind of hard to see and do to somebody---even if they are a terrorist.” (Note: the prisoners were suspects, not terrorists, being held without due process on charges of which they were often ignorant and without legal representation.)
Harman said the corpse she posed with likely was murdered during interrogation although a platoon commander said he had died of a heart attack. Harman and another soldier, Corporal Charles Graner unzipped his body bag and took photos of him and “kind of realized right away that there was no way he died of a heart attack because of all the cuts and blood coming out of his nose.” Harman added, “His knees were bruised, his thighs were bruised by his genitals. He had restraint marks on his wrists. “
Asked why she posed making a “thumbs up” gesture over the corpse, Harman said she thought, “Hey, it’s a dead guy, it’d be cool to get a photo next to a dead person. I know it looks bad. I mean, even when I look at them (the photos) I go, ‘Oh Jesus, that does look pretty bad.’”
The corpse, said to have died under interrogation by a CIA agent, was identified as that of Manadel al-Jamadi. An autopsy found he had succumbed to “blunt force injuries” and “compromised respiration” and his death was classified as a homicide, The New Yorker article said. The dead man was removed from the tier disguised as a sick prisoner, his arm taped to an IV, and rolled away on a gurney, apparently as authorities “didn’t want any of the prisoners thinking we were in there killing folks,” Sergeant Hydrue Joyner, Harman’s team leader, told the magazine.
Harman said she saw one naked prisoner with his hands bound behind his back raised higher than his shoulders. This forced him to bend forward with his head bowed and his weight suspended from his wrists and is known as a “Palestinian hanging” as it is said to be used in Israeli prisons, Gourevitch and Morris write.
In a letter to a friend Harman described “sleep deprivation” used on the prisoners: “They sleep one hour then we yell and wake them---make them stay up for one hour, then sleep one hour---then up etc. This goes on for 72 hours while we fuck with them. Most have been so scared they piss on themselves. Its sad.” On one occasion, she wrote, sandbags soaked in hot sauce were put over the prisoners’ heads.
The CIA agent that interrogated al-Jamadi at the time of his “heart attack” was never charged with a crime but Harman was convicted by court-martial in May, 2005, of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, dereliction of duty and sentenced to six months in prison, reduced in rank, and given a bad-conduct discharge.
Five other soldiers involved in taking pictures were sentenced to terms of up to ten years in prison. Gourevitch and Morris write, “The only person ranked above staff sergeant to face a court-martial was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.”
Sergeant Javal Davis, describing Abu Ghraib generally, said the prison reminded him of something out of a “Mad Max” movie, explaining, “The encampment they were in when we saw it at first looked like one of those Hitler things, like a concentration camp, almost.” The inside, he said, is “nothing but rubble, blown-up buildings, dogs running all over the place, rabid dogs, burnt remains. The stench was unbearable: urine, feces, body rot. Their (prisoners’) rest rooms was running over. It was just disgusting. You didn’t want to touch anything. Whatever the worst thing that comes to your mind, that was it --- the place you would never ever, ever, ever send your worst enemy.”
When a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the prison in October, 2003, they were denied full access (contrary to international law) and, The New Yorker said, “what they were permitted to see and hear did not please them: men held naked in bare, lightless cells, paraded naked down the hallways, verbally and physically threatened, and so forth.”
The ICRC reported the prison was plagued by gross and systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions, including physical abuses that left prisoners suffering from “incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions…suicidal ideas.”
(Sherwood Ross is a Miami, Florida-based journalist and veteran public relations consultant who suspects the Bush regime may be bad for the image of the United States. He is founder of the Anti-War News Service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)