Abuse of Iraqis 'well thought through'

by Shaoni Bhattacharya

NewScientist.com news service
Abuse of Iraqis 'well thought through'  

The type of mistreatment Iraqi prisoners have suffered
at the hands of US soldiers is unlikely to have
occurred without the knowledge of higher authorities,
say psychologists by contacted by New Scientist -
adding support to allegations that the abuse may have
been condoned by superiors.

The revelation that Iraqi prisoners were being
degraded by their US captors at Abu Ghraib prison in
Baghdad sparked worldwide disgust after graphic photos
emerged in the media at the end of April. The images,
which show naked male prisoners being humiliated, date
back to 2003.

"A lot of people had to be in the know for this to
happen. The very fact people felt confident enough to
take pictures suggests that this was not something
which was a secret," says Ian Robbins, a consultant
clinical psychologist at the traumatic stress service
at St George's Hospital in London, UK, who has treated
both victims of torture and torturers.

In fact, both the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International raised the
alleged abuse of prisoners with US authorities many
months ago. The ICRC's findings from visits to 14
Iraqi detention centres between March and October 2003
prompted "repeated requests to the coalition
authorities that they take corrective action".

A leaked ICRC report reveals how an intelligence
officer in charge at Abu Ghraib had told the Red Cross
when asked about captives being imprisoned in darkness
for days that it was "part of the process".

"The US administration has shown a consistent
disregard for the Geneva Conventions and basic
principles of law, human rights and decency," says
Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary general.
"This has created a climate in which US soldiers feel
they can dehumanise and degrade prisoners with

Rules and regulations

"In all organisations, all teams, troops and people
will replicate in some way the personality of the
number one person in charge - whether it's the
President, down to the general, down to the head of
the jail," says Simon Meyerson, director of the
Institute of Psychology in London. "If you know
there's going to be trouble, you won't do it."

Stansfield Turner, former head of the US Central
Intelligence Agency, says the abuse "indicates the
Bush administration's indifference to laws and rules
and regulations".

"If it was just the actions of a few aberrant people,
they would either have to believe their superiors
condoned what they did, or that they could get away
with it because of lack of adequate supervision," he
told the BBC.

He says the blame must be placed high. "In this case I
think at least a three or four star general should be
fired - and fired immediately."

Hooded and cuffed

Sabrina Harman, a reservist implicated in abusing
prisoners, has defended her actions in emails to the
Washington Post saying she was acting on orders. She
was photographed grinning next to a pile of naked,
bound prisoners.

"They would bring in one to several prisoners at a
time already hooded and cuffed. The job of the MP
[military police] was to keep them awake, make it hell
so they would talk," she wrote.

Robbins told New Scientist: "It looks to me that it
was a well thought through process." He says acts of
ill-treatment by rogue operatives acting alone are
more likely to be routine low-grade violence - "the
odd slapping" - and neglect, such as withholding food
or access to toilets.

He also points out that the methods of humiliation
depicted in the images would be particularly offensive
to Arab men. "If you really wanted to humiliate an
Arab man, you would strip him, have a woman present,
and then have a woman degrade him."

One recent image shows a woman holding a dog lead
attached to the neck of a naked Iraqi man.
Photographing such events is likely to compound the
shame by placing it on record.

Robbins believes the abuses revealed so far could have
been stopped "extremely easily" by senior officers.

Shaoni Bhattacharya