No backlash expected over recently-released prison photos
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq — Multi-National Corps Iraq officials say they aren’t anticipating a backlash from recently released images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003, and they believe the release is part of a campaign “to discredit the coalition.”
“It’s a rehash of the same story,” said Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, a coalition spokeswoman.
“There are certain things … that indicate this is not a coincidence,” Martin-Hing said of the Abu Ghraib photo release coming just days after a videotape showing British soldiers beating young Iraqi men was aired, and after cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in European newspapers caused rioting and deaths in several countries.
“It seems to be a very coordinated information campaign to discredit the coalition,” she said.
Asked who would be behind the campaign, Martin-Hing said, “We have to try to figure that out. It’s almost like a chess game. You have to figure out who it is, and what they’ll hit you with next. We know the enemy is very smart.”
Martin-Hing said force-protection measures would not change. She also said that protests in Iraq over the cartoons had been peaceful, and that a protest in Basra regarding the video of British soldiers beating Iraqis drew only 300 people, from a population of 1.5 million.
The Abu Ghraib images were aired Wednesday on an Australian television news show, and are apparently the same as those the U.S. government has fought to withhold from public release since 2004, when abuses at the prison first came to light and caused worldwide outrage.
The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit to force release of the photos, and a federal judge in New York ruled that they should be released. The Justice Department is currently appealing that ruling.
Thursday, the ACLU renewed its call for an independent investigation into what it calls widespread and systemic abuse in U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“We continue to see undeniable evidence that abuse and torture has been widespread and systematic, yet high level government officials have not been held accountable for creating the policies that led to these atrocities,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said in a press release.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says the incidents at Abu Ghraib during that period have been fully investigated, more than 25 servicemembers have been disciplined, and the treatment of detainees has been improved at all Defense Department facilities.
Nine American soldiers, all enlisted reservists, were convicted of charges related to abuse at Abu Ghraib and sentenced to punishment ranging from discharge from the Army to imprisonment.
Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, spokesman for U.S. detainee operations in Iraq, said abuses pictured in the photos are a thing of the past.
“Things are totally different from that time frame,” he said. “The leadership is down within the camps 24 hours a day, seven days a week telling the soldiers the right thing to do so you don’t have the abomination that happened.”
Rudisill said he didn’t know if detainees now at Abu Ghraib were aware of the just-released photos. Detainees now get five different Iraqi newspapers, he said, but he said he didn’t know if those papers would run the photos, or, if they did, whether those pages would be removed before the papers were distributed.
“We may not show them that,” Rudisill said. “We’d do that for the concern of both the soldiers and the detainees.”