New Details About Abu Ghraib Abuse
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TERENCE SMITH: The Washington Post published the photos in today’s edition and on its Web site. On the front page, an un-muzzled guard dog menaces a terrified, kneeling detainee whose hands are strapped behind his back.
Inside the paper: A shackled and hooded detainee bent at the waist, atop a pair of boxes, one ankle appears cuffed to the door handle behind him; a naked prisoner smeared with a brown substance made to parade before a soldier wielding a baton; a prisoner, again hooded, collapsed and shackled to a railing; a soldier kneels on a naked detainee as four of his comrades watch; lastly, a soldier prepares to strike a hooded prisoner held in a headlock on the floor. In addition, the Post put video images on its Web site showing more physical abuse and sexual humiliation. The paper also published sworn statements from Iraqi prisoners taken by military investigators.
Ameen Saeed al-Sheikh, a detainee with a broken leg, told investigators: "They handcuffed me and hung me to the bed. They ordered me to curse Islam and, because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion. They ordered me to thank Jesus that I’m alive." Another prisoner, Asad Hamza Hanfosh, described his treatment: "When they took me out of the car, an American soldier hit me with his hand on my face. And they stripped me naked and they took me under the water and then he made me crawl the hallway until I was bleeding from my chest to my knees and my hands."
The Post described the new materials as part of evidence assembled by Army investigators preparing criminal cases against soldiers at the prison. The paper did not disclose when or from whom it obtained the photos and statements.
TERENCE SMITH: We’re joined now by The Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie. Leonard Downie, welcome to the broadcast. Can you tell us what you see as new and different in these photographs from those that we’ve seen before, and these prisoner statements?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Well, first of all, the prisoner statements are the first time that we’ve had the words of the abused prisoners saying for themselves what happened to them as opposed to other people’s accounts of that which we think is very important as new information, and the photographs, the few that we’ve chosen to publish on the Web site and in the newspaper, add to our visual knowledge of the kinds of abuse that went on there. We purposely chose photographs that would show abuse that had not been shown before.
TERENCE SMITH: Do these photographs seem to involve more people than the handful of military police who have already been charged with crimes inside the prison?
LEONARD DOWNIE: These photographs primarily show various ones of the seven, MPs who so far have been charged. Some of the photos we’ve run earlier, as you may recall, show other people milling around in the background whom some of the MPs have identified not by name but by profession as either contractors who are military intelligence people who were conducting interrogations, but we still need to determine who those people are.
TERENCE SMITH: Do the pictures or the statements suggest who might have been in charge, who might have order such interrogations?
LEONARD DOWNIE: No, not yet, so we’re — so we’re continuing to do reporting, including what the MPs themselves may have said in their statements to investigators and other kinds of reporting to try to determine exactly that.
TERENCE SMITH: When you read through these statements, and you mentioned in the paper today that you have what some 65 pages of them —
LEONARD DOWNIE: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: When you read through them, does a pattern emerge of the way people were treated or interrogated?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Well, actually, the only pattern is one of humiliation. I’m afraid that the details, as you move from one statement to another, are much more voluminous than I realized, a whole variety of different ways in which these prisoners were humiliated. It makes for very difficult reading.
TERENCE SMITH: And what — when you were confronted with this and you had to decide what to show and what not to show, what guided your decision on that?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Each time that we’ve come up, we’ve had new photographs to make decisions about — we followed roughly the same procedure which is that we’re looking for, in discussions of senior editors, including our photo editors, we’re looking for which pictures are relevant or will add new important information to our readers within the bounds of taste, what would be tasteful to publish in a newspaper. There are many, many photographs of very explicit nakedness and of a sexual nature and sexual taunting of the prisoners that we couldn’t possibly print in a newspaper.
TERENCE SMITH: How many photos does the Post have?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Oh, we now have hundreds and hundreds of photos, a number of which are photos of abuse and others are photos that the soldiers took of their lives in the prison.
TERENCE SMITH: And these, if I understood the story today correctly, are actually part of the investigative record. This is material that’s being gathered to press these charges?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Yes. These particular photos, these particular videos, and these particular statements are part of the investigative body that the government has.
TERENCE SMITH: We’re beginning to hear some criticism of news organizations, of their continuing to run these pictures, some voices in Congress and elsewhere have been raised. Is there, in your view, any risk of piling on?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Oh, obviously we don’t want to do that, and we don’t want to disturb our readers unnecessarily, but so far I believe we’ve chosen images that — there haven’t been that many images that we’ve actually published when you think about it, probably less than two dozen in total, that do give important information to our readers without being excessive.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you have more that meet your standards for advancing the story, widening the information about what happened there? In other words, do you intend to publish more?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Well, we may well. It depends. We continue to look at pictures where we don’t completely understand what’s going on, and then yet where we haven’t fleshed out an explanation for what’s happening in those pictures. Some of those may turn out to be relevant in the future.
TERENCE SMITH: Did you seek comment or reaction from the administration or the Defense Department before publishing these?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Yes, we did, as we always do, and I think there are two paragraphs in the main story today of what the government had to say.
TERENCE SMITH: And did they or did anyone in the government ask you not to publish these?
LEONARD DOWNIE: No, that has not occurred.
TERENCE SMITH: Has it occurred before?
LEONARD DOWNIE: No, no, it has not, during our reporting of conditions in Abu Ghraib prison.
TERENCE SMITH: And finally, I mean, what does all this say to you when you as an experienced newsman look at this and you look at the photographs and you know what’s already been written and documented, what does it say to you?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Well, it raises questions obviously about the conditions under which the military is operating in this prison in Iraq, the level of training which was very low, apparently, for these MPs, and the question of under what rules of engagement were the people in the prison operating and who was ultimately responsible which we still don’t know for this behavior.
TERENCE SMITH: And so some of those questions will remain unanswered, at least I suppose until the trials get under way?
LEONARD DOWNIE: Well, perhaps, although we’re continuing to do our own reporting, and we hope to make further progress in answering those questions.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Leonard Downie of the Washington Post, thank you very much.
LEONARD DOWNIE: Thank you, Terry.