When the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke in April 2004, Americans and the rest of the world were stunned. President George W. Bush condemned the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers and blamed it on a few bad apples who, he said, had “dishonored our country and disregarded our values.” Mark Danner, a journalist with The New Yorker, argues that a key fact was lost amid the media coverage: the torture was part of a deliberate policy of “enhanced interrogation” planned at the highest levels of the administration. But no punishment awaits the senior U.S. officials who orchestrated the abuses in Iraq and other U.S. detention facilities around the world, Danner writes. With the help of a Republican-controlled Congress, the White House and Defense Department have so far succeeded in limiting the fallout from the scandal and blaming it on a handful of overzealous, low-ranking soldiers.
Danner’s 580-page book is divided into three parts. The first consists of three essays he wrote on the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. In them, he cites U.S. military personnel who estimate that 70 to 95 percent of the Iraqis they arrested were detained by mistake. Most were nabbed in night-time “cordon and capture” sweeps and had no intelligence value. Yet, military intelligence soldiers, under enormous pressure to combat a mounting Iraqi insurgency, worked with military police to squeeze “actionable intelligence” out of the detainees. The soldiers urinated on prisoners, threatened to rape them, sodomized them with sticks and chemical lights, deprived them of sleep, beat, kicked, and slapped them, and restricted their breathing with hoods. The rest of Danner’s book consists of other essays he wrote about the war in Iraq, photos of the abuses and the texts of official reports and memos that, in grim detail, catalog both the torture and the U.S. policies that made it possible. Abu Ghraib, Danner writes, is just the tip of the iceberg. –Alex Roslin
Publisher: New York Review Books (October 31, 2004)