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September 3, 2006

Abu Ghraib: Parting Shots


One Iraqi accomplishment we haven’t heard touted by Donald Rumsfeld (despite its legitimate significance) is the transfer of the Abu Ghraib prison.  (In fact, it hasn’t been mentioned much by anybody.)  The facility — which was emptied out two weeks ago by American forces — was handed over to the Iraqi government this weekend. 

Of the newswire shots, I  thought the image above was particularly ironic.  It shows an American soldier documenting the withrawal with his personal camera.  If not for the revolution in personal photography, who would have even heard of Abu Ghraib?



I also was interested in this pair of shots.  The first shows Iraqi soldiers celebrating the take over.  In the “companion,” newly released inmates show up at the central bus station in Baghdad.

Before reading too much into this, however, consider that the politics of detention haven’t changed very much.  Although the Iraqi government ordered the release of almost 1,000 Iraqi prisoners from Abu Ghraib one year ago, an Amnesty International report issued this past March indicated that U.S. and Iraqi forces were still holding more than 14,000 civilians at the facility.  In many cases, these men had been held for years without ever being charged or tried.

Most current news summaries indicate that the last 3,000 detainees at Abu Ghraib were transferred elsewhere.  Looking at these photos, one might ask how much of the jubilation at the bus station resulted simply from freedom granted to the innocent. 

(image 1 & 2: Khalid Mohammed/A.P.  September 2, 2006.  Baghdad, Iraq.  Via YahooNews.    image 3: Ali Jasim/Reuters.  August 24, 2006.  Baghdad, Iraq.  Via YahooNews.)

  • Chin rubber

    Let me add that it’s interesting that the final 3,000 inmates were transferred to another location. Wasn’t one of the conditions of the handover of Abu Ghraib that it would include all inmates still in the prison? Spiriting those final inmates away begins to look as if the administration didn’t want them falling into Iraqi hands…

  • readytoblowagasket

    “Ibrahim said the detainees at Abu Ghraib were moved to a new $60 million detention facility that has been built as part of Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport. Detainees in Fort Suse will be moved to Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca, which is near the southern port of Umm Qasr, he said.”
    For those, like me, who know nothing about the abuses at both Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca, below are some links, if you have the stomach for LOTS of “bad apples.”
    Comprehensive list of U.S. bases in Iraq/Baghdad:
    Robert Fisk, “The Ugly Truth of Camp Cropper”:
    NYT article about Camp Cropper, “Earlier Jail Seen as Incubator for Abuses in Iraq”:
    CBS News exclusive report about abuses at Camp Bucca:
    Global Security article about Camp Bucca:

  • black dog barking

    Calling Abu Ghraib a “prison” assigns meanings and connotations that, frankly, we’ve lost the right to assert. In civil society prisons are institutions dealing with law-breakers, a terminal node in a process that protects society without compromising our values.
    My son and I were half the audience at a screening of The Road to Guantanamo at the local art theater. A dramatization of the accounts of three British citizens that ended up at Gitmo, it brings substance to the concepts found in terms like non-combatant, stress position, and “intelligence” “gathered” in our names.

  • Rafael

    I wonder if years from now, Iraqi flagpoles will be adorned with their version of POW flags?

  • Chris

    The prisoners are celebrating their freedom for sure! I doubt very much that they are thrilled with the handover.
    The celebrating Iraqi troops look like they’re ready to fire off a one-handed volley into the air.
    “In civil society prisons are institutions dealing with law-breakers, a terminal node in a process that protects society without compromising our values.”
    -Any close examination of the prison system within our borders will reveal that very few, if any, live up to this ideal. It’s no coincidance that many military prison guards implicated in abuses had experience as Corrections Officers here in the U.S. where they were also abusive. We could go on about political prisoners, racist policies, etc.
    I’m not attempting to refute your assertions so much as bring attention to the fact that abuse and degradation occur daily right here and there is little chance of photographic leaks leading to outrage or even concern on the part of the average American citizen.

  • ummabdulla

    These pictures show that the soldiers don’t feel at all safe in that area. In the top photo, they’re wearing bulletproof vests and helmets (except for the brave guy who took his off to snap some photos); in the next one, they’re all armed with rifles. Maybe that’s for some celebratory firing, but they’re they’re surrounded by military vehicles with soldiers manning the guns. At least the Iraqi soldiers do seem to have some equipment now.
    In the bottom picture, they’re no doubt thrilled to be out of there. Somebody bought a truckload of slacks and shirts for their release, and are those their towels around the necks of some of them?

  • momly

    Oh, no. Camp Cropper?
    The ten year old in me is struggling to burst free….
    Chris, your point about corrections officers and photos of our own prisons is well taken. Any documentation out there to share? Thanks.

  • readytoblowagasket

    momly, here’s a Human Rights Watch article about documented abuses in U.S. prisons. I was going to quote some of the abuses (which is too mild a word, since inmates have died), but they are too disturbing. But I will include this important detail:
    “Prisons are closed institutions from which the press, human rights groups, and members of the public are typically excluded. Independent expert inspections yielding public findings are rare, and usually occur only after the situation has become so bad that inmates have filed a lawsuit.”

  • lytom

    I find the first picture comparable to a picture of Nazi soldiers/officers looking over the concentration camp with a kind satisfaction on their faces that what they have been part of is right…It is a good picture for the history books. Was it worth it? It is hard to figure out why it was not erased from the landscape. It is evidence that I hope will haunt the Idiot at all.

  • black dog barking

    Ted Conover’s Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing is a journalist’s story of a year spent guarding inmates in the New York state penal system, primarily at Sing-Sing. It is a story of many failings—criminals, criminal justice, corrections, institutional thinking, politics, the fact that nobody really knows how to accomplish the mission with which the institution is charged. A pleasant read despite the somber subject matter.

  • Chris
  • Nut

    I have a few things that might clear the air for most of you (CHINRUBBER, READYTOBLOWGASKET((or are you ready to blow something else?)) BLACKDOGBARKING, UMMABDULLA, RAFAEL, LYTOM) “Oh so knowing citizens” who have, without the slightest first hand knowledge, posted your first amendment rights (Which, as a soldier in the US military, I am held to the highest honor to protect) upon this page. Let’s try to sort this out. First: How many of you were actually at the turn-over of Abu Ghraib???? Silence…Hmm…Not surprising.
    Second: How many of you took the “First hand” pictures you saw of the turn-over as reality at it’s finest? I’m gonna make a bet and say most, if not all of you. Now to get down to brass tacks. I was at the turn-over of Abu Ghraib. I can tell you that what you seen in those pictures is about 10% truth (and anybody who is/was in the military knows all about the 10% rule). Let’s start with the…
    THE FIRST PICTURE: YES… We took pictures of the event. It was a blossoming of the Iraqi Army. It was their time to take control of what should have been theirs during Saddams regime.
    THE SECOND PICTURE: This picture was not a celebration of what the Iraqi Army TOOK from us, but a SALUTE…Yes, SALUTE, to the American armed forces for giving the Iraqi Army a stepping stone to becoming a Diplomatic Nation.
    And the THIRD PICTURE: My God!!! Are all of you so blind?!?!? This picture was not even taken at Abu Ghraib. This picture was taken as the AMERICAN TROOPS PULLED DOWN THE STATUE OF SADDAM HUSSEIN!!!! I’m not sure how much intelligence it takes to become an advocate for peace, but from what I’ve seen from these postings, It obviously doesn’t take much to be an advocate of self indulgent, mindless, “I’ll take whatever the 10 o’clock news tells me is right” as fact, because, since there are soldiers losing their lives to protect my first ammedment rights, I can say whatever I want because I’m a selfish prick who doesn’t really know what my country or flag stands for”. We are all Americans…LIVE up to your obligations instead of letting others DIE, so you can still be a “Know-it-all” fuckhead that doesn’t really know more than what the “Good ‘Ol TV” tells you to. I apologize if I came off a little harsh…But to those who condemn our job…YOU come carry a rifle next to me in the field. It’s a new world when you see things first hand. (And just to quell any remarks about how I’m a murderer…I have yet to shoot at a man who didn’t shoot at me first)!

  • ummabdulla

    Nut, it’s always nice to have someone drop by who can give us more context about the photos. Of course, we have no way of knowing who you are or whether you were there or not, but I’ll take your word for it.
    Honestly, I’m not sure what you’re so worked up about, but anyway…
    As for the first photo, there’s nothing wrong with – or unexpected about – a soldier taking pictures. Were you really seeing the whole thing as a sign of the “blossoming” of the Iraqi Army, though? Not as the U.S. administration getting rid of what had been a symbol around the world of degradation and torture?
    2nd photo: “giving the Iraqi Army a stepping stone to becoming a Diplomatic Nation” What’s a diplomatic nation? Is Iraq one now?
    3rd photo: I guess you weren’t there at the Bagdhad bus station on that day. Or in Firdaus Square the day the Saddam statue was taken down. If you were, you wouldn’t confuuse these two events. We all know that the Saddam statue event was orchestrated, but they didn’t go so far as to issue uniforms to the participants. These guys are all wearing the same shirts (just different colors) and pants, and some similar-looking towels (just different colors) around their necks – all issued as they were released from Abu Ghraib.
    Here’s a bunch of guys being released a year earlier. They gave them dishdashas then, instead of shirts and pants, but the towels look about the same, and some of them are also holding Qurans, as in this picture. Here’s another one from around that time (released by the US Navy, if you trust them). And here’s one from June 2006, and you can click on the numbers below to see three more of them. Don’t they look like the guys in the 3rd photo above?
    On the other hand, here’s a picture of when they pulled down the Saddam statue. There probably weren’t that many people in the whole area. And most of the people around were U.S. soldiers, but here are some of the Iraqis – and they’re not dressed like the guys in the 3rd photo above.
    “It obviously doesn’t take much to be an advocate of self indulgent, mindless, ‘I’ll take whatever the 10 o’clock news tells me is right’ as fact”
    Obviously not.
    “since there are soldiers losing their lives to protect my first ammedment rights, I can say whatever I want because I’m a selfish prick who doesn’t really know what my country or flag stands for.”
    Can you explain to me how the soliders in Iraq are protecting my first amendment rights?
    And just exactly what do that country and flag stand for, Nut?

  • Shepherd

    I was there that day when the photo was taken. It was not the day the prison was taken over by the Iraqi Army (IA). We were there for a meeting that our IA BDE CO had to go to. The first two photos have nothing to do with the turn-over. The MiTT and IA Soldiers aren’t even responsible for the prison. I can’t speak on the third photo. These photos were taken by the independent Iraqi press. I’m not suprised the story is wrong. Most US reporters don’t leave the IZ (Green Zone) to get out there and get the true story and half the time they have their own agenda. They send out local nationals to get their stories.
    In working with the IA for a year in Abu Ghraib (06-07) as a Military Advisor I saw the US press once. The one time CNN came out they managed to put their own spin on it. The reason we are wearing our protective gear is because we are about to roll out. Not because we don’t trust the IA. Hell, I lived with them and fought with them. We didn’t wear IBA and ACH when hanging out with them. I trusted my IA brothers with my life on a daily basis. If there any questions then just post’m. BLUF: the press has it all wrong.
    CPT, IN

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