U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan took dozens of pictures of their colleagues pointing assault rifles and pistols at the heads and backs of hooded and bound detainees and another photograph showed two male soldiers and one female solider pointing a broom to one detainee "as if I was sticking the end of a broom stick into [his] rectum," according to the female soldier's account as told to an Army criminal investigator.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday he would not release these photographs, reversing a promise he made a month ago, fearing it would stoke anti-American sentiment and endanger U.S. troops.
I found the documents that describes the photographs on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU obtained the files, but not the photographs, in 2005 as part of the organization's wide-ranging Freedom of information Act lawsuit against the federal government related to the Bush administration's treatment of "war on terror" prisoners in U.S. custody.
The soldiers said they intended to keep the prisoner abuse photographs as "mementos" to recall their deployment in Afghanistan, according to an Army criminal investigation.
The Pentagon banned the use of hoods following the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, where shocking photos were leaked of sexual and physical abuse in 2004. According to a report on prisoner abuse prepared for the Department of Defense by James Schlesinger, orders signed by Bush and Rumsfeld in 2002 and 2003 authorizing brutal interrogations "became policy" at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.
The documents describing the photographs were part of separate reports prepared in May, August, and July 2004 by the Army's Criminal Investigative Division into the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Another photograph that was set for release at the end of month that is now being withheld was taken in December 2003 and was found on a government computer. The image shows three soldiers at the St. Mere Forward Operating Base posing with three Iraqi detainees "zip-tied to bars in a stress position, fully clothed, with hoods over their heads."
One female soldier in the photo is pointing a broom "as if I was sticking the end of a broom stick into the rectum of a restrained detainee," she testified to Army investigators in April 2004.
On March 27, 2004, this soldier sent an e-mail to an undisclosed number of her colleagues. She discovered that the photograph she appeared in had been widely disseminated and that she was under investigation.
"You guys have a picture of me holding a broom near a detainee," says her e-mail, under the subject line "VERY IMPORTANT!!!!!" "I don't have a copy of this picture anywhere...but some Marine got a hold of it and now I'm being investigated for detainee abuse. I guess one of you share the photos with the Marines...but either way, they have a copy of that picture.
"Anyway, this email serves two purposes. First, I know that at least one more of you guys is in the picture, but I cannot remember who. If I'm being investigated...I'm sure that the other individuals in this picture will be investigated as well, so heads up! Secondly, can I please have a copy of this picture ASAP!!! I can't stress how badly I need this picture so I can show people that it was just a posed shot, and that I wasn't physically beating anyone with a broom
One of the recipients of the soldier's e-mail replied the same day with a copy of the photograph and a note that said "I can't see how they think this is anything but fun."
The female soldier interviewed by Army criminal investigators testified that she did not remember why the Iraqi prisoners in the photograph were "flexicuffed to the bars...and have sandbags covering their heads," but "detainees were put in that stress position either because the interrogators felt that the detainee could provide further intelligence, or because the detainee was a disciplinary problem." She said the detainees weren't placed in that position for the photograph but were "already there when we decided to take the picture."