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Digital camera strips America of its pride

The collection of photographs begins like a travelogue from Iraq. Here are US soldiers posing in front of a mosque. Here is a soldier riding a camel in the desert. And then: a soldier holding a leash tied around a man's neck in an Iraqi prison. He is naked, grimacing and lying on the floor.

Mixed in with more than 1,000 digital pictures obtained by The Washington Post are photographs of naked men, apparently prisoners, sprawled on top of one another while soldiers stand around them.

The graphic images appear to provide further visual evidence of the chaos and unprofessionalism at the prison detailed in a report by army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. His report, which relied in part on the photographs, found “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” that were inflicted on detainees.

This group of photographs, taken from the summer of 2003 through the winter, ranges widely from mundane images of everyday military life to pictures showing crude simulations of sex among soldiers. The new pictures appear to show American soldiers abusing prisoners, many of whom wear ID bands, but the Post could not eliminate the possibility that some of them were staged.

The photographs were taken by several digital cameras and loaded onto compact discs, which circulated among soldiers in the 372nd Military Police Company, an army reserve unit. The pictures were among those seized by military investigators probing conditions at the prison, a source close to the unit said.

The probe has led to charges being filed against six soldiers from the 372nd. “The allegations of abuse were substantiated by detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence,” Taguba’s report states.

For many units serving in Iraq, digital cameras are pervasive and yet another example of how technology has transformed the way troops communicate with relatives back home. From Basra to Baghdad, they e-mail pictures home. Some soldiers, including those in the 372nd, even packed video cameras along with their rifles.

In the case of prisoner abuse, the ubiquity of digital cameras has created a far more combustible international scandal that would have been sparked only by the release of Taguba’s searing written report.

It is unclear who took the photographs, or why.

Lawyers of the accused and some soldiers’ relatives have said the pictures were ordered up by military intelligence officials who were trying to humiliate the detainees and coerce other prisoners into cooperating.

“It is clear that the intelligence community dictated that these photographs be taken,” said Guy L. Womack, a Houston lawyer representing Charles A. Graner Jr., 35, one of the soldiers charged.

The father of another soldier facing charges, Jeremy C. Sivits, also said his son was following orders. “He was asked to take pictures, and he did what he was told,” Daniel Sivits said.

Woman in the picture

In Fort Ashby, West Virginia, two siblings and a friend identified Lynndie England, 21, as the soldier appearing in a picture holding a leash tied to the neck of a man on the floor.

England, a member of the 372nd, has also been identified in published reports as one of the soldiers in the earlier set of pictures that were made public, which her relatives also confirmed.

England has been reassigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The military has not charged her in the case.

England’s friends and relatives said the photographs must have been staged. “It just makes me laugh, because that’s not Lynn,” said Destiny Goin, 21, a friend. “She wouldn’t pull a dog by its neck, let alone drag a human across a floor.”

England worked as a clerk in the unit, processing prisoners before they were put in cells, taking their names, fingerprinting them and giving them identification numbers, her family said. Other soldiers would ask her to pose for photographs, said her father, Kenneth England. “That’s how it happened,” he said.

Soon after CBS aired its photographs, Terrie England said she received a call from her daughter. “‘Mom,’ she told me, ‘I was in the wrong place at the wrong time’.”

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