Thursday, February 16, 2006

An image of torture

Since last night's Dateline story, the new Abu Ghraib pictures have been doing the rounds. The Guardian has some here, and one of them immediately caught my eye:


Ignore the nudity and the underpants on the head; it's the way he is chained which interests me. Chaining in this way, with the arms behind the back at an uncomfortable angle, is known as "Palestinian hanging" - a variant of strappado. It places intense pressure on the shoulders, leading to intense pain and frequently long-term injury. More importantly, it can cause difficulty breathing, and if the victim cannot support themselves (if for example they have been subjected to "sleep management" or other prior abuse), it can cause death by asphyxiation in much the same way as crucifixion.

A prisoner named Manadel al-Jamadi was tortured to death using this technique right there in Abu Ghraib. That's his corpse you've seen packed in ice with a grinning Sabrina Harmon giving a thumbs-up next to it. The person who did it, a CIA interrogator named Mark Swanner, has never been charged. There are also credible reports of the technique being used in Guantanamo.

Americans call this a "stress position", and it has been explicitly approved for use by no less a person than Donald Rumsfeld. This photo shows the reality behind the Orwellian language: what we are looking at here is outright torture, a crime against humanity. And while some of the people who did the actual handcuffing have been held responsible, what's glaringly obvious is that none of the people who set the policy and approved the technique have been. Until that happens, there will not have been any justice for Abu Ghraib.