Sunday, January 16, 2005


Specialist Charles Graner has been jailed for ten years on five charges relating to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. It's an excellent result, but at the same time some of those responsible for these atrocities seem to have escaped punishment entirely - notably the military intelligence and CIA personnel who seem to have given the orders (and committed abuses of their own in the course of their interrogations).

Not that acting under orders excuses Graner in any way, of course - the Nuremburg principle establishes that - but shouldn't everyone involved face justice?

The trial itself was in many ways a proxy trial of American right-wing pundits' (and their blogosphere parrots') attitude towards torture. Graner's defence lawyer tried to argue that the abuses pictured in the photographes were not torture, claiming fatuously that stacking naked prisoners in human pyramids was "a valid control technique" which could not be torture as cheerleaders did it - completely overlooking the aspect of voluntary consent (rather than fear of beatings) on their part. He also tried the same tactic in response to the famous picture of Private Lynndie England dragging a naked prisoner around on a leash:

"You've probably been at a mall or airport and seen children on tethers; they're not being abused," he argued.

"You're keeping control of them. A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections," he said.

"In Texas we'd lasso them and drag them out of there."

Which I think says more about the sadism prelevant in the Texas "corrections" system than it does about dragging people round on leashes.

But when it came to testimony from some of the Graner's victims, who reported being forced to masturbate for his amusement, being violently beaten (and in particular, being beaten on the site of a fresh bullet wound) and being forced to eat excrement, the defence had no response other than appealing to "patriotic" hatred:

"It was the face of the enemy. It's very clear that he hates America," he said.

I'm very glad to see that a court martial found these "arguments" unconvincing. But I doubt those pundits wil notice...

As for what hapens next, the Bush administration will claim that this means that the Abu Ghraib scandal is over - but this is no longer just about Abu Ghraib. Since then, the evidence that torture has been used in other US detention facilities (in Iraq, in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and elsewhere) has become overwhelming. It will not be over until everyone responsible has faced justice. Charles Graner should be the start, not the end.