HBO's documentary "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," aired a few days ago, is yet another attempt to use the scandal to portray the Bush administration as soft on torture. Conservatives, meanwhile, continue to minimize the significance of what happened there. Some characterize Abu Ghraib as no big deal, what James Schlesinger termed “Animal House on the night shift.” Others defende Abu Ghraib as a way to get valuable information about potential terrorist attacks. Rush Limbaugh claimed that “maybe the people who ordered this are pretty smart” because, as an interrogation technique, “it sounds pretty effective to me.”
Throughout the Muslim world, Abu Ghraib was viewed very differently. To see why, we need to take a closer look at the scandal. Fortunately we have a detailed picture of what happened, both from the military’s 500-page report and from the trials of Private Lynndie England and Private Charles Graner, the two main figures involved. After marrying at age 19 “on a whim,” as she put it, England left her husband and enlisted in the military. There she met Graner, who was fresh from a divorce in which his wife had taken out three protective orders against him.
Shortly before they went to Iraq, England and Graner partied together with another soldier friend in Virginia Beach. “They drank heavily,” the New York Times reports, and when the other soldier passed out, “Private Graner and Private England took turns taking photographs of each other exposing themselves over his head.” In Iraq, the two began an affair which they continued even though both were warned that their sexual trysts on the night shift violated military rules.
Soon Graner and England began to make videos of their sex acts. They circulated the videos among their friends, and even mailed some to friends back in America. In October 2004, Graner persuaded several other soldiers to join him in staging and photographing prisoners. They made Muslim men strip naked and simulate various sex acts for the camera. They ordered male captives to put on female underwear, sometimes on their heads. They compelled prisoners to masturbate while they watched. At one point England said of a detainee, “Look, he’s getting hard.”
Graner said he was the one who took the infamous photograph of England holding a leash around the neck of a crawling prisoner. “Look what I made Lynndie do,” Graner boasted in an email with the photo attachment that he sent to someone he knew. Graner said the pictures he took of inmates masturbating were a “birthday gift” to England. Graner made another unexpected present to England: he made her pregnant.