June 2, 2009 in News
A purported Pentagon official involved with litigation aimed at forcing the Obama administration to release additional photographs of abuse at Iraqi jails says that stories regarding the contents of the photographs are false.
The official spoke anonymously to Salon reporter Mark Benjamin, who has a long and credible history on national security and military reporting. The source said there were no sexually explicit images among 44 photographs specifically identified by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Further, the Pentagon official added that the military knew of no other existing photographs depicting elements as described by Harper’s reporter Scott Horton last Friday, who said the images contained “a uniformed soldier receiving oral sex from a female prisoner, a government contractor engaged in an act of sodomy with a male prisoner and scenes of forced masturbation, forced exhibition, and penetration.”
However, when pressed by Benjamin, the official would not confirm or deny whether such images ever existed.
Specifically, the official said there are about 2,000 images related to detainee abuse, none of which are from Abu Ghraib, and the images do not include depictions of sexual abuse. The official said the government does not have secret images of rape buried in its files.
The official told Salon that the Pentagon has compiled around 2,000 images of possible detainee abuse in response to the ACLU’s suit. Salon then asked, via e-mail, whether any of the 2,000 images “[show] a possible rape or sexual abuse” of the sort described in the media recently… “We don’t have anything that would comport to what they are reporting,” the official answered. (The official did not address whether any such images had ever existed.) Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, whom the Telegraph had quoted as confirming that there were rape images among the unreleased material, told Salon on Friday that the Telegraph’s report was inaccurate because he was quoted in a way that suggested he had seen the unreleased material. He has not.
The official further clarified that the Defense Department is not withholding any additional images or video of apparent detainee abuse from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Salon published all of that material back in 2006, which included images of prisoners being forced to masturbate and to simulate oral sex. The Pentagon is not aware of any other images of abuse from the prison. “You have the whole set of Abu Ghraib,” the official said. “There are no ‘X Files’ of images sitting somewhere else of Abu Ghraib.”
It’s unclear why Horton got details wrong, though there appears to be confusion about what is in the photographs specifically tagged to the ACLU lawsuit (of which there are only 44) and what is in other photographs. Some images of abuse were passed from soldier to soldier in US combat zones; these could have been seen by officers familiar with other photographs but not be subject to the ACLU suit.
In his correction, Horton said that some of the images he referred to in his story last week were published by Salon in 2006. But he maintained that the story regarding abuse photographs is “far from over.”
Update and correction: Since this story posted Friday, Salon has accurately pointed out that the sexually explicit photographs focused on in my story were first published by Salon in 2006, and that all the Salon photographs have in fact been released by the government. The 44 photos subject to the ACLU law suit and reviewed by President Obama do not contain sexually explicit images.
But the story is far from over. Indeed, a senior Pentagon official involved in the ACLU litigation tells me that the 44 photographs in question are not the end of the controversy, stating that an internal process of review was still underway, reconsidering photographs that “may previously have been miscategorized.” The source declined to comment on the additional photographs. In addition, the official confirmed that…there are a “substantial number” of unreleased photographs, past the 44 in question, potentially subject to the ACLU’s request. It remains to be seen what they are and what is in them.
Horton also added, “Obama’s May 14 decision not to release these 44 photographs, after personally reviewing them, was a stall tactic: he intends to release them eventually, even if he prevails in court, once the situation on the ground improves.”
A report Monday alleged that Obama changed his mind about releasing the photographs after outrage from Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.
“When U.S. officials told Maliki, ‘he went pale in the face,’ said a U.S. military official, who along with others requested anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity,” a McClatchy reporter wrote Monday. “Maliki said, “Baghdad will burn” if the photos are released,” a second official purportedly said.