USA fighting terrorists or turning people into terrorists

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Prison Scandal dominated national and international headlines. Allegations of physical and emotional abuses by U.S.A military personnel against Iraqi detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison shocked the world and led to calls for investigations, punishments, resignations, and war policy adjustments. This case study will examine the impact of the abuses on the U.S. Army and Bush administration. The Army suffered professionally, and intelligence collection was adversely impacted as a result of the actions committed at Abu Ghraib.

The case study "USA, fighting terrorists or turning people into terrorists" examines the Abu Ghraib prison scandal from the perspective of cultural criminology. Several points are made about the iconic images of abuse. First, it is argued that these images, along with supporting documents, constitute the photographic record of a crime committed by the capitalist state. This was the high crime of torture. Next the images are used to examine the efficacy of various explanations for the Abu Ghraib scandal. These include the US Government's theory that the abuse was perpetrated by a small group of `bad apples' within its military police units.

The abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib had far-reaching consequences, leading many people around the world to question the legitimacy of U.S.A goals and activities in Iraq. This analysis suggests that leaders need to be more attuned to the developmental stage of subordinates and take appropriate steps to reinforce ethical behaviours. Particularly in ambiguous circumstances, it is important that standards of behaviour should be clear and explicit throughout all phases of an operation and that leader at all levels represent and reinforce those standards. The most sophisticated interrogation practices at Abu Ghraib were designed and executed by the US Central Intelligence Agency, with military police in a supporting role.

By carefully examining the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse case from a current social-psychological perspective, we may gain a deeper understanding of how and why such behaviours occur and more clearly specify what leaders and organizations can do to prevent such incidents in the future.


The War on Terror (also known as the Global War on Terror or the War on Terrorism) is an ongoing international military campaign led by the United States of America and the United Kingdom with the support of other NATO and non-NATO countries. The campaign was launched in 2001 with the US/UK invasion of Afghanistan in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, other operations have commenced, the largest being the War in Iraq, beginning with a 2003 invasion. Originally, it was waged against al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with the purpose of eliminating them.

The phrase War on Terror was first used by former US President George W. Bush and other high ranking US officials. In the war against terrorism president bush declared publicly that they will not follow Geneva Convention and USA laws for prisoners of war against terrorism. Geneva Convention was signed by USA in 1949.These conventions comprises of the laws that set standards for humanitarian treatment of the victims of war. But the decisions of not following these conventions become the basic reason of prisoner abuse by US military.

During the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Abu Ghraib Prison had a reputation as a place of torture, and was alleged to be the site of the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners. After the fall of Baghdad to U.S. and coalition forces in 2003, it was the opinion of senior UK officials that the prison should be demolished as soon as possible, but this was over-ruled by the U.S authorities. The prison was then used as a detention facility by the U.S led coalition occupying Iraq to hold more than 5,000 people, mostly alleged rebels and criminals.

When pictures of Iraqi prisoners tortured and abused by U.S. troops appeared on television screens and in newspapers across the country, many Americans recoiled in horror, disgust, and shock. Compounding this tragic irony is the fact that the Bush administration had repeatedly offered Sadaam Hussein's use of torture against the Iraqi people as one of the many pretexts presented by the U.S. government to try and justify its invasion of Iraq. Officials in the Bush administration, would like us to believe that the horrific acts of torture conducted in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad were an aberration, the out of character behaviour of a few bad apples. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

Literature review:

The term "unlawful combatant" has been used for the past century in legal literature, military manuals, and case law. However, unlike the terms "combatant", "prisoner of war", and "civilian", the term "unlawful combatant" is not mentioned in Geneva Conventions. So while the former terms are well understood and clear under international law, the term "unlawful combatant" is not. An unlawful combatant or unprivileged combatant/belligerent is a civilian who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and may be detained or prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action. The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 12 August 1949 (GCIII) of 1949 defines the requirements for a captive to be eligible for treatment as a POW. A lawful combatant is a person who commits belligerent acts, and, when captured, is treated as a POW. An unlawful combatant is someone who commits belligerent acts but does not qualify for POW status under GCIII Articles 4 and 5. If the combatant is engaged in "armed conflict not of an international character" then under the Article 3 of the general provisions of the Geneva Conventions they should be "treated humanely".

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States Congress passed a resolution known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) on 18 September 2001. In this, Congress invoked the War Powers Resolution and stated:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

With the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan some lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and in the office of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush that he did not have to comply with the Geneva Conventions in handling detainees in the War on Terrorism. This applied not only to members of al Qa'ida but the entire Taliban, because, they argued, Afghanistan was a "failed state."

Despite opposition from the U.S. State Department, which warned against ignoring the Geneva Conventions, the Bush administration thenceforth began holding such individuals captured in Afghanistan under the military order and not under the usual conditions of Prisoners of War.

The designation of some prisoners as "unlawful combatants", has been the subject of criticism by international human rights institutions; including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Many governments and human rights organizations worry that the introduction of the unlawful combatant status sets a dangerous precedent for other regimes to follow.

In April of 2004, a series of photographs appeared in the news media showing U.S. military personnel abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq. Pictures showed prisoners hooded and connected to electrical wires, tied to leashes, stacked naked on the floor, and engaging in simulated sex acts. Some analysts believe this event marked a turning point in the war, after which Iraqi and world opinion shifted substantially against the United States (Carter, 2004).

The revelations of prisoner abuse were followed by multiple investigations and reports, news stories, and criminal prosecutions. Some of these stories alleged that military medical personnel, possibly including psychologists, were complicit in prisoner abuse (Miles, 2004), although later accounts indicate that no psychologists were present or involved in the Abu Ghraib abuses (James HYPERLINK ""&HYPERLINK "" Freeman, 2008). One official report by Major General George Fay called for further investigation into the role of medical personnel, finding that medical records for detainees were not properly maintained, and that some medics failed to report abuses at Abu Ghraib (Fay, 2004). . In wartime or conflict situations, military health care personnel also have a responsibility to provide care for enemy wounded, prisoners, retained personnel, detainees, and civilians. This is a professional, legal, and moral obligation that all U.S. military medical personnel accept when they enter the service. The U.S. Armed Forces adhere to all relevant international laws, including all four of the 1949 Geneva Conventions (Headquarters, Departments of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, 1997).

Research Methodology and objectives:

While doing research for this case study I have used following qualitative methods for research: Discussions with instructors, watch documentaries and reading of journals and articles of various authors. Use of these methods provided me authentic and sufficient data to write down my case study. In particular, two investigations are noteworthy for their comprehensiveness, detail, and objectivity. They serve as primary sources for the present analysis. The first of these was the investigation conducted by Major General Anthony Taguba, which lasted from January through June 2004, resulting in a 53-page report (Taguba, 2004). The second investigation, led by Major General Fay, was conducted from March through August of 2004 and included interviews from more than 170 people and analyses of more than 9,000 documents, generating a 143-page report (Fay, 2004).

My main objective of writing case study on this topic is to create awareness about the behaviour of US military and bush administration with Muslim prisoners of war against terrorism. People should know how governments in so called 'civilized' countries work by now. This case study can change the mindset of many people who idealize USA as the most civilized and broad minded country which focus on human rights just for their own nationals and violate their laws while dealing with Muslims.

Case study: Prisoner abuse by USA military at Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and Bagram (Afghanistan)

An editorial of the New York Times noted a parallel with the later abuse and torture of prisoners in Iraq:

What happened at Abu Ghraib was no aberration, but part of a widespread pattern. It showed the tragic impact of the initial decision by Mr. Bush and his top advisers that they were not going to follow the Geneva Conventions, or indeed American law, for prisoners taken in antiterrorist operations.

The investigative file on Bagram, obtained by The Times, showed that the mistreatment of prisoners was routine: shackling them to the ceilings of their cells, depriving them of sleep, kicking and hitting them, sexually humiliating them and threatening them with guard dogs -- the very same behaviour later repeated in Iraq.

Beginning in 2004, the article describing the abuse, including pictures showing military officers of USA appearing to abuse prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to public attention.

The types of abuses described and sowed in pictures were;

Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet.

Videotaping and photographing naked detainees.

Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time.

Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them.

Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture.

Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.

Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees and MPs posing with cheerful looks.

Pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees.

Threatening detainees with a loaded 9mm pistol.

Pouring cold water on naked detainees.

Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell.

Using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting and severely injuring a detainee.


Psychological torture including deprivation of sleep, food and light

Sexual abuses including rape and homosexual acts

The New York Times, in a report on January 12, 2005, reported testimony suggesting that the following events had taken place at Abu Ghraib:

Urinating on detainees

Jumping on detainee's leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire)

Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees

Tying ropes to the detainees' legs or penises and dragging them across the floor.

Water boarding

Stress positions

Bagram torture and prisoner abuse

The torture and homicides took place at the military detention centre known as the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, which had been built by the Soviets as an aircraft machine shop during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1980-1989). A concrete and sheet metal facility that was retrofitted with wire pens and wooden isolation cells, the centre is part of Bagram Air Base in the ancient city of Bagram near Charikar in Parvan, Afghanistan.

In 2005, The New York Times obtained a 2,000-page United States Army report concerning the homicides of two unarmed civilian Afghan prisoners by U.S. armed forces in 2002 at the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility (also Bagram Collection Point or B.C.P.) in Bagram, Afghanistan. The prisoners, Habibullah and Dilawar, were chained to the ceiling and beaten, which caused their deaths. Military coroners ruled that both the prisoner's deaths were homicides. Seven soldiers were charged.

Victims at Bagram

Dilawar, who died on December 10, 2002, was a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver and farmer who weighed 122 pounds and was described by his interpreters as neither violent nor aggressive.

When beaten, he repeatedly cried "Allah!" The outcry appears to have amused U.S. military personnel, as the act of striking him in order to provoke a scream of "Allah!" eventually "became a kind of running joke," according to one of the MP's. "People kept showing up to give this detainee a common personal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah,'" he said. "It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."

The Times reported that:

On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

A sketch showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell by Thomas V. Curtis, a former sergeant of USA army.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, was suspected of the attempted assault and killing of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. She mysteriously disappeared in 2003 with her three children, and was allegedly detained for five years at Bagram; she was the only female prisoner. She was known to the male detainees as "Prisoner 650". Detainees of Bagram used to call her a ghostly female detainee, who kept prisoners awake "with her haunting sobs and piercing screams". In 2005 male prisoners were so agitated by her plight, Yvonne said, that they went on hunger strike for six days. Siddiqui's family maintains that she has been abused. Her oldest son, who was seven years old when they disappeared, was detained in Afghanistan until 2008, and the whereabouts of her remaining two children are still unknown.

Others include Muhammad Saleem and Moazzam Begg, kept at bagram, tortured and then released as innocent.

Apologies and reactions regarding prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib

The USA government tried to save the reputation of their army and their emphasis on acts of so called human rights. President Bush apologise for the misdeeds of his army personals. But reactions in Iraq to his apology were mixed because many abuse and torture cases were already common in Iraq regarding prisoners. Some people react positively by saying that president bush is dealing with the problem openly and he will fulfil his promise to punish all involved soldiers. On the other hand some people think that a frank apology against committing torture is not enough.

On May 7, 2004, United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld made the following statements before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defence, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility. It is my obligation to evaluate what happened, to make sure those who have committed wrongdoing are brought to justice, and to make changes as needed to see that it doesn't happen again. I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't do that. That was wrong. To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was un-American. And it was inconsistent with the values of our nation".

Uncovering the facts

USA government appeared more interested in blaming abuses on low level personnel than in investigating the role of commanding officers and civilian officials. some of the families of accused soldiers have made it clear an intention to argue that the practices at Abu Ghraib were more directed by higher ranking military officers or by CIA (central intelligence agency) On May 26, 2004; Al Gore gave a sharply critical speech on the Iraq crisis and the George W. Bush administration. In the speech, Gore called for the resignations of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Director of Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, and Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone, for encouraging policies that led to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and fanned hatred of Americans abroad. Gore also called the Bush administration's Iraq war plan "incompetent" and called George W. Bush the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon. Gore commented; "In Iraq, what happened at that prison, it is now clear, is not the result of random acts of a few bad apples. It was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy."

Several periodicals, such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe also called for Rumsfeld's resignation. The cover of The Economist, which had backed President Bush in the 2000 election, carried a photo of the abuse with the words "Resign, Rumsfeld." Donald Rumsfeld stated in February 2005 that he had, as a result of the Abu Ghraib scandal, twice made an offer to President George W. Bush to resign the office of Secretary of Defense, and that both offers were declined.

On December 21, 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union released copies of FBI internal memos they had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act concerning alleged torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. One memo dated May 22, 2004 was from someone whose name was blanked out but was described in the memo as "On Scene Commander - Baghdad". He referred explicitly to an Executive Order that sanctioned the use of extraordinary interrogation tactics by U.S. military personnel. The methods explicitly mentioned as being sanctioned are sleep deprivation, hooding prisoners, playing loud music, removing all detainees' clothing, forcing them to stand in so-called "stress positions". The author identifies "physical beatings, sexual humiliation or touching" as being outside the Executive Order. This was the first internal evidence since the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse affair became public in April 2004 that forms of coercion of captives had been mandated by the President of the United States.

In November 2006, the former US Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, in-charge of Abu Ghraib prison until early 2004, told Spain's El País newspaper she had seen a letter apparently signed by Donald Rumsfeld which allowed civilian contractors to use techniques such as sleep deprivation during interrogation. "The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques." He said that this was contrary to the Geneva Convention and quoted the same "Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind".

Death certificates prepared by USA military doctors repeatedly stated that prisoners had died during sleep and of natural reasons. Iraqi doctors were not allowed to investigate the death certificates.

Excuses were made by Donald Rumsfeld that the abuses were committed by some soldier of night shift. He said that those soldiers were not educated and trained about interrogation techniques. But others argued that the torture techniques used by those soldiers shown in pictures were highly technically developed and applied in a much trained manner.

On February 3, 2010, David A. Larson, an elected official in California who has a relationship with government contract personnel, made disclosures to the U.S. Department of Defence (DOD), Office of the Inspector General (OIG) alleging that under the Bush Administration, prisoners detained at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and undisclosed "black sites" were being used as involuntary research subjects for human biomedical experimentation, behaviour modification research, and drug-testosterone delivery

Penalties to the soldiers involved

Army personnel who were present at the time of detainee's abuse at Abu Ghraib declared that soldiers were never told their limits of interrogation and that they were always encouraged to produce information from prisoners by using extreme torture techniques. They also declared that soldiers were punished not to commit murder of detainees but to take the pictures of those moments.

Eleven soldiers were charged. The highest-ranking member of the military to be convicted was a staff sergeant, Ivan Frederick, sentenced to eight years. The longest sentence handed down was 10 years, for Charles Graner, a former corporal. Most of the convicted soldiers were punished and kept in jail just for few months, others were demoted only. No one has been convicted for murder of detainees.


Torture is used to degrade, humiliate, and destroy both the individual who is being abused and members of his or her community who care about and feel connected to the victim of torture.  It is a weapon used by those in power to maintain themselves in power. Such practices undermine an individual's will to resist and weaken a community's ability to survive.

On international missions, leaders must likewise assure that the agreed-upon standards and rules-of-engagement are effectively communicated (with translation as needed) across all contingents. Before such communication can occur, there must of course be some clear understanding and agreement by all participating nations/contingents as to the basic rules of engagement and standards of behavior, as well as the lines of authority. Coalition leaders must also agree as to how any rule violations or misconduct will be treated.

Alyssa R. Peterson was a U.S. Army Specialist who committed suicide in September 2003 after refusing further participation in interrogation sessions which she said constituted torture of Iraqi prisoners.

After the incident of detainee's abuse and torture the reputation of Bush administration and USA army damaged worldwide. Bush administration always claimed that they act above the standards of Geneva conventions. But in the war against Iraq and Afghanistan high official of Bush administration clearly stated that they will not follow Geneva conventions in war against antiterrorism. The scandal revealed a systemic failure of leadership, tactics and strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. It discredited American credibility abroad and shattered Bush administration conceits at home.

Low-ranking soldiers abusing and torturing inmates at Abu Ghraib were, in fact, following orders. They were carrying out a policy set out by the highest members of the Bush administration.

The Obama administration, in a spirit of disclosure, had released numerous "torture memos" authored by the Bush administration's Justice Department. Those memos helped trace the line of accountability from torture and abuse documented at Abu Ghraib to the senior members of the Bush administration, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld. In the same spirit of disclosure, Obama agreed to the release of additional photographic evidence from Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

In late May, 2009, Obama reversed himself. Releasing the additional photographs and images, he claimed, would put American troops abroad in danger. It was the same claim (discredited by federal courts and recent history) that the Bush administration had made when it originally tried to suppress the photographic record out of Abu Ghraib. Military intelligence forces told members of the Red Cross that between 70 percent and 90 percent of the inmates pictured here were arrested by mistake.

Innocent detainees saw their love ones being humiliated, tortured and murdered by USA army. Many of them tortured and then released as innocent. These inhuman acts give fire to the anger and hate among those detainees and general public against USA and its army. Thus in spite of fighting against terrorism USA itself has turned people into terrorists.


Do you think that the penalties given to the involved soldier were sufficient?

What was the impact of the incident on reputation of Bush administration and USA army?

Does the decision of not following the Geneva conventions by Bush administration in war against terrorism become a reason for detainee abuse by army?

Why did USA tried to blame lower level official and hide the role of higher level officials? According to your view point what was the chain of responsibility for abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib?