(Photo: Marwan Naaman / AFP)
In 2007, shortly after he was forced into retirement, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba made a startling admission. During the course of his investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Taguba said he saw "a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee."
Taguba told New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh that he saw other graphic photos and videos as well, including one depicting the "sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees."
That video, as well as photographs Taguba saw of US soldiers raping and torturing Iraqi prisoners, remains in the possession of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
Taguba said he did not discuss details of the photographs and videos in his voluminous report on abuses at Abu Ghraib because of the Army's ongoing criminal probe and the photographs' "extremely sensitive nature."
Taguba's report on the widespread abuse of prisoners did say that he found credible a report that a soldier had sodomized "a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick."
The rape video, or photographs like it, "was not made public in any of the subsequent court proceedings, nor has there been any public government mention of it," Hersh wrote. "Such images would have added an even more inflammatory element to the outcry over Abu Ghraib."
Now, a report in Britain's Daily Telegraph this week stating that the photographs and video Taguba first described to Hersh two years ago were the ones the Obama administration has decided against releasing to the American Civil Liberties Union in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has done just that.
But the photographs described by the Telegraph are not those at the center of the five-year-old lawsuit between the Bush administration and the ACLU that Obama had agreed earlier this year to release.
Two weeks ago, after Obama decided against releasing the photographs, the Telegraph published a report along with several pictures depicting Iraqi prisoners being abused, implying that they were the ones Obama was withholding. That report was also incorrect, as the photographs the Telegraph published two weeks ago had first surfaced in 2006.
The photographs Obama has decided to withhold, as first reported by Truthout, are several dozen taken in 2003 and 2004 in which US Army soldiers in Afghanistan took dozens of pictures of their colleagues pointing assault rifles and pistols at the heads and backs of hooded and bound detainees.
Another photograph, found on a government computer, showed two male soldiers and one female soldier pointing a broom to one detainee "as if I was sticking the end of a broom stick into [his] rectum," according to the female soldier's account to an Army criminal investigator.
The documents that describe many of the photographs that had been set for release this month were housed on the ACLU's web site. The ACLU obtained files describing the pictures in 2005 as part of the organization's Freedom of information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration seeking documents related to the treatment of "war on terror" prisoners in US custody.
Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff attorney, confirmed that the photographs described in documents posted on the group's web site were those that President Obama has decided to withhold, fearing the disclosure would stoke anti-American sentiment and endanger US troops.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman suggested Thursday that the rape photographs don't exist. That's not true. They are just not part of the photographs Obama was set to release this month.
The appeals court panel ordered the 21 photographs taken in Afghanistan and Iraq depicting detainee abuse to be released. About 23 other pictures taken at undisclosed locations in Iraq and Afghanistan were also subject to release. There was speculation that, beyond these photographs, as many as 2,000 others may also be released.
The Army's Criminal Investigation Division retains control over the most graphic images and videos depicting prisoner abuse and torture. The photographs and videos are classified, according to several high-ranking Pentagon officials.
The ACLU first filed its FOIA lawsuit seeking to obtain images in December 2003.
Last September, the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ordered the prisoner-abuse photos released. The Bush administration challenged the ruling, and in March the court denied that appeal petition.
The appeals court also shot down the Bush administration's attempt to radically expand FOIA exemptions for withholding the photos, stating that the Bush administration had attempted to use the FOIA exemptions as "an all-purpose damper on global controversy."
The appeals panel added that releasing the photographs "is likely to further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring future abuse of prisoners."
In April, the Obama administration had agreed to release the photos because the Justice Department said it did not believe it could convince the Supreme Court to review the case. In court papers this week, the Obama administration indicated that it now intends to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.