Human Rights News

U.S.: Abu Ghraib Trials Only ‘A First Step’

Those Who Ordered or Condoned Abuses Must Also Be Prosecuted

(New York, January 6, 2005)—The trials of low-ranking soldiers involved in torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison are only a first step toward accountability for abuses against detainees by U.S. forces, Human Rights Watch said today. On Friday, Specialist Charles Graner, described as the “ringleader” in the Abu Ghraib abuses, faces court-martial at Fort Hood, Texas. Graner appeared in several photographs showing prisoners in sexually humiliating positions, including one of detainees stacked naked in a pyramid.

" The trial of Charles Graner is a first step toward accountability, but no one should confuse it with the end of the process. "
Reed Brody  
Special Counsel  
Human Rights Watch

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“The trial of Charles Graner is a first step toward accountability, but no one should confuse it with the end of the process,” said Reed Brody, special counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The issue isn't only who was the local ringleader, but whether his superiors led him to believe he had permission to engage in such atrocities.”  
Graner is one of seven reservists from the Army's 372 Military Police Company, none higher in rank than sergeant, charged with abuses at the prison. Some have already pleaded guilty. One suspect, Private Lynndie England, who was photographed holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash, was recently transferred to Fort Hood. A date has not yet been set in her court-martial.  
Pentagon officials have claimed that abuses of prisoners were aberrations. The U.S. government’s own investigations, however, have revealed that senior officials and commanders approved the use in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of interrogation techniques that violated traditional U.S. military guidelines, including the use of unmuzzled dogs to frighten detainees, forced nudity, and binding prisoners in painful positions for prolonged periods. According to recently declassified documents, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials complained to the Pentagon as late as 2004 that these techniques, which one FBI official called “torture,” were officially approved by the Department of Defense and commonly used.  
“The low-ranking soldiers who were directly involved in detainee abuse must be prosecuted, and 'following orders' is not a defense," said Brody. "But they're not the ones who cast aside the Geneva Conventions, or who authorized the use of illegal interrogation methods. Those at higher levels who approved or condoned crimes against detainees must also be brought to justice.”