On April 30, 2004, the CBS program 60 Minutes reports on abuse of prisoners by American military forces at Abu Ghraib, a prison in Iraq. The report, which featured graphic photographs showing U.S. military personnel torturing and abusing prisoners, shocked the American public and greatly tarnished the Bush Administration and its war in Iraq.
Amnesty International had surfaced many of the allegations in June of 2003, not long after the United States invaded Iraq and took over Abu Ghraib, which soon became the largest American prison in Iraq. As the 60 Minutes report and subsequent investigations proved, torture quickly became commonplace at Abu Ghraib. Photographs depicted American soldiers sexually assaulting detainees, threatening them with dogs, putting them on leashes and engaging in a number of other practices that clearly constituted torture and/or violations of the Geneva Convention.
In at least one instance, the Army tortured a prisoner to death. President George W. Bush assured the public that the instances of torture were isolated, but as the scandal unfolded it became clear that, in the words of an International Committee of the Red Cross official, there was a “pattern and a broad system” of abuse throughout the Department of Defense. Torture techniques, which the CIA and military often referred to as “enhanced interrogation,” had in fact been developed at sites like the Guantanamo Bay detention center and were routinely employed in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and at other “black sites” around the world.
In June of 2004, it was revealed that the Bush Administration—specifically Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo—had not only been aware of widespread torture but had secretly developed a legal defense attempting to exempt the United States from the Geneva Convention. A 2006 court decision subsequently ruled that the Geneva Convention did apply to all aspects of the “War on Terror.”
Eleven soldiers were eventually convicted by military courts of crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, while Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had been in charge there, was merely demoted. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologized for the abuses, but Bush did not accept Rumsfeld’s offer to resign. Yoo went on to teach at Berkeley Law and is a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In the years after the revelations, legal scholars have repeatedly suggested that Bush, Rumsfeld and soldiers who carried out the abuses at Abu Ghraib could be prosecuted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.