Rumors of a Rape Video -- or maybe a photograph of abuse, depending upon whom you talk to -- have existed for years: The image allegedly shows “a male translator raping a male detainee,” according to Duncan Gardham and Paul Cruickshank in a Daily Telepgraph piece headlined “Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape.'” As Adam noted, President Obama says it is better not to release the photographs of detainee abuse, because doing so would make people angry and put U.S. troops in danger. The president sounds reasonable, and even many progressives believe that the pictures should be kept under wraps as a way of showing support for the troops and ensuring their safety. Keeping the photos private protects the victims, too. Not releasing the photographs is, in other words, a way to keep the peace. But what about justice?
The Abu Ghraib scandal exists solely because of the photographs: If no pictures had been taken (and then given to a military investigator and, eventually, to the media), there would have been only silence surrounding the horrific crimes that took place at the prison. Since the photos existed -- and appeared on 60 Minutes II and in the pages of The New Yorker and, eventually, on countless websites and television shows around the world -- military investigators were forced to examine what had happened at the prison and to write up a series of reports. The investigations focused a laser on the individuals pictured in the photographs, and some of these low-ranking soldiers were punished and put behind bars. The problem was that anything that took place beyond the frames of the photographs was seen as unimportant.
While reporting my book, Monstering, I heard about an interpreter who had worked at the prison and allegedly raped a 14-year-old boy, and that there was a video or a photograph of the crime that had been recorded by a female soldier. (It wasn’t Lynndie England -- I asked her about it.) Military investigators looked into the alleged crime against the boy – but half-heartedly -- and the investigation was eventually dropped. Since there was no photo or video that had been released to the public, it was not a priority.
So what happened to the alleged perpetrator? I spoke (briefly) with the interpreter who was accused of raping the boy as part of research for my book. After returning from Iraq, the interpreter had gotten a job at a LensCrafters in a shopping mall in suburban Maryland, and when I saw him, he was in good spirits, walking through the mall with a take-out pizza in a cardboard box. No word on the 14-year-old boy, who has been released from the prison. The military investigators who were looking into this alleged crime did not put much effort into finding him, at least based on the notes from the investigations that I saw. It was clear that this incident, however terrible, was not a priority for the investigators, apparently because no pictures of what had happened were released to the public. That is a travesty of justice: Government officials should black out the identities of the boy and of the other people who are depicted in the photographs so they are not humiliated once again by their abusers, and then release the images, and all of the horror that they depict, to the public. Maybe then there will be investigations -- serious ones this time -- and, if warranted, prosecutions.