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NEWSLETTER Volume 2, Issue 4

Preventing Torture Framing the Issue

July 2008

within the fight against terrorism Inside this issue:

Standard operating procedure or criminal acts? An interview with director Errol Morris

Director Errol Morris won an Academy Award in 2004 for his documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, about the

former U.S. Secretary of Defense. This year, Mr Morris returns to the big screen with a new documentary about the now infamous photographs taken by American military personnel who abused detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Standard Operating Procedure

questions the context of those photos – interviewing firsthand witnesses to and perpetrators of the abuses – and illustrates how the photos were used to scapegoat a few “bad apples” and cover up a larger policy of abuse.

England, suggests that these women were seduced by men into participating in these events. How do you feel about this? Do you think the women were as responsible for their actions as their male counterparts? EM: American women in the military are an essential part of the Abu Ghraib story. I believe that we are all responsible for our actions – and that includes both women and men, in and out of the military. But it was part of military intelligence policy to use American women to degrade Iraqi

and is told, "They can do it. You can't." One of the most notorious of the Abu Ghraib photographs shows Lynndie England holding a prisoner on a leash. For me, the picture is particularly shocking because it is an illustration of American foreign policy. And needless to say, using American women in this way is degrading to everyone involved, including the women. IRCT: You’ve now shown the film in the United States and in Europe. Are the reactions of audiences different across the continents?

“One of the most notorious of the Abu Ghraib photographs shows Lynndie England holding a prisoner on a leash. For me, the picture is particularly shocking because it is an illustration of American foreign policy.” —Director Errol Morris

Following a screening of the film in Brussels, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) caught up with Mr Morris to talk about his project.

Standard Operating Procedure, arrives at Abu

IRCT: One of the striking aspects of the Abu Ghraib photos is that, for possibly the first time, women are clearly implicated in having a role in the abuses. In your film, one of those women, Lynndie

Ghraib he is asked to participate in a "left seat/ right seat" training exercise. He is asked to watch two American female interrogators strip an Iraqi prisoner. He asks his superior if this is permitted

men. When Tim Dugan, the CACI interrogator in

EM: Yes. Very few people in the U.S. have identified with soldiers. When the movie was screened recently for the EU in Brussels, the questions centred on: "What would I have done?" For me, this is a movie, among other things, about the nightmare these soldiers found themselves in. They did not

Standard operating proce1 dure or criminal acts? Through their eyes: depictions of torture in U.S. custody


Recommended reading


"create" this war and were asked to fight in it for ill defined reasons. The biggest tragedy is what we have done to the people of Iraq. The war has destabilized a huge country and caused incalculable suffering for millions of people, but it has also damaged the U.S. military and the young soldiers who have been asked to fight this war. Many enlisted for altruistic reasons, to find themselves in an underequipped, untrained, and under -staffed military. IRCT: This is a film about the power of photographs. Increasingly, citizens and journalists in some societies turn to photos and film to document human rights abuses otherwise ignored by the mainstream media or public officials. Yet you noted after the Brussels screening that the Abu Ghraib photos “did not produce a thorough investigation of the place”. What would you say then to other journalists or

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Standard operating procedure or criminal acts? (cont) persons who want to use photographic evidence to expose possible torture? EM: Photographs must always been seen in context. We must know something about the circumstances under which a picture was taken, why it was taken – what we are actually looking at. Photographs can reveal but they can also misdirect and conceal. They are evidence, but we need to determine evidence of what? The Abu Ghraib photographs made millions aware of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but they did not encourage people to look further in Abu Ghraib or to understand the nature of the abuses that occurred there. Did they show "policy" or merely the actions of a few aberrant soldiers? IRCT: In the film, one of the military analysts categorises the photos as either criminal acts or, in the case of acts preapproved by the administration (e.g.,

hooding, stress positions), as Standard Operating Procedure. Presumably, since you gave your film this name, Standard Operating Procedure struck you – can you describe your reaction to hearing the abuses talked about in this manner? EM: It is one of the startling interviews in "Standard Operating Procedure." Brent Pack, a prosecution witness, reveals that many of the

most disturbing photographs from Abu Ghraib depict policy – namely, standard operating procedure. My reaction? We've all gone mad. IRCT: Finally, what do you hope your viewers take away from the film – and if they are outraged, what sort of action would you want them to take?

EM: A feeling that we have been duped, that we have never been given the real story of Abu Ghraib. It is my hope that the movie and the book1 provide information that is not available elsewhere. And we should demand answers. I wrote an extensive essay for the New York Times online, titled "The Most Curious Thing". It is part of my blog called "Zoom". It asks the question: why do we put in prison soldiers who did little more than take pictures, and let murderers [i.e. those who killed detainees] off the hook? We should look at photographs critically, and we should demand accountability – not just for privates and corporals, but for the higher ups in the government, as well.

To learn more about the documentary, visit the film’s official website at http:// standardoperatingprocedure/ 1

A book version of Standard Operating Procedure by Philip

Gourevitch and Errol Morris is also available. Visit http:// for details.

Through their eyes: depictions of torture in U.S. custody

In June, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released the report Broken

Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact, which documents acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or treatment and punishment that occurred

across multiple US detention facilities overseas. Using internationally accepted standards, independent medical and psychological experts conducted clinical interviews and diagnostic testing of 11 former detainees who gave first-hand accounts of having been tortured in US custody.

None of the 11 men was charged with any crime. The intensive, two-day examinations verified with medical evidence that the ex-detainees had indeed been subjected to torture and provided detailed information about enduring physical and psychological suffering.

In his preface to the report, Major General Antonio Taguba, USA (Ret) – who led the US Army’s official investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal – writes: “In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was

Volume 2, Issue 4 promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against

Page 3 those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.� During their clinical interviews, the 11 detainees provided examiners with a comprehensive overview of the physical conditions in which they were held. Some also produced rough sketches to better illustrate the types of torture and illtreatment they endured.

Here, artist Chris Jaeckle reproduces some of their testimonies in the following illustrations.

Full accounts can be found by downloading the report at

Detainees en route to the Guantanamo detention facility were fitted with dark goggles and headphones and shackled to the floor of the aeroplane. This, as well as other forms of sensory deprivation (e.g. hooding, blindfolding), were frequently used in combination with other techniques to stimulate fear, disorientation and dependency on the captors. All of the detainees reported being subject to sexual humiliation. Prisoners were stripped naked and paraded in front of female soldiers; some female interrogators forced them to watch pornography or feign sexual activity. In one instance, a female interrogator smeared blood on a detainee, suggesting it was menstrual blood. In the Iraqi detention facilities, forced nudity became the normal mode of operation.

Several detainees recalled that they were either denied regular access to a toilet, or forced to relieve themselves in a bucket under the watchful eye of the guards.

In Bagram, Afghanistan, between 12 and 15 prisoners were shackled together in compartments. One detainee described it thus: “We were beaten every day in Bagram. You cannot move. If you move, you are punished. Punishment is suspension to barbed wire for one to two hours...we were not allowed to speak any word.� The communal toilet is depicted in the upper right corner, into which the guards once threw the Koran.

All drawings are available for public use/dissemination. If you would like to obtain high resolution versions of these illustrations, please email

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International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) Borgergade 13 · P.O. Box 9049

For more information...

1022 Copenhagen K DENMARK Phone: +45 33 76 06 00 Fax: +45 33 76 05 00 Email:

FIDH 17, passage de la main d’or 75011 Paris FRANCE Phone: +33 1 43 55 25 18 Fax: +33 1 43 55 18 80

The “Preventing Torture within the Fight against Terrorism” newsletter is published bimonthly as part of a joint FIDH-IRCT project aimed at reinstating respect for the prohibition against torture in counterterrorism strategies both globally and in ten target countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mauritania, Pakistan, the Philippines and Russia. The newsletter editors welcome submissions of content for future issues, including articles (send query first), comments, letters to the editor (up to 250 words) and suggestions for recommended reading. To submit content or make enquiries, email Brandy Bauer, IRCT Senior Communications Officer, at

For more information about the “Preventing Torture within the Fight against Terrorism” project, please visit the IRCT web site ( or contact: Sune Segal, Head of Communications, IRCT, +45 20 34 69 14, or Isabelle Brachet, Director of Operations, FIDH, +33 1 43 55 25 18,

This newsletter is being published with funding from the European Commission

Recommended reading

Readers of the “Preventing Torture within the Fight against Terrorism” newsletter may be interested in the following recent reports which discuss in more depth the issues touched upon in this issue. These resources are not meant to be an exhaustive list.

Broken Laws, Broken Lives: medical evidence of torture by the US from Physicians for Human Rights provides clear evidence of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against 11 terror suspects held in US custody abroad. Available at: http://

E-bulletin on counterterrorism and human rights presents a round-up of related news from the International Commission of Jurists. Available at: http://

Egypt and the impact of 27 years of emergency on human rights from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights looks at how the state of emergency has been the main source for human rights violations in the past three decades. Available at: http://

Europe: state of denial from Amnesty International highlights Europe’s role in rendition flights and secret

detention. Available at: en/library/info/ EUR01/003/2008/en

Locked up alone: detention conditions and mental health at Guantanamo from Human Rights Watch details the inhumane conditions within which terror suspects are held in the US facility in Cuba. Available at: http:// us0608/

The Mountain of Terror from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights documents abuses perpetrated by the Kenyan military in the Mt Elgon area. Available at: http:// dmdocuments/elgon.pdf

Pre-empting justice: counterterrorism laws and procedures in France from Human Rights Watch examines how France routinely arrests persons on the basis of association with terror suspects, based on minimal evidence, including from countries known to use torture. Available at: http:// france0708/

State of the World’s Human Rights 2008 is the annual compendium from Amnesty International detailing human rights violations throughout the world. Available at: http:// eng/

Preventing Torture within the Fight against Terrorism 8  

July 2008 - Standard Operating Procedure; depictions of torture in US custody

Preventing Torture within the Fight against Terrorism 8  

July 2008 - Standard Operating Procedure; depictions of torture in US custody