Saturday, March 11, 2006
Meet the man Abu Ghraib turned into a symbol.
Today's New York Times profiles one of the people who was abused, humiliated, and photographed by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib — and whose image became the immediately recognizable icon of American mistreatment of prisoners in our terribly misdirected "war on terror." (The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's Stop Torture Permanently logo, which I'm currently using on this site to promote the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, uses that alarming icon.) Ali Shalal Qaissi was arrested in October 2003, he said, "because he loudly complained to the military, human rights organizations and the news media about soldiers' dumping garbage on a local soccer field." He spent almost six months in Abu Ghraib.
Mr. Qaissi is today a self-styled activist for prisoners' rights in Iraq. Shortly after being released from Abu Ghraib in 2004, he started the Association of Victims of American Occupation Prisons with several other men immortalized in the Abu Ghraib pictures.
Financed partly by Arab nongovernmental organizations and private donations, the group's aim is to publicize the cases of prisoners still in custody, and to support prisoners and their families with donations of clothing and food.
I'm very grateful to learn about the person who was transformed into this terrible image.
("Symbol of Abu Ghraib Seeks to Spare Others His Nightmare," Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times 3.11.06, reg req'd)
Update 3.14.06: Salon has now challenged the Times's identification of the person in the Abu Ghraib photographs:
Army documents obtained by Salon contradict the Times' account. An official report by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) concluded that the photo the Times said showed Qaissi actually showed another detainee, named Saad, whose full name is being withheld by Salon to protect his identity. According to the official report, this second detainee was nicknamed "Gilligan" by military police at Abu Ghraib.
The documents were among many photos and files obtained by Salon last month, from a uniformed member of the military who spent time at Abu Ghraib and is familiar with the CID probe.
In an e-mail interview, a spokesman for CID confirmed that investigators had concluded the photograph shown on the front page of the Times was not Qaissi. "We have had several detainees claim they were the person depicted in the photograph in question," the CID spokesman told Salon. "Our investigation indicates that the person you have cited from the NY Times is not the detainee who was depicted in the photograph."
Ethan Bronner, the deputy foreign editor of the Times, said the newspaper was now investigating the possibility that two people were depicted in the photographs. He said the newspaper was no longer certain that the picture it ran on the front page depicted Qaissi. "Serious legitimate questions have been raised," Bronner said.
The Salon story adds:
A lawyer representing Qaissi confirmed to Salon Monday night that the Times had made a mistake. "He [Qaissi] believes that there are two different people depicted in the photographs," said Jonathan Pyle, of Burke Pyle LLC. "Ali believes that the picture of himself is the one with his arms pointed diagonally down." Qaissi uses this photograph on his business card.
("Identifying a Torture Icon," Michael Scherer, Salon 3.14.06, via Romanesko; see also "Web Magazine Raises Doubts Over a Symbol of Abu Ghraib," New York Times 3.14.06, reg req'd)
Update 3.18.06: The Times follows up today, confirming that Qaissi is not the man in the most famous picture from Abu Ghraib. No one seems to know what has happened to Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, the prisoner who was photographed standing on top of a cardboard box with wires attached to his outstretched arms. ("Cited as Symbol of Abu Ghraib, Man Admits He Is Not in Photo," Kate Zernike, New York Times 3.18.06, reg req'd)
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 11 March 2006 at 4:44 PM