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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Meet the man Abu Ghraib turned into a symbol.

Ali Shalal QaissiToday'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

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Bill Baar:

March 13, 2006 07:23 AM | Permalink for this comment

Being made to stand perched on a board for hours-on-end easier, and then released; with big book deals and speaking egagements to liberals in the west...

...better treatment than that handed out to Tom Fox,

Interior Ministry Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said Fox was found with his hands tied and gunshot wounds to his head and chest. There were cuts on his body and bruises on his head, indicating torture, he said.


March 13, 2006 07:36 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm grieved by Fox's death, too. But invoking Fox to defend the U.S. practice of torture is a cheap and offensive misuse of the death of a peacemaker.

Jeff Wilson:

March 13, 2006 11:12 AM | Permalink for this comment

Bill, based on his beliefs and actions I have no doubts whatsoever that Tom Fox would be offended by your attempt to use his situation to deflect attention from or downplay the seriousness of U.S. torture of Iraqis. Please have some respect for the man's life and message beyond using him as a post-mortem political pawn.

Bill Baar:

March 13, 2006 03:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree he would be offended.

He and his comrades put Americans and Iraqis at risk hunting to liberate them.

And here's Mr. Qaissa: hale, fit, and alive here, taking the front page of the NYT after being humilated.

Check out Belmont Club Wafa Sultan's approach to non violent protest.

Both Fox and Sultan employed nonviolent methods to achieve their ends. Given the death threats leveled on Hirsi Ali, the Danish caricaturists of Mohammed, Salman Rusdie and others it is arguable that Dr. Sultan by her open opposition to Islamism is showing as much personal courage as anyone in the CPT. Since Dr. Sultan probably has relatives and friends in Syria or the Muslim community in America, she is likely in a more vulnerable situation than a Western Peace Activist who is only in the Middle East temporarily.

To Tom Fox's question "How do you stand firm against a car-bomber or a kidnapper?" -- a question to which he never provided an answer except to say it was not fighting -- Wafa Sultan's answer is that you start by denouncing it. You begin by intellectually opposing the ideology that drives it; that legitimizes it; that portrays it as attractive to children from their cradle. The CPT website, on the other hand, says that denunciation is part of the problem, because it dehumanizes the denounced; hides our Western guilt; and shows a lack of tolerance and respect for Islam.


March 13, 2006 04:36 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill, I generally appreciate your conservative point of view among our default far-left setting, but your first comment is just too abhorrent to go uncommented on. Yea, wow, Mr. Qiassi really made out like a bandit capitalizing on his suffering, the bastid. As though bearing witness to war time atrocities is something people do to get bucks; what a bunch of shysters. Yuck. I need a Karen Silkwood scrubdown just being on the same web site with such hateful, hysterical dreck.

Bill Baar:

March 13, 2006 05:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

He's alive, free, and on the front of the NYT Peace Bang.

Fox's tortured and dead.

There is a truth there I find hard to overlook.

It's noteworthy too how few of the UU blogs have had any comment at all on about Fox's death.

It raises many questions about non violent protest that should be of concern.

I'm concerned no one is asking

Bill Baar:

March 13, 2006 05:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

Google him... he's speaking all over the middle east for the past two years with his slides. You can bet he wasn't speaking for free, or talking much about the Christian Peace Teams.


March 13, 2006 05:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

Let me get this straight, Bill: If someone is lucky enough not to die while being tortured, he should keep his trap shut after getting out of jail -- and the rest of us should certainly not bother to learn his name or listen to what he has to say. Because he might get paid. Torture should be free, baby!

Sure, I wonder what his funders hope to gain, but frankly, I'm simply glad to have some dignity restored to the guy. He was arrested for nothing, tortured, humiliated, and released after almost six months in jail without ever being charged with a crime. That's not liberalism under any conceivable definition of the term. I find what happened to him deplorable on its own terms. It has nothing to do with whether he has a story to sell later. (Perhaps you can work out a fee schedule for what sorts of personal experiences someone can legitimately write about later.)

Meanwhile, you -- who have questioned whether I have a right to comment on other Christians' interpretation of Christianity because UUism "isn't Christian," although I am -- have the audacity to complain that UU blogs haven't been holding a vigil for the Christian Peacemakers taken as hostages in Iraq. Why? You're the one who disagrees with Tom Fox. But his captivity and murder simply prove (to you) that nothing the U.S. can do is ever as bad as what those Islamists do. None of those Islamist terrorist groups ever pretended to be a liberal democracy, though, nor did they pretend to be promoting liberal democracy abroad. I have a stake in what my country does, Bill. That's why its justification of torture appalls me.

There are thousands of awful things that happen every day. Do I have time or energy to blog about them? No. Does that mean they're not important? Of course not. But I don't owe you or your worldview an apology for neglecting to comment on your concerns.

I'm complaining that the U.S. violated -- and may still be violating -- its greatest legacy in the way it has treated prisoners. But you have embraced some kind of crude moral relativism that enables the U.S. to escape judgment because some thugs executed a Quaker. I'm embarrassed for you.


March 15, 2006 03:57 PM | Permalink for this comment has just released a lot of new information about Abu Ghraib. The man in the picture is named Saad and was arrested because he was suspected of kidnapping and killing two US soldiers. That doesn't mean that he was guilty and it certainly would not justify the torture even if he were. It just establishes the context.

The New York Times appears to have been deceived by Qaissi. It was bad luck to run a fake news story just days before a much more convincing story came out.


March 15, 2006 04:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

And what a scoop for Salon!


March 15, 2006 09:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

Don't forget G-bay. Lots of people being held their with out due process. And G-bay is American territory due to the treaty with Cuba (G-bay is actually a vestige of American imperialism). Which means, anyone held on that property is owed due they get it? Prolly not. We hear about Saddam's trial all the time on the news, but do we hear about the secret military tribunals? I want to know the details before I condemn anyone, and if you don't know the details and you start condemning people who have been suspected of crimes or arrested, you need to re-evaluate your morals as an American.

Bill Baar:

March 18, 2006 10:18 AM | Permalink for this comment

Just wanted to see if you all picked up the story here about Mr. Qaissi.

No Chris, I don't believe being made to stand hooded on a box fearing those wires by shock is torture. I don't think water boarding is torture.

I think there was prisoner abuse at Abu Garih and the Army discovered it, corrected it, and brought the criminals to justice.

I believe the detainees at Gitmo are not criminals and should not be tried. They are belligerents at war with the United States caught fighting out of uniform on the battlefied. They should be held for the duration or released if Tribunals find it no longer needed or they were captured in error.

I think same applies to Masuossi (sp?)

We fight war and treate captives, even those fighting outside the bounds of the convention, as civilized should. A stark contrast with the torture and execution of Mr. Fox, a fellow in sympathy with his capturers.

And then we have folks like Qaissi, who are cashing in, and he never even stood on the box.

Scott Wells:

March 18, 2006 12:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Nice, Bill. A definition of civilized behavior based on not doing what terror cells do, but little more?

And your comment about waterboarding: Lord, I hope you never host a pool party.

I'm done with your blog-agitprop.

Bill Baar:

March 18, 2006 06:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

A good deal more Scott... we've done a good deal more for sure. Liberationg Iraq and helping Iraqis build a Democracy for starters.

Water boarding just isn't torture. Heck, the Navy does it to recruits up as great lakes for training.

So many UU's lake Moral Clarity. The can't see the difference between the terrorists who tortured and shot Fox, and the US Army's treatment of Qaissi and most importantly, an Army that runs a system where prisoner abuse is rooted out and abusers brought to trial.

It's a huge difference. It's the difference betwee civilized people and barbaric terrorists.


March 18, 2006 08:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

The Convention Against Torture [CAT] is an international treaty which was ratified, unanimously as I recall, in 1994 by the US Senate. The treaty defines two classes of offense, torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment (which I will call cruelty).

Anything involving the "threat of imminent death" or severe pain is torture. Hooking someone up with wires and threatening to electrocute them is therefore clearly torture.

Sexual molestation, threatening people wtih dog bites, etc. are cruelty but not torture. Any cruelty by any US military servicemember at any time and any place is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But legally it still isn't torture.

Many liberals are uncomfortable with the legal distinction between cruelty and torture. Journalists sometimes pretend that this was all made up by the Bush administration. But it is right there in the treaty. The Democrats all voted for it in 1994.


March 19, 2006 08:04 AM | Permalink for this comment

I do recognize the distinction uuwonk makes. What angers me is the series of rationalizations and legal justifications the Bush administration has offered to encourage and defend behaviors that violate the Convention Against Torture, U.S. law, and the Geneva Conventions.

The cruelty and humiliation inflicted on detainees have been terrible p.r. for the U.S. in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world. That's bad enough. But Bush's redefinition of torture is much worse. It defends the use of truly extreme tactics that are widely considered ineffective at extracting useful or accurate information by psychologists and intelligence experts and that violate international human rights standards; and it defends them under the logic that the president of the United States can do pretty much anything he wants in the name of protecting the country. That isn't consistent with any meaning of a liberal democratic republic I can think of. It's hubristic, ineffective, illiberal, and immoral. I'm upset by American cruelty, but I really cannot tolerate American justifications for torture.

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