by Prashant Rao
Perhaps no single revelation in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq was more notorious than that of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad.
It led to courts martial for several of the soldiers directly involved and tarnished America’s image worldwide. Then Secretary of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld twice offered to resign over the scandal.
On a recent visit to a US-run “detainee facility”, senior American military officers were at pains to emphasise the changes they had implemented in their detention regime in the five-odd years since.
I spoke to the top US commander in Iraq for detainee operations and, as he addressed the scandal and its aftermath, other senior officers volunteered information highlighting the oversight of US-run facilities, ranging from the Red Cross inspections and visits with detainees to visits by officers from Central Command, the nerve centre for the US’s Middle East operations.
“We had to fix a lot of problems that we had with detainee operations,” said Brigadier General David Quantock, a former commandant of the US military police school.
“If you look at Abu Ghraib, I think one of the base problems was that there was no oversight, very little oversight, and that was a lack of leadership,” he added, emphasising that the US was also trying to be more transparent, by inviting foreign and domestic media, as well as Iraqi ministers and lawmakers, to its facilities.
Quantock said lessons learned from Abu Ghraib — for example, the unique requirements of running a detainee facility amid an insurgency — were incorporated into a new US army field manual, with an updated revision due in October.
In this, he seemed sincere. If so, while the damage done to the reputation of US forces by the prisoner abuse scandal cannot be written out of history, those in charge today could at least say they have done something about it.