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June 9, 2004
The horrors of Abu Ghraib were not simply the acts of individual soldiers. Abu Ghraib resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to cast the rules aside.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

The torture and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was the predictable result of the Bush administration's decision to circumvent international law, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 38-page report, “The Road to Abu Ghraib,” examines how the Bush administration adopted a deliberate policy of permitting illegal interrogation techniques – and then spent two years covering up or ignoring reports of torture and other abuse by U.S. troops.

“The horrors of Abu Ghraib were not simply the acts of individual soldiers,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Abu Ghraib resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to cast the rules aside.”

According to Human Rights Watch, administration policies created the climate for Abu Ghraib in three ways.

First, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration decided that the war on terror permitted the United States to circumvent the restraints of international law. The Geneva Conventions were sidestepped as “obsolete.” Lawyers from the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and the White House Counsel’s office asserted that the president was not bound by U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture.

Consequently, the United States began to create offshore, off-limits prisons such as Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and maintained other detainees in “undisclosed locations.” The Bush administration also sent terrorism suspects without legal process to countries where information was beaten out of them.

Second, the United States employed coercive methods to inflict pain and humiliation on detainees to “soften them up” for interrogation. These methods included holding detainees in painful stress positions; depriving them of sleep and light for prolonged periods; exposing them to extremes of heat, cold, noise and light; hooding them; and holding them naked.

These techniques are forbidden by prohibitions against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment contained in international human rights law, the laws of armed conflict, and the U.S. military's own long-standing regulations.

Third, until the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs, Bush administration officials took at best a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to reports of detainee mistreatment. From the earliest days of the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq, the U.S. government has covered up or failed to act on repeated, serious allegations of torture and abuse.

The Bush administration has denied having a policy to torture or abuse detainees. Human Rights Watch called on President Bush to provide evidence for those denials by publicly releasing all relevant government documents.

Human Rights Watch also urged the administration to detail the steps being taken to ensure that these abusive practices do not continue, and to prosecute vigorously all those responsible for ordering or condoning this abuse.

“Everyone has seen the Abu Ghraib pictures,” said Roth. “It’s time President Bush provides the full picture of U.S. policy on torture.”