Some Children Left Behind—in Abu Ghraib


WASHINGTON, D.C.—It was another surreal day in the nation’s capital. The ACLU released documents yesterday revealing the U.S. has been holding children as young as 11 years old in the Abu Ghraib prison—not so shocking when the story came out in German newspapers and an International Committee of the Red Cross report almost a year ago and was mentioned by Rick Perlstein in the Voice last July. The Pentagon admitted kids were detained along with others, but said no child was subject to any abuse.

According to a transcript of a May 2004 interview obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act, the former commander of the jail, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski told an investigating general how she often visited the kids. One boy “looked like he was 8,” she said.

“He told me he was almost 12,” she said, according to a BBC report. “He told me his brother was was there with him, but he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother. He was crying.”

Documents describe four drunk GIs taking a 17-year-old woman out of her cell, making her expose her breasts and kissing her. Another document tells how U.S. troops seized a 17-year-old son of an Iraqi general, smeared him with mud, and forced the father to watch him in the cold.

Karpinski said Major General Walter Wodjakowski, at the time the second most senior army general in Iraq, ordered her not to release prisoners—even if she knew they were innocent. “I don’t care if we’re holding 15,000 innocent civilians,” she said Wodjakowski told her. “We’re winning the war.” The ACLU is suing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for abuses at the prison, despite his repeated assurances to the public that neither he nor his aides ever condoned them.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Rummy was busy pointing out to the members of the House Armed Services Committee that wars aren’t all bad. “If you put yourself in the shoes of a country that might decide they’d like to make mischief,” Rumsfeld said, “they have a very recent, vivid example of the fact that the United States has the ability to deal with this.”

“The world has seen in the last three and a half years the capability of the United States of America to go into Afghanistan . . . and with 20,000, 15,000 troops working with the Afghans, do what 200,000 Soviets couldn’t do in a decade. They’ve seen the United States and the coalition forces go into Iraq. . . . That has to [have] a deterrent effect on people.” Rumsfeld has always despaired of getting a fair shake in the press, which was always putting things in the worst possible perspective. Now that democracy is spreading across the Middle East in a welcome tide, Rumsfeld and others in the administration are seeing justice prevail.