Photos from Abu Ghraib The Hooded Men
New photographs depicting torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison have reinvigorated the discussion over the identity of the hooded man who became a symbol of the US prison abuse scandal. For the past two years, Hajji Ali has been identified as the man beneath the hood. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he responds to reports in the press claiming that he is not.
Earlier this year, San Francisco-based Salon.com first reported on extensive material put out by the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) that had been leaked to the online magazine by a member of the military who had himself been stationed at Abu Ghraib.
In the meantime, more than 300 former Abu Ghraib inmates have filed a class action lawsuit in a District of Columbia court, and new material, including a raft of photos, has been emerging almost daily.
The new photos provide even more evidence of the kinds of abuse that were previously disclosed, with new close-up images of the victims. They include prisoner number 151716, the man nicknamed "The Claw" by his abusers. His real name is Ali Jalal Qaissi, but he is also known as Hajji Ali. In photos he is depicted standing in a torture cell with a hood over his head. His guards wrote the word "Claw" onto his orange prison overalls because of his disfigured left hand. Parts of two fingers are missing, the result of a careless shooting accident, he says.
These new photos document the claims made by Hajji Ali about his treament during his imprisonment, reports that were printed in various publications, including Vanity Fair, DER SPIEGEL and the German magazine Stern. The photos have raised doubts in one respect: Salon writes that the photos depicting a man wearing a hood and a robe are not of Hajji Ali. In last Saturday's edition, the New York Times -- after having run a portrait of Hajji Ali as the hooded man only a week earlier -- also questioned claims that he was in fact the man in these photos.
SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with Hajji Ali in the Jordanian capital, Amman about the discrepancies.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In interviews with SPIEGEL, Stern, Vanity Fair and other publications, you have repeatedly claimed that you recognized yourself in one of the photos showing prisoners wearing hoods and robes. Do you stand by your statements?
Hajji Ali: Yes. I know it's true because I suffered this torture method. I stood on a box, I had a hood over my head and I wore a blanket in this manner. I had the electric wire attached to my hands. It was just the same as in the picture.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But now the New York Times writes that you admitted to the paper that you are not the man in this photo.
Hajji Ali: I merely admitted that I am not the man in the photo that the New York Times printed. But I am in another photo.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: German papers are writing that you confessed to the New York Times, "in tears," that you are not the man on the photo.
Hajji Ali: That isn't true, and that is not what it says in the New York Times. In the interview with the New York Times, I was distraught about the fact that my credibility was called into question.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to media reports, only one man was tortured with electric cables in the manner depicted in the photo, a man nicknamed "Gilligan."
Hajji Ali: That isn't true. I am just one of many who were tortured in this way. In fact, I could give you names. Aside from Saad, whom the soldiers called "Gilligan," I know of a man from Mosul called Shahin, whom they nicknamed "Joker," and a man named Saddam al-Rawi, who was treated especially poorly because of his first name, and who lost his mind after the electroshocks. There were dozens. This torture method was established, a fixed part of the system, although the wires were attached to the toes on some prisoners, or to the genitals or the ears on others. In my case, they only attached them to my hands.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The photo that supposedly depicts "Gilligan," and the photo in which you claim you are depicted were presumably taken within a span of three minutes. This suggests that the photos show the same person.
Hajji Ali: Who says that? Those three minutes are not proof, as far as I'm concerned. If you compare the photos, you can see that my legs are much thicker. The blanket looks different, and so does the left hand. If you ask me, these are two different people.
An analysis of all existing photos raises serious questions about Hajji Ali's claim that he is the man in one of the photos depicting prisoners being tortured with electric cables. What is certain, however, is that many prisoners were tortured in the manner shown in the photos.
Experts, including US historian Alfred McCoy -- who has studied the torture practices of the CIA and US military for the past 20 years -- believe that the procedure suffered by the "hooded man" is a standard torture method the CIA has been using for years. Jamie Fellner, Director of "Human Rights Watch," also believes that other prisoners were tortured in the same manner. The US military's official "Taguba Report," written by Major General Antonio Taguba, cites the sworn testimony of Specialist Sabrina Harman of the 372nd Military Police Company. Harman reports on at least one prisoner whose fingers, toes and penis were attached to wires. But the widely distributed image of the "hooded man" only depicts wires attached to the fingers, suggesting that there were other, similar cases. Indeed, US investigators have reported that a number of prisoners have claimed to be the hooded man hooked up to electric wires, men like former prisoner Satar Jabar -- yet another indication that several prisoners were tortured in the manner shown in the photos.
The interview was conducted by Ralf Hoppe and Marian Blasberg.
Full disclosure: SPIEGEL ONLINE has a content partnership with Salon.com. SPIEGEL frequently reprints articles from Salon.com on its Web site and vice-versa.