The Daily Telegraph report yesterday about the possibility of photos showing rape at Abu Ghraib has lead bloggers to resurrect a 2004 quote from New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh alleging that photos or video of such an event existed. (A commenter mentions the Hersh quote in a recent Swampland thread, as does Zach Roth at TPM and Larisa Alexandrova, among others.)
But Alex Koppelman at Salon does the due diligence on that quote and points out that Hersh has since effectively retracted the claim. Koppelman writes:
It has since become clear that what Hersh said was inaccurate. In a 2005 article for New York Magazine in which he slammed Hersh for being careless about the factual basis for things he discussed in his speeches, rather than in his articles, Chris Suellentrop noted that Hersh’s book “Chain of Command” paints a very different picture. It read:
‘An attorney involved in the case told me in July 2004 that one of the witness statements he had read described the rape of a boy by a foreign contract employee who served as an interpreter at Abu Ghraib. In the statement, which had not been made public, the lawyer told me, a prisoner stated that he was a witness to the rape, and that a woman was taking pictures. The witness further stated, according to the lawyer, that “the kid was making a lot of noise.”‘
Hersh himself told Suellentrop, “I actually didn’t quite say what I wanted to say correctly. It wasn’t that inaccurate, but it was misstated. The next thing I know, it was all over the blogs. And I just realized then, the power of—and so you have to try and be more careful.”
Meanwhile, today at the Daily Beast, Scott Horton, the human rights lawyer, says he has been able to confirm the existence to the photos described by the Telegraph by speaking with “several reliable sources, including a highly credible senior military officer with firsthand knowledge.” [More after the jump.]
Horton goes on to describe the contents of some of these photos:
The photographs differ from those already officially released. Some show U.S. personnel engaged in sexual acts with prisoners and each other. In one, a female prisoner appears to have been forced to expose her breasts to be photographed. In another, a prisoner is suspended naked upside down from the top bunk of a bed in a stress position. . . .In one withheld photograph, not previously described, Specialist Charles A. Graner, Jr., an Abu Ghraib guard, is shown suturing the face of a prisoner, a reliable source tells The Daily Beast.
Horton seems to be describing images that have been published by news organizations, like Salon, as far back as 2006. The images of detainees exposing their breasts and a detainee hanging naked from a bed are also discussed in detail in the Abu Ghraib investigations, which have been released. (News organizations have restrained from publishing the photos of consensual sexual behavior between U.S. soldiers.) Horton is wrong to say that there has been no previous description of photographs of Graner suturing the face of a prisoner. An incident fitting this description has been investigated and made public, as have the photographs. (The photos and explanations are here.)
None of this rules out the possibility of more horrific photographs that have not been disclosed. (Taguba has yet to be quoted in a published report since his comments to the Telegraph.) But as this story echoes around the Internet, mistatement and rumors are clearly getting ahead of the facts.