Yesterday's apology by Major General Geoffrey Miller, now commander of the US-run prisons in Iraq, was no more satisfactory than that belatedly offered in radio interviews by President Bush. What has happened cannot be blamed on "a small number of [US] soldiers". The real responsibility rests with the commander himself and the entire chain of authority right up to the president who sanctioned or condoned a system imported from - need we be surprised? - Guantanamo Bay. We now learn that it was Gen Miller who last September, when he was still in charge of the US concentration camp in Cuba, visited Iraq to offer (as the Washington Post puts it) "suggestions on how to make interrogations more efficient and effective". The basic aim, he recommended, was that military detention centres in Iraq should serve as an "enabler for interrogation" and that the prison guards should "set the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees". And that is what they proceeded to do.
"They [the guards] made them [the prisoners] do strange exercises," says one of the US civilian employees in Abu Ghraib prison, "by sliding on their stomach, jump up and down, throw water on them ... called them all kinds of names such as 'gays' ... then they handcuffed their hands together and their legs with shackles and started to stack them on top of each other". That is torture by any standard, and equally to the point, a very effective "enabler for interrogation".
Amazingly, these horrific abuses - and the policy which led to them - had already been censured in a secret Pentagon report completed in March which found that "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law" were committed. This report has only been disclosed because of the photographs published last week, but its contents can hardly have been a secret to Mr Rumsfeld or to coalition head, Paul Bremer, and if Mr Bush did not know he should have been told. The principle of corporate responsibility must apply equally to Britain, and the question goes far beyond Basra or the authenticity of another set of photos. For if British officers are so closely involved in the running of Iraq at the policy level in Baghdad - as the foreign secretary Jack Straw likes to insist - can they really have known nothing till now about the horrors of Abu Ghraib?
Were British intelligence officers (especially those on the ground in Iraq and those who had operated in Guantanamo Bay) really unaware of the "enabling" techniques of their US comrades? Did no one in Downing Street ever bother to ask Sir Jeremy Greenstock in Baghdad at least to make a few inquiries when previous allegations of torture were reported? And how were ministers - and the prime minister - briefed?
In less than two months, sovereignty will be restored in some degree to the Iraqi people by a coalition whose already poor reputation has now gone off the bottom of the scale. It avails little to put up power lines and rebuild bridges when thousands of Iraqis have been killed by the coalition and hundreds of others are tortured. Here too, Britain needs to assume its full share of responsibility in persuading the US to make it a real and not a bogus transfer of power. That is another tough agenda but, for a start, let us hand back the entire prison system to the Iraqis and allow them to liberate their own jails.
"An empire in moral crisis", at http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/05/02/1083224655715.html contains a direct link to these pictures. Once into this article, you will find two words hotlinked -- "memoryhole". You will see that this word is underlined, indicating a hotlink. If you want to see the sexually abusive pictures inflaming the Arab world right now, this link will provide them.
You can also view these pictures at: http://members.iinet.net.au/~sauterp/iraq/