The Horror that WAS Abu Ghraib
Slate: Abu Ghraib Isn't Guernica -- But here's why the Spanish Civil War analogy is worth exploring. By Christopher Hitchens
Abu Ghraib was by no means celebrated as an ancestral civic and cultural center before the year 2004. To the Iraqis, it was a name to be mentioned in whispers, if at all, as "the house of the end." It was a Dachau. Numberless people were consigned there and were never heard of again. Its execution shed worked overtime, as did its torturers, and we are still trying to discover how many Iraqis and Kurds died in its precincts. At one point, when it suffered even more than usual from chronic overcrowding, Saddam and his sons decided to execute a proportion of the inmates at random, just to cull the population. The warders then fanned out at night to visit the families of the prisoners, asking how much it would be worth to keep their son or brother or father off the list. The hands of prisoners were cut off, and the proceedings recorded on video for the delight of others. I myself became certain that Saddam had reached his fin de régime, or his Ceau?escu moment, when he celebrated his 100-percent win in the "referendum" of 2003 by releasing all the nonpolitical prisoners (the rapists and thieves and murderers who were his natural constituency) from Abu Ghraib. This sudden flood of ex-cons was a large factor in the horrific looting and mayhem that accompanied the fall of Baghdad. I visited the jail a few months later, and I can tell you about everything but the stench, which you would have to smell for yourself. Layers of excrement and filth were being shoveled out; cells obviously designed for the vilest treatment of human beings made one recoil. In the huge, dank, cement gallery where the executions took place, a series of hooks and rings hung over a gruesome pit. Efforts were being made to repaint and disinfect the joint, and many of the new inmates were being held in encampments in the yard while this was being done, but I distinctly remember thinking that there was really no salvaging such a place and that it should either be torn down and ploughed over or turned into a museum. Instead, it became an improvised center for anyone caught in the dragnet of the "insurgency" and was filled up with suspects as well as armed supporters of Baathism and Bin Ladenism. There's no need to restate what everyone now knows about what happened as a consequence. But I am not an apologist if I point out that there are no more hangings, random or systematic. The outrages committed by Pvt. England and her delightful boyfriend were first uncovered by their superiors. And seven of Saddam's amputees—those whose mutilations were filmed and distributed as a warning—have been flown to Houston, Texas—Texas, capital of redneck barbarism!—to be fitted with new prosthetic hands.