Cable: Abu Ghraib torture inspired hundreds of Saudis to jihad

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, December 2, 2010 11:54 EDT
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The Bush administration’s torture program was a beacon for Islamic extremists seeking to recruit fellow fighters in the war against America and its allies, a leaked diplomatic cable has shown.

A State Department document released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks, detailing discussions between Saudi Arabia and US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, noted that the Saudis arrested some 250 men on their way to join extremists in Afghanistan.

The cable specifically noted the men were inspired to take up arms by stories and photos of the ghastly torture carried out at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where prisoners and in some cases their family members — including children — were raped, tortured and killed by Americans.

It reads:

Holbrooke explained that President Obama had decided to oppose release of 2000 photographs of U.S. interrogations of terrorist suspects on grounds of national security, and asked what the Saudi public reaction would be to publication of these photos. MbN responded “You bet!” it would be bad for security, and noted that following publication of the first Abu Ghraib photos, Saudi authorities had arrested 250 individuals trying to leave Saudi Arabia to join extremist groups in Afghanistan. Release of more pictures would give AQ “the favor of their life,” said the Prince. Saudi Arabia had fought very hard to defeat AQ on the Internet, but he couldn,t [sic] see how to fight 2000 new photos.

Critics of the Bush administration’s torture program long argued that it served as a recruiting tool for terrorists, but this would seem to be the first official confirmation of that hyperbole translating directly into fact.

President Obama mid-way through 2009 grappled with a court order to release some 2,000 photos of abuses carried out on terror war prisoners, but they were ultimately suppressed. The president’s military advisers had pleaded with him to keep the photos under wraps

Obama said releasing the photos, which were used as evidence in criminal investigations of US soldiers accused of abusing detainees during George W. Bush’s administration, would “inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger” without shedding any new light on past abuses.

“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefits to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” he told reporters.

Human rights groups condemned the decision.

“The Obama administration’s adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government,” said ACLU executive director Anthony Romero.

“When these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration’s complicity in covering them up.”

But Obama countered that the photos were “not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

President Bush and former Vice President Cheney have both said publicly that they authorized the use of torture. While a violation of national and international law, including treaties the US is signatory to, the Obama administration worked with congressional Republicans to stifle inquiries into the Bush torture program, according to another cable recently released by WikiLeaks.

As a Senator and candidate for the presidency, Obama decried the Bush torture program and said he would ensure its end as president. The Bush administration had argued against the release of the photos in part by saying it would violate the privacy rights of detainees under the Geneva Conventions. The same treaty explicitly forbids torture.

Updated from a prior version.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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