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Chris Shays Scrambles Over Abu Ghraib Torture Comments

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET

Republican Congressman Chris Shays (CT) is scrambling, trying to backtrack from his comments at a debate this week in which he said the Abu Ghraib scandal didn't involve torture.

"Now I've seen what happened in Abu Ghraib, and Abu Ghraib was not torture," Shays said at a debate Wednesday. "It was outrageous, outrageous involvement of National Guard troops from (Maryland) who were involved in a sex ring and they took pictures of soldiers who were naked," added Shays. "And they did other things that were just outrageous. But it wasn't torture."

Today he told the Associated Press he didn't mean sexual abuse was not torture. Yet, he still maintains what happened at Abu Graib was the result of a sex ring of a National Guard unit run amok. He says the scandal was more about pornography than torture.

That dog won't hunt. Staging a mock execution as Ivan Frederick did is not sex abuse. It's torture, plain and simple. Frederick also admitted to stomping on prisoners' hands and feet and punching them in the chest.

Lynndie England told authorities:

....how she put a strap around a detainee's neck and forced him and others to run and crawl down a hallway for "approximately four to six hours;" how one soldier would regularly throw a Nerf football at detainees with bags over their heads "to scare them;" how one soldier would kick detainees and cause open wounds, then "would personally stitch detainees if the wound weren't too bad," according to a copy of her statement given to The New York Times.

England describes fellow guard Ivan Frederick's actions:

"He also played some mind games with some of them with chemical lights," she added. "He would tell them to lift their legs and place the chemical light under their feet and tell them it was a knife. The chemical light would then be broken and spilled on the ground, the detainee would then be forced to crawl through it and then placed in a dark cell, this would freak out the detainee because they would glow."

From Abu Ghraib guard Jeremy Sivits:

Sivits described Graner as one of the ringleaders. The former Pennsylvania prison guard was joking, laughing, angered and "acting like he was enjoying it," Sivits said. He said Graner once punched a detainee in the head so hard the man fell unconscious. ....Sivits said Sgt. Javal Davis threw himself on a pile of prisoners and "then stomped on either the fingers or toes of the detainees," as they screamed in pain.

From Major General Antonio M. Taguba's report, describing the abuse:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

Also Check out the details in this Iraqi-born Swedish prisoner's lawsuit filed over his abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Then there is Charles Graner, perhaps the worst of all. His e-mails were introduced to the jury at his trial.

In one e-mail, he described beating on prisoners as "a good upper-body workout, but hard on the hands."....

In another,

"The guys give me hell for not getting any pictures while I was fighting this guy," said the message, titled "just another dull night at work," with the photograph of the howling, bound, bleeding detainee, according to the Times. The paper also reported that Graner responded to an e-mail message about a Take Your Children to Work Day event, "how about send a bastard to hell day?" attaching a photograph of a detainee's head bloodied beyond recognition.

Charles Graner had been a prison guard in Pennsylvania. He was accused of physical abuse there, as well as at home by his ex-wife.

At the Pennsylvania prison where he worked as a low-level guard in civilian life, the Army reservist was accused in two lawsuits of brutality. In one, an inmate said Graner planted a razor blade in a plate of his potatoes. The lawsuits were dismissed and no charges were ever filed in the dispute with his wife, but the accusations continue to haunt Graner now that he faces court-martial in the abuse scandal.

Nick Yarris, a prisoner on death row who was later exonerated and released, said:

According to Yarris, Graner was responsible for moving prisoners within the facility and was "violent, abusive, arrogant and mean-spirited" toward Yarris and other inmates. Yarris said he knew of several instances in which Graner was involved in physically assaulting prisoners. Yarris also states that Graner was reprimanded by his superiors on several occasions and was disliked by both prisoners and other prison employees.

Nice try, Chris Shays, but no cigar. Yes, there was outrageous sexual abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib that amounted to torture. But, there also was brutal, disgusting, depraved non-sexual torture. Why not admit your mistake and forego the clumsy explanation? You're just digging yourself into a deeper hole.

[By Jeralyn Merritt, who blogs daily at TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime.]