Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein's prison that became a torture chamber for US military intelligence, will undoubtedly take its place with the My Lai massacre in Vietnam as a symbol of the brutality of which some Americans are sometimes capable. This time with pictures, which are now being flashed around the Islamic world. In Baghdad, a tabloid newspaper enjoying Iraq's newly minted freedom of the press spreads across its front page the pictures of brutalized prisoners and smiling Americans. The caption: "This is the democracy and freedom that Bush promised us."
For President Bush, who has described himself as "shaken" and voiced his "deep disgust," this scandal couldn't have come at a worse time. It's bound to complicate negotiations for a turnover of sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30.
The Army has gone into a familiar defensive crouch. "An aberration," Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers called it Sunday, adding that he'd not yet seen the 53-page internal report completed in late February. That report detailed the "sadistic, blatant, and wanton" abuse of prisoners. Nor had Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seen the report until this week. Nor was Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski aware of what was going on in a prison for which she bore command responsibility.
They and the world know now, thanks to the The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh and the CBS "60 Minutes II" program. The leak of the internal report suggests that some constructive whistle-blowing was going on in the military. Already 13 soldiers have been summarily reprimanded, and now, in an effort at damage control, a plethora of investigations are planned by the Army and the CIA. They'll look into the actions of military personnel and the civilians to whom military responsibilities have been increasingly outsourced. Courts-martial will undoubtedly follow. To congressional defense and intelligence committees, this scandal is well-nigh irresistible, and hearings on Capitol Hill are likely.
But after all of the inquiries and head-shaking, the abuse of often defenseless detainees is an episode that, like My Lai, will leave a lasting stain.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.