Abu Gharaib abuses exaggerated
May 19, 2004
To the editor:

As you know the prisoner abuse scandal has been one of top stories in the news over the last few weeks. Having served in the Army for 8 years, I am deeply concerned about the impact these incidents are having on the image of our military and country. It is out of this concern that I am forwarding a letter that was written by a doctor at the Abu Gharaib prison. I hope this letter helps to provide some balance to the legitimate concerns caused by these terrible events. Please feel free to distribute this e-mail as you see fit. Thank you for your time and consideration. (The letter is included below)


John Balbach

From: michael.b.gutman@us.army.mil

Sent: Saturday, May 08, 2004 11:25 PM

Subject: Home and Prisoner Abuse at Abu Gharaib

Hi Everybody, I have decided to resurrect my e-mail tree despite my telling you last time that I would end my general mailings. However, I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts as it turns out I was in the middle of the maelstrom when I was at Abu Gharaib.

First, I must tell all of you how sweet it is to be back home. It is a month now since I returned to West Hartford for good, or at least until the next time I am deployed. I spent a truly peaceful 'shabat' in my own home today. This evening, walking in the quiet streets with a gentle rain falling, a canopy of newly green leaves in the trees overhead and my wise, beautiful, patient wife at my side gave me a peace of mind that I think has alluded me for much of my adult life. The minor irritations that bombard me at work seem....minor. People at work complain about delays, lost labs and a new computer system that is slowing things down. This past Friday work seemed particularly hectic. I intubated three people, treated a significant salicylate poisoning, while also working up the innumerable problems that assail the average emergency physician in a busy tertiary hospital. But getting a spiral cat scan to rule out pulmonary embolus or a cardiac enzyme all within two hours seemed like such a luxury compare to waiting for a week for a lab test in Iraq and not even having a spiral CT scan. Resuscitating those sick people seemed so easy when I compare it to the difficulties of the resuscitations I had in the field in Iraq with poor lighting, equipment deficits and a lack of the wonderfully trained team of nurses and respiratory therapists I had at St. Francis Hospital this past Friday. People have asked if I changed as a result of my experiences in Iraq. To me I seem the same person, but certainly my perception of my world, my home and work has changed. Life in general just seems simpler and sweeter.

As to Abu Gharaib and its recent news coverage. I am often being asked, did you know about it? Were the soldiers being told to do it? Wasn't the environment there conducive to abusing the detainees? Yes, I did know about it. I arrived at Abu Gharaib on January 12. One week later the Base Commander Lieutenant Colonel Philabaum was relieved of his command and the six soldiers, now seven, were arrested. In other words, as soon as the military authorities found out about the abuses an investigation was launched and the perpetrators were apprehended and detained. There was no command from upper echelons in the US Army to carry out the abuses that these soldiers did. On the contrary, the specific instructions which were plastered on many walls and reiterated daily were to treat the detainees with respect and dignity. Through out my e-mail news if you read back on them you will see that was what I and my colleagues there tried to do. I worked side by side with the military police guards both in the "hard side" were the abuses took place and out in the tent yards were the majority of prisoners were detained.

These MP's were a pleasure to work with. I witnessed only respectful and, I would venture to say, affectionate behavior towards the detainees. The MP's were quite mindful of the fact that many if not the majority of the detainees were innocent of any crimes. There were, however, detainees who truly wished harm on US soldiers and a return to the tyranny of Saddam's or a Baathist regime. These detainees if they made trouble were treated if they were disruptive, with firmness but not with abuse. If any physical violence would have befallen the detainees as a result of MP abuse, I would have known about it as I was the prison physician. I should mention, however, one episode of detainee abuse and that was when an Iraqi Police Guard was found to be physically abusing an Iraqi common criminal. That policemen was very promptly apprehended by the US military.

Though I am ashamed of my fellow soldiers' behavior whose details only now are being exposed, I am still proud. I am proud that we as a nation are ashamed of this aberration. I am also proud that we are raking our commanders and politicians over the coals for this event though I am sorry to see many of them suffer for the stupidity of six soldiers. Ask yourselves this my friends: would this kind of self inspection and public exposure have happened in Iraq in Saddam's days when thousands were tortured and killed? Would this degree of outrage and public inquiry be taking place in any Middle Eastern country with the possible exception of Israel if they were in our place? I have to laugh when Moktar Sadr the "firebrand" Islamic cleric spearheading the current Shiite insurrection mocks our democracy with regard to the events at Abu Gharaib. Can you imagine the indignities that he would perpetrate on his enemies let alone those of his own who dissent against his world view? Is mutilating bodies and hanging their burnt carcasses from bridge heads dignity? Let's get a grip people and get a realistic perspective. Could we be doing a better job in Iraq? Yes. Is there institutionally sanctioned abuses of Iraqi detainees? No. Take it from someone who has been there.

Your Former Man in Iraq

Michael Gutman MD FACEP, Major US Army MC (reserve)

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