Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Spc. Charles Graner, the sick low-level bully and ringleader in the scandal that rocked the already shaky U.S war effort to its deepest, darkest core in 2004, has been released from jail, three and a half years ahead of schedule. Recall with revulsion the many now iconic photos of Abu Ghriab: young Lynndie England with an Iraqi prisoner on a leash, the hooded detainee hooked up to a fry station, the pyramid of naked male bodies. The dogs, the dead bodies, the U.S soldiers, thumbs up over a fresh, bloodied and bruised corpse
Charles Graner was behind all of those photographs and more. According to jailhouse interviews with England, who spent a year in prison and had the married Graner’s baby behind bars, the then-Army reservist seized upon and played off of the frenetic, often desperate anxiety of his young inexperienced crew of national guardsmen and women — most of whom were not trained nor prepared to serve as prison guards in a war theater — and was responsible for whipping up the sexual antics and fraternity house atmosphere at the notorious prison.
But Graner had a past — of anger and abuse, as a husband and a state correctional officer. At Abu Ghraib, he was in his element. He was the perfect tool for a higher-level directive involving the systematic abuse of prisoners including not only physical and psychological pain, but sexual humiliation. For a while, he was effective. Sadly, we’ve been living with his effectiveness ever since.
This is what i wrote almost three years ago when Salon had tried to air brush Graner in order to fry the big fish in the Bush Administration (a laudable effort, but I couldn’t allow them to let this predatory eel off the hook):
So while I understand the inspiration behind Benjamin’s latest, “Sympathy for Charles Graner,” I don’t see how a semi-white wash of the guy with the camera is going to advance the cause. Sure, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and a handful of DoD, White House and CIA lawyers are running around with their livelihoods and plump speaking fees ahead of them while Graner rots in jail, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong there.
Benjamin travels to Graner’s family home in western Pennsylvania to talk to his parents, who describe Graner’s treatment at Fort Leavenworth — where he has been sentenced for ten years on charges of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment, as well as charges of assault, indecency and dereliction of duty — as “terrible.” His father goes so far as to say he shouldn’t be in prison.
But Benjamin’s story skips over a few things about this Persian Gulf War vet, former corrections officer and amateur photog. He says that Graner is the only person involved in Abu Ghraib still behind bars, and that “Lynndie England is not in jail.” He fails to mention that England, the 21-year-old pregnant lover of the 36-year-old Graner at the time of the scandal, did more than a year in prison and had his baby behind bars.
He also fails to mention that Graner had a history of abuse. His ex-wife and mother of his two young daughters (they are pictured, lovingly with Graner in the Salon spread) took out a restraining order on him in 1997 after he allegedly threatened to kill her and dragged her across the floor by her hair. As a correction officer he was accused by inmates in two separate incidents of physical abuse while shouting racial epithets and in one case, putting a razor blade in an inmate’s mashed potatoes.
He has been called the “ringleader,” of the activities among the 372nd Military Police Company, orchestrating not only the abuse and sick photography of the Iraqi prisoners seared upon our brains, but of the sexual antics among members of the company, particularly England. She recalled in a prison interview with Tara McKelvey of Marie Claire how she fell in with Graner’s weird sexual fetishes long before they were sent to Iraq together. In Iraq, he took pictures ofeverything, with one particular signature: the “thumbs up” sign.
Lynndie recalled her lurid affair with Graner in a wide-ranging interview with Marie Claire:
England refused to give him up. In March 2003, she went with Graner and another soldier to Virginia Beach. During the trip, Graner took pictures of himself having anal sex with England. He also photographed her placing her nipple in the ear of the other soldier, who was passed out in a hotel room. Soon, it became their new game: Whenever Graner asked her to, England would strike a pose. “Everything they did, he took a picture of,” says Hardy, her lawyer. “I asked Lynndie why she let him. She said, ‘Guys like that. I just wanted to make him happy.’ She was like a little plaything for him.
The sexual stuff, the way he put her in those positions, that was his way of saying, ‘Let’s see what I can make you do.’”In a supply room, Graner takes a shot of England performing oral sex. England adds a flourish for the photos: a thumbs-up sign. In another photo, England is standing near a detainee, Hayder Sabbar Abd, a 34-year-old taxi driver, as he is being made to simulate masturbation. Again, she gives a thumbs-up.
Why did she let Graner take all those pictures? Wasn’t she afraid he’d show them to people? “I didn’t want him to take the pictures,” England tells me. “But he took pictures of everything. He kept a camera in his cargo pocket. He was always taking his camera out. Sometimes he took the pictures for himself. Sometimes he took them for documentation…
… England remembers one detainee, “Gus.” (The prisoner’s real name has not been released.) “He didn’t like Americans,” she says. Gus was a “small man weighing approximately 100 pounds,” according to government documents. He was mentally ill; he had smeared his own feces on his body and threatened to kill some of the guards. One autumn night, Graner went into his cell with a leash (a “tie-down strap,” according to the documents). Gus was submissive. Graner put the strap around his neck, led him out of the cell, and handed the strap to England. Then he took a picture — and sent the jpeg to his family in Pennsylvania.
“Look what I made Lynndie do,” Graner wrote in the email….
Now this devil, who is right up there as one of the myriad footmen to the League of Extraordinary Bastards who orchestrated the war and all of its tortures and renditions in the name of God and honor and country, is getting out of jail and into a community near you.