The image of a hooded man balancing on a box while connected to electric wires was one of the most disturbing photos to come out of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. On March 20, 2003, an international force led by the United States invaded Iraq. Along with other countries, Iraq was accused of having protected and financed the terrorist network responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001. In less than two months, the Americans reached the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and declared their mission was complete. However, Iraq was not at peace. A fierce guerilla war broke out with suicide attacks on foreign troops. American soldiers combed cities and villages, making numerous arrests after these attacks. In January 2004, high-ranking US armed force officials learned of violent acts being carried out in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. In this prison, Americans held suspected terrorists and Iraqi guerilla fighters. An investigation was launched but news of the abuse leaked out. In April 2004, the scandal exploded.
Newspapers and TV programs around the world showed disturbing images of physical and psychological torture of detainees. Sleep-deprived prisoners were hooked up with electric cables, required to mimic or perform sexual acts or stripped and forced to assume humiliating positions. In numerous photos, American soldiers can be seen in their role as jailers. One image that showed a female soldier smiling next to a group of naked, hooded men was particularly unsettling. The Abu Ghraib scandal elicited strong reactions worldwide and had serious repercussions on US politics. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had previously approved the use of severe interrogation methods, declared that abuse of power — not torture — had not occurred at Abu Ghraib. Numerous people demanded his resignation, but despite the scandal, Rumsfeld held on to his post. In the trial that followed, nine soldiers received sentences ranging from six months to ten years. No high-ranking officers were held responsible for the violence. The torture at Abu Ghraib profoundly affected international public opinion and represented a serious blow to the image of American forces in Iraq.