Monthly Archives: April 2020

U.S. media release graphic photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/abu-ghraib-graphic-photos-abuse-torture-released-iraq

On April 30, 2004, the CBS program 60 Minutes reports on abuse of prisoners by American military forces at Abu Ghraib, a prison in Iraq. The report, which featured graphic photographs showing U.S. military personnel torturing and abusing prisoners, shocked the American public and greatly tarnished the Bush Administration and its war in Iraq.

Amnesty International had surfaced many of the allegations in June of 2003, not long after the United States invaded Iraq and took over Abu Ghraib, which soon became the largest American prison in Iraq. As the 60 Minutes report and subsequent investigations proved, torture quickly became commonplace at Abu Ghraib. Photographs depicted American soldiers sexually assaulting detainees, threatening them with dogs, putting them on leashes and engaging in a number of other practices that clearly constituted torture and/or violations of the Geneva Convention. 

In at least one instance, the Army tortured a prisoner to death. President George W. Bush assured the public that the instances of torture were isolated, but as the scandal unfolded it became clear that, in the words of an International Committee of the Red Cross official, there was a “pattern and a broad system” of abuse throughout the Department of Defense. Torture techniques, which the CIA and military often referred to as “enhanced interrogation,” had in fact been developed at sites like the Guantanamo Bay detention center and were routinely employed in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and at other “black sites” around the world.

In June of 2004, it was revealed that the Bush Administration—specifically Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo—had not only been aware of widespread torture but had secretly developed a legal defense attempting to exempt the United States from the Geneva Convention. A 2006 court decision subsequently ruled that the Geneva Convention did apply to all aspects of the “War on Terror.” 

Eleven soldiers were eventually convicted by military courts of crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, while Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had been in charge there, was merely demoted. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologized for the abuses, but Bush did not accept Rumsfeld’s offer to resign. Yoo went on to teach at Berkeley Law and is a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In the years after the revelations, legal scholars have repeatedly suggested that Bush, Rumsfeld and soldiers who carried out the abuses at Abu Ghraib could be prosecuted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. 

Adolf and Eva marry

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/adolf-and-eva-marry

During the night of April 28-29, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun marry, only hours before they both died by suicide. Braun met Hitler while employed as an assistant to Hitler’s official photographer. Of a middle-class Catholic background, Braun spent her time with Hitler out of public view, entertaining herself by skiing and swimming. She had no discernible influence on Hitler’s political career but provided a certain domesticity to the life of the dictator. Loyal to the end, she refused to leave the Berlin bunker buried beneath the chancellery as the Russians closed in.

READ MORE: Hitler’s Teeth Reveal Nazi Dictator’s Cause of Death 

Also on this day in 1945, the Americans liberate the concentration camp at Dachau. Five hundred German garrison troops guarding the camp are killed within an hour, some by inmates, but most by the American liberators, who are horrified by what they bear witness to, including huge piles of emaciated dead bodies found in railway cars and near the crematorium.

There were 33,000 survivors of the camp, 2,539 of them Jewish. Dachau, about 12 miles north of Munich, was the first concentration camp established by the Nazi regime, only five weeks after Hitler came to power. At least 160,000 prisoners passed through the main camp and another 90,000 through its 150 branches scattered throughout southern Germany and Austria. Medical experiments, ranging from studying the effects of freezing on warm-blooded creatures to treating intentionally inflicted malaria, were carried out on prisoners. At least 32,000 prisoners died of malnutrition and mistreatment at the camp itself; innumerable more were transported to the Auschwitz gas chambers. A memorial was established at the campsite on September 11, 1956.

READ MORE: Holocaust Photos Reveal Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

The end of the road for Oldsmobile

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-end-of-the-road-for-oldsmobile

On April 29, 2004, the last Oldsmobile comes off the assembly line at the Lansing Car Assembly plant in Michigan, signaling the end of the 106-year-old automotive brand, America’s oldest. Factory workers signed the last Oldsmobile, an Alero sedan, before the vehicle was moved to Lansing’s R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, where it went on display. The last 500 Aleros ever manufactured featured “Final 500″ emblems and were painted dark metallic cherry red.

In 1897, Ransom E. Olds (1864-1950), an Ohio-born engine maker, founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing. In 1901, the company, then known as Olds Motor Works, debuted the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, a gas-powered, open-carriage vehicle named for its curved front footboard. More than 400 of these vehicles were sold during the first year, at a price of $650 each (around $17,000 in today’s dollars). In subsequent years, sales reached into the thousands. Olds’ invention inspired a 1905 song, “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” whose chorus includes the lines: “Come away with me, Lucille/In my merry Oldsmobile/Down the road of life we’ll fly/Automobubbling, you and I.” However, by 1904, clashes between Olds and his investors caused him to sell the bulk of his stock and leave the company. He soon went on to found the REO (based on his initials) Motor Car Company, which built cars until 1936 and produced trucks until 1975.

In 1908, Oldsmobile was the second brand, after Buick, to become part of the newly established General Motors (GM). Oldsmobile became a top brand for GM and pioneered such features as chrome-plating in 1926 and, in 1940, the first fully automatic transmission for a mass-market vehicle. Oldsmobile concentrated on cars for middle-income consumers and from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was America’s best-selling auto. However, in the decades that followed, sales began to decline, prompting GM to announce in 2000 that it would discontinue the Oldsmobile line with the 2004 models. When the last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in April 2004, more than 35 million Oldsmobiles had been built during the brand’s lifetime. Along with Daimler and Peugeot, Oldsmobile was among the world’s oldest auto brands.

Union captures New Orleans

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/union-captures-new-orleans

Union troops officially take possession of New Orleans, completing the occupation that had begun four days earlier.

The capture of this vital southern city was a huge blow to the Confederacy. Southern military strategists planned for a Union attack down the Mississippi, not from the Gulf of Mexico. In early 1862, the Confederates concentrated their forces in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee to stave off the Yankee invasion. Many of these troops fought at Shiloh in Tennessee on April 6 and 7. Eight Rebel gunboats were dispatched up the great river to stop a Union flotilla above Memphis, leaving only 3,000 militia, two uncompleted ironclads, and a few steamboats to defend New Orleans. The most imposing obstacles for the Union were two forts, Jackson and St. Phillip. In the middle of the night of April 24, Admiral David Farragut led a fleet of 24 gunboats, 19 mortar boats and 15,000 soldiers in a daring run past the forts.

Now, the river was open to New Orleans except for the ragtag Confederate fleet. The mighty Union armada plowed right through, sinking eight ships. At New Orleans, Confederate General Mansfield Lovell surveyed his tiny force and realized that resistance was futile. If he resisted, Lovell told Mayor John Monroe, Farragut would bombard the city and inflict severe damage and casualties. Lovell pulled his troops out of New Orleans and the Yankees began arriving on April 25. The troops could not land until Forts Jackson and St. Phillip were secured. They surrendered on April 29, and now New Orleans had no protection. Crowds cursed the Yankees as all Confederate flags in the city were lowered and stars and stripes were raised in their place.

The Confederacy lost a major city, and the lower Mississippi soon became a Union highway for 400 miles to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Rodney King trial verdict announced

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rodney-king-trial-verdict-announced

A jury in the Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley acquits four police officers who had been charged with using excessive force in arresting black motorist Rodney King a year earlier. The announcement of the verdict, which enraged the black community, prompted the L.A. riots, which spread quickly throughout much of the sprawling city. It wasn’t until three days later that the arson and looting finally ended.

Immediately after the verdict was announced that afternoon, protestors took to the streets, engaging in random acts of violence. At the corner of Florence and Normandie streets, Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, was dragged from his truck and severely beaten by several angry rioters. A helicopter crew caught the incident on camera and broadcast it live on local television. Viewers saw first-hand that the police, woefully unprepared, were unwilling—or unable—to enforce the law in certain neighborhoods of the city.

As it became evident that breaking the law in much of South Los Angeles would yield little, if any, consequences, opportunistic rioters came out in full force on the night of April 29, burning retail establishments all over the area. Police still had no control of the situation the following day. Thousands of people packed the streets and began looting stores. Korean-owned businesses were targeted in particular. For most, the looting was simply a crime of opportunity rather than any political expression.

The acquitted police officers were later convicted of violating Rodney King’s civil rights in a federal court trial. Reginald Denny’s attackers were identified through the helicopter videotape, arrested, and convicted of assault and battery. However, the jury declined to convict on attempted murder charges, apparently due to the defense’s argument that the defendants had only fallen prey to uncontrollable mob rage.

“Hair” premieres on Broadway

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hair-premieres-on-broadway

In a year marked by as much social and cultural upheaval as 1968, it was understandable that the New York Times review of a controversial musical newly arrived on Broadway would describe the show in political terms. “You probably don’t have to be a supporter of Eugene McCarthy to love it,” wrote critic Clive Barnes, “but I wouldn’t give it much chance among the adherents of Governor Reagan.” The show in question was Hair, the now-famous “tribal love-rock musical” that introduced the era-defining song “Aquarius” and gave New York theatergoers a full-frontal glimpse of the burgeoning 60s-counterculture esthetic. Hair premiered on Broadway on April 29, 1968.

Hair was not a brand-new show when it opened at the Biltmore Theater on this night in 1968. It began its run 40 blocks to the south, in the East Village, as the inaugural production of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater. Despite mediocre reviews, Hair was a big enough hit with audiences during its six-week run at the Public to win financial backing for a proposed move to Broadway. While this kind of move would later become more common, it was exceedingly rare for a musical at the time, and it was a particularly bold move for a musical with a nontraditional score. Hair, after all, was the first rock musical to make a play for mainstream success on the Great White Way. But the novelty of the show didn’t stop with its music or references to sex and drugs. Hair also featured a much-talked-about scene at the end of its first act in which the cast appeared completely nude on the dimly lit stage.

It turned out that these potentially shocking breaks from Broadway tradition turned didn’t turn off Broadway audiences at all. Hair quickly became not just a smash-hit show, but a genuine cultural phenomenon that spawned a million-selling original cast recording and a #1 song on the pop charts for the Fifth Dimension. Forty years after its initial downtown opening, Charles Isherwood, writing for the New York Times, placed Hair in its proper historical context: “For darker, knottier and more richly textured sonic experiences of the times, you turn to the Doors or Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell or Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin. Or all of them. For an escapist dose of the sweet sound of youth brimming with hope that the world is going to change tomorrow, you listen to Hair and let the sunshine in.”

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/william-randolph-hearst-is-born

The newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst is born in San Francisco. He was the only son and principle heir to western mining magnate George Hearst.

George Hearst had made a fortune with his shrewd investments in successful western mining operations. His son William, however, had little interest in the mining industry. While attending Harvard, he became an admirer of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and briefly worked as a reporter for the paper after being expelled from college. In 1887, he returned to San Francisco and convinced his father to put him in charge of the Examiner, a paper that the senior Hearst had bought to back his successful 1886 bid for the U.S. Senate.

With a tremendous fortune at his disposal, William Hearst spared no expense in obtaining the best eastern reporters and techniques for the Examiner. Eager to give the people what they wanted, he filled the pages of the newspaper with sensationalism and scandal. Some complained that he showed poor taste, but many San Franciscans considered the paper to be required reading.

Having made the Examiner a brilliant success, Hearst began acquiring newspapers elsewhere in the country. He soon controlled one of the largest newspaper empires in America. Like his father, Hearst also used his papers to promote his political ambitions. Relocating to New York, he twice won election to the House of Representatives, in 1902 and 1904. Although some championed him as a possible presidential candidate, Hearst’s failed attempt to win the New York governorship in 1906 raised questions about his chances in a presidential campaign. He tried to win the presidency by organizing his own Independence Party in 1908, but his third-party candidacy gained few followers. For all his wealth and influence, Hearst could not obtain the political power he craved.

Returning to California, Hearst continued to expand his media empire and contented himself with being a behind-the-scenes political powerbroker. When his mother died in 1919, he inherited the family ranch at San Simeon. During the next six years, he built a massive castle on a hill at the ranch. In 1924, he became involved in the Hollywood movie industry by relocating his motion picture company to Los Angeles. A year later, he took charge of the Los Angeles Examiner, and he soon controlled many of California’s top newspapers.

With a vast media empire at his disposal, Hearst exercised tremendous influence over California and national politics during the 1930s. Often the subject of news stories in his own right, Hearst was one of the most prominent Americans to emerge from the Far West during the first half of the 20th century.

READ MORE: Did Yellow Journalism Fuel the Outbreak of the Spanish-American War?

President Nixon announces release of Watergate tapes

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-announces-release-of-white-house-watergate-tapes

On April 129, 1974, President Richard Nixon announces to the public that he will release transcripts of 46 taped White House conversations in response to a Watergate trial subpoena issued in July 1973. The House Judiciary committee accepted 1,200 pages of transcripts the next day, but insisted that the tapes themselves be turned over as well.

READ MORE: The Watergate Scandal: A Timeline

In his announcement, Nixon took elaborate pains to explain to the public his reluctance to comply with the subpoena, and the nature of the content he planned to release. He cited his right to executive privilege to protect state secrets and stated that the transcripts were edited by him and his advisors to omit anything “irrelevant” to the Watergate investigation or critical to national security. He invited committee members to review the actual tapes to determine whether or not the president had omitted incriminating evidence in the transcripts. “I want there to be no question remaining,” Nixon insisted, “about the fact that the President has nothing to hide in this matter” and “I made clear there was to be no cover up.”

In June 1972, five men connected with Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) had been caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. A subsequent investigation exposed other illegal activities perpetrated by CREEP and authorized by senior members of Nixon’s administration. It also raised questions about what the president knew about those activities. Nixon vigorously denied involvement in the burglary cover-up, infamously proclaiming “I am not a crook.” In May 1973, the Senate convened an investigation into the Watergate scandal amid public cries for Nixon’s impeachment. In July 1974, the Supreme Court rejected Nixon’s claim of executive privilege and ordered him to turn over the remaining tapes. On one of them, the president could be heard ordering the FBI to end its investigation of the Watergate break-in; this came to be known as the “smoking gun” that proved Nixon’s guilt.

READ MORE: 7 Revealing Nixon Quotes From His Secret Tapes

On August 8, 1974, Nixon avoided a Senate impeachment trial by becoming the first American president to resign from office. He was later pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford, “for all offenses against the United States which he committed, or may have committed.”

Luxury car magnate Ferruccio Lamborghini is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ferruccio-lamborghini-born

On April 28, 1916, Ferruccio Lamborghini, the founder of the company that bears his name and is known for stylish, high-performance cars, is born in Italy.

After World War II, Lamborghini founded a business making tractors from reconfigured surplus military machines, near Bologna, Italy. He later expanded into other ventures, including manufacturing air-conditioning and heating systems, and grew rich. Lamborghini’s success enabled him to purchase a variety of luxury sports cars, including a Ferrari, considered one of the top cars of the time. After experiencing mechanical difficulties with his Ferrari, Lamborghini decided to start his own rival sports car company, even hiring a former top Ferrari engineer. Automobili Lamborghini was officially established in 1963 in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, and the same year debuted its first car, the Lamborghini 350 GTV, a two-seater coupe with a V12 engine.

The company’s logo featured a bull, a reference to Ferruccio Lamborghini’s zodiac sign, Taurus the bull. Various Lamborghini models had names related to bulls or bullfighting, including the Miura (named for Don Eduardo Miura, a breeder of fighting bulls), a mid-engine sports car that was released in mid-1960s and gained Lamborghini an international following among car enthusiasts and a reputation for prestige and cutting-edge design.

In the early 1970s, Lamborghini’s tractor business experienced problems and he eventually sold his interest in his sports car business and retired to his vineyard. Automobili Lamborghini changed hands several times and in the late 1990s was purchased by German automaker Volkswagen. The company continued to build high-performance cars, including the Murcielago (capable of going over 200 mph) and the Gallardo. Ferruccio Lamborghini died on February 20, 1993, at the age of 76.