"This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America."
- Abdel-Bari Atwan,
Editor, Al Quds Al Arabi.
Fact is stranger than fiction but fiction seems to persuade us more than facts nowadays. Readers of Franz Kafka will recall his hair-raising story of torture In the Penal Colony. We now have a real life version reminiscent of it. The author is the noble Mickey-Mouse. His mission? To force-feed democracy to the world. It appears that God’s country, as Ronald Reagan once described his nation, is finding it hard to ensure human dignity in its valiant crusade of freedom for the peoples of the world. A fresh spectacle of Western depravity is unfolding in Iraq.
America’s Disneyland media made a rare departure from its usual practice of self-censorship the other evening when CBS aired footage from a Baghdad prison run by the Occupation forces. Subsequently, the same images were also telecast by Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya TV networks in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Washington Post reports that among the images were those of a hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands. He had apparently been told that if he stepped off the box, he would suffer instant electrocution. In another image there was a "pyramid of naked detainees", a heap of naked prisoners forcibly made to simulate sex acts, while grinning American troops gave the thumbs-up sign.
Revelations made by Seymour Hersh in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine, based on a secret U.S. Army report not meant for public circulation, corroborate this picture. Authored by Major-General Antonio Taguba, the report lists further horrors:
"Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."
Perhaps the unkindest cuts on the brow of Arab honor were the humiliating images aired by CBS, of young, smoking American female soldiers, sneering at naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners, pointing their cigarettes at their genitals. The American forces had the arrogance and brazenness to video and photograph the proceedings, perhaps to heighten the effect on the inmates. It only deepens the suspicion that this was far from an isolated incident and that it had the blessings of the bosses. Western culture has never stood lower in Arab eyes.
Democracy? Civilization? Or derangement?
Baghdad’s Abu-Ghraib prison, where these atrocious acts were committed, used to be Saddam Hussein’s favorite torture-chamber. Now it is the Americans’. It was renamed "Baghdad Correctional Facility" after the U.S. took charge of operations a year ago. It is the place where thousands of "disappeared" Iraqis have been kept. According to human rights group, Amnesty International, 13,000 Iraqi people are imprisoned here at the moment, without trial, their families not allowed to meet them. In thousands of cases the families do not even know that some of their loved ones are locked up in here.
There is no way like the American way. Stories about American troops running tanks over civilian cars are already known.The recent revelations disclose exactly how civilization corrects the moral flaws in humanity nowadays: by allowing the Saturday night hazing routines of American university fraternity houses to serve as models for the conduct of military interrogators in Iraqi prisons.
The British are not far behind in the vulgar game of military pedagogy. In a separate case, there are allegations that British soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners. Here, it seems the practices of post-game, beer-drunk brawling of British soccer fans have provided the inspiration for military conduct. The Daily Mirror has published photographs of a captive being beaten with rifle butts and urinated on.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the soldiers who leaked the story told the paper that the unnamed captive, against whom no charges were brought, was driven away and dumped from the back of a moving vehicle following his ordeal. It was not known whether he survived. The soldiers said they were making the pictures public to show why the U.S.-U.K. coalition was encountering such fierce resistance in Iraq.
All this has only exposed the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Guardian reports that The British Army is now investigating at least 10 cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war. The White House has known of the tortures at Abu-Ghraib for some months now. Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, the lady in charge of the Abu-Ghraib operations was suspended in late January. The matter would have been quietly hushed out of public sight had there not been a leak and had CBS not run the program. According to Amnesty International,
"conditions in many of the detention centres are harsh. There have been many unconfirmed reports of hunger strikes and revolts in prisons. The Coalition Provisional Authority acknowledged that three prisoners were killed and eight wounded during an uprising in Abu-Ghraib prison on 24 November."
If Karpinski and her staff meet with justice some day, it will only be because the whole world knows the story now and not because Washington loves military morality. This only goes to show what a key role the Western media is playing in helping the U.S. and U.K. governments get away with mass murders and other minor atrocities.
The fact that practices reported from Abu-Ghraib have also been reported from elsewhere, and that Karpinski has indicated that she was acting under orders, suggests that there are plans of far greater scope instigated from much higher levels of military authority. The truth may come out looking very nearly the exact opposite of what President Bush claims, that such incidents do not "reflect" the high standards of the U.S. Army.
Amnesty International said the recent revelations are far from extraordinary: "Our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident. It is not enough for the USA to react only once images have hit the television screens". The group reports that U.S.-led forces have "shot Iraqis dead during demonstrations, tortured and ill-treated prisoners, arrested people arbitrarily and held them indefinitely, demolished houses in acts of revenge and collective punishment." In these, as in other respects, the U.S. is emulating its Middle Eastern ally, Israel’s actions in Palestine.
In February 2004, during a hearing into the death in June 2003 of Najem Sa'doun Hattab, an ex-official of the Baath Party, at Camp Whitehorse Detention Centre near Nassiriya, a former U.S. marine testified that "it was common practice to kick and punch prisoners who did not cooperate - and even some who did." The marine had been granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony. Najem Sa'doun Hattab "died after he was beaten and choked by a US marine reservist."
Amnesty reports that "many detainees have alleged they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated."
Pinochet? Pol Pot? Or just "collateral damage"?
The view that the revealed incidents are exceptional occurrences is denied by "Correctional Officer" Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederik, one of the Americans facing court-martial because of the abuses at Abu-Ghraib, and the only soldier involved to have spoken to the CBS show. Frederick has claimed that the human rights abuses at the prison were systematic. He said he asked his superior officers - who were private contractors - for guidance several times and was ordered to do what he was told. His lawyer said that "higher ranking people" taught him how to humiliate Arabs. According to Seymour Hersh, military intelligence officers had congratulated Frederick and other soldiers on the "great job" done with prisoners because "they were now getting positive results and information". Brigadier-General Karpinski herself claims that CIA employees often participated in the interrogations at the prison complex, according to the secret army report cited earlier.
One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but he is naturally exempt from the rigors of military justice. CACI International and the Titan Corporation are the agencies involved in Abu-Ghraib.
Could the courts please prepare themselves for prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by civilian contractors and not exempt them from the rigors of military justice? Or will we get a repeat of the stonewalling in the wake of Guantanamo abuses, when the U.S. Supreme Court initially pleaded that the occurrences were beyond the scope of American law, since they were not happening on mainland United States? Will we be told that the prisoners at Abu-Ghraib and Um-Qasr do not qualify for the status accorded to POWs, that they are "enemy combatants", and not members of a legally legislated national army?
Further proof of the comfortable moral laxity of top Anglo-American leadership is the fact that a new office has been created to run "correctional facilities" in Iraq: the first "deputy commander for containment operations" is going to be Major-General Geoffrey Miller of Guantanamo notoriety, where he has been running the infamous Camp X-Ray, being investigated for human rights abuses by the U.S. Supreme Court itself. Additionally, Brigadier-General Karpinski told The Washington Post that a team of intelligence officers from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba arrived a month before the abuses at Abu-Ghraib started. Their mission was to teach new interrogation techniques, she says. It seems that whoever the Bush Administration is able to place in its highest offices already has a substantial past of cowardice behind him. Perhaps that is a qualification.
Saddam Hussein has been long been deposed and captured. Abu-Ghraib was his private outpost of organized violence. Now the warden has changed, but the activities inside the prison remain the same. How long back was it when Jack Straw was detailing the horror of human rights violations committed by Saddam’s thugs? And here we are, with a Western edition of comparable crimes.
And why hasn’t the American media given the disclosures greater prominence? Here is what Arab News has to say about the unfolding affair in its Saturday editorial: "what is no less shocking about the degrading photos from Abu Gharib prison is that not a single US newspaper yesterday led its front page with news of them. That is a further demonstration of the appallingly limited comprehension of the Middle East that runs from the White House down to the humblest New York burger stall. In truth, the American behavior in Iraq could not have been more inept or more disastrous if George Bush had handed the planning of the occupation to Saddam Hussein himself. Ignorant, stubborn, naive and outstandingly stupid, the Americans have done pretty well everything wrong." U.S. citizens, far from setting Iraq free, have allowed its people to fall from Saddam Hussein’s frying pan into the fire of brutal American occupation. And the media has mostly wagged its long tail at the actions of the U.S. government.
Whether Bush and Blair acknowledge it to themselves or not, the battle for the "hearts and minds" of Iraqi people, if it was ever a question, has finally been well and truly lost forever. This time around they have stretched public credulity, and appalled time-honored morals, in the entire Arab world to their limit. The Neo-Conservatives might as well advise the Pentagon to spray the 25 million Iraqis with biological germs, and seize the oil wells directly. Why bother with the detour of "democracy"?
Bush’s "deep disgust" and Blair’s "shame" at the latest revelations, and the urgent efforts of their spokesmen to hastily rescue the reputation of their military forces from their latest misdeeds are touching indeed. Mr. Bush says that the actions of the Abu-Ghraib officials "do not reflect the true nature of the American people...or the nature of the men and women we send overseas". He added: "That's not the way the people are. It's not their character, that are serving our nation in the cause of freedom." But Arab people don’t have time to wonder whether the monsters running Abu-Ghraib had "received in-depth training on the Geneva Conventions" or whether they were intended for "lawn-mowing" at American bases.
Instead of letting his officials cite hopelessly feeble excuses, Bush would do well to pay heed to the words of Abdel Wadoud Muhbal, a currency trader in the Iraqi capital: "Pimps...don't do what the Americans do. Who takes a bearded man, a Muslim, and lays him down with his face in another man's genitals?" He should also listen to Mohammad Salman, a traffic policeman: "I can't describe what I felt when I saw those scenes; they revolted me and proved the barbarity of the occupation forces," said. "What's the difference between them and Saddam? They are finishing what he started," he said.