May 20, 2004
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By DAVID T. WRIGHT
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I caught Rush Limbaugh's show in early May when the photographs of U.S. soldiers "abusing" prisoners had just hit the fan. The Courtesan of the Airwaves was busy trying to paper over the horrors shown in the photos. Don't worry, he told his listeners. This is just an isolated incident. It's not really how our soldiers behave. They really do wonderful things such as build schools, hand out candy to grateful little Iraqi kids, help little old Iraqi ladies across the street, rescue poor little Iraqi kittens, blah, blah, blah.
Well, now it's clear that the Abu Ghraib photos don't represent an isolated incident. The scandal is huge. It has burst like a pustule, revealing ever more horrifying facts and allegations about the treatment of Iraqi civilians the very people the Empire claims to be trying to help. According to Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times, the Red Cross has been documenting widespread prison abuses for months:
In a visit to the Abu Ghraib prison last October, Red Cross inspectors were so unsettled by what they found that they broke off their visit and demanded an immediate explanation from the military prison authorities.
As recounted in a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, prisoners were being held "completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness," apparently for several days.
The inspectors were also able to document the exact sort of behavior that has produced a firestorm over the last two weeks: "acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women's underwear over the heads for prolonged periods while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position." ("Red Cross Found Abuses at Abu Ghraib Last Year," May 11, 2004)
Furthermore, when the Bush regime claimed that it had only just learned about the abuse, it was lying, pure and simple:
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva said Monday that the organization's president, Jakob Kellenberger, complained about the prison abuses directly to top Bush administration officials during a two-day visit to Washington in mid-January when he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. (Lewis)
None of that fazed the clever prostitute Limbaugh, however. A week later he had merely switched tactics:
CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank to stack up naked
RUSH [LIMBAUGH]: Exactly! Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer 'em because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time. These people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? ("Do You Condemn Rush Limbaugh? (Part Two)")
Here's more, if you can stomach it, from this disgusting man:
... The dog is scaring an Iraqi prisoner. (Gasping.) No! We're scaring them, too. Is that allowed in the Geneva Convention? We're scaring them with dogs?
Yes, my friends, we are. The dog didn't attack anybody, dog's not attacking anybody, dog is on a leash, both of them are. I've seen the picture. So, yeah, I mean I'd be scared too if I were nude and I'd been committing crimes against Americans, now the Americans have me in their prison and a couple of dogs barking at me? Yeah, I might be a little scared. So what? It's war! We all know what goes on in war. ("Most Americans Aren't So Outraged," May 11, 2004)
The dog didn't attack anybody, declares the great bag of gas. No matter that other photos have been alleged to show this or another prisoner with bloody dog bites. In any event, humiliating, threatening, and terrifying naked prisoners is okay, according to this popular Imperial propagandist. What's wrong with blowing off a little steam? With having a "good time"? (God help us!) After all, it's warrrr! A war of aggression, based on lies, of course but let's not get into that. Naturally, Limbaugh, like Bush, Cheney, and their fellow warmongers among the Neo-Trots, has never been to war, making him specially qualified to comment on the situation.
Since Limbaugh takes such a benign view of that kind of treatment of his fellow human beings, I think he should put his money where his mouth is. In the interests of science, and for the amusement of the public, he ought to submit to being stripped naked and baited with attack dogs until he screamed like a girl (it obviously wouldn't take long). Then he could be forced to perform degrading sexual acts at gunpoint with a sack on his head. After he stopped sobbing, I'm sure he would buck up, with the help of a few slaps, and tell us it wasn't so bad.
To answer Limbaugh's question: Yes, treating prisoners in such a way as to terrify, humiliate, or degrade them is definitely counter to the Geneva Conventions, to which the United State is a signatory and about which Minister of Liquidating Islamic Scum Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear that he cares little if at all. It's also against all standards of human decency, except those embraced by the warmongers currently in power. Certainly if such outrages had been perpetrated by people regarded by Limbaugh as "bad guys" Palestinians, say, or Democrats he would trumpet the exact same acts as proof of the absolute evil and inhumanity of the entire group.
Limbaugh isn't the only offender in this respect. Sen. James Inhofe (Know Nothing-Okla.), stank up a Senate hearing on the scandal with his own bloviations on the unacceptability of regarding Iraqi prisoners as human beings. Reuters quotes him:
"I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations, while our troops, our heroes are fighting and dying," he said.
"These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations," said Inhofe, whose senatorial Web site describes him as an advocate of "Oklahoma values."
"If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals." ("Senator 'Outraged at Outrage' in Iraq Prison Case," May 11, 2004)
So there. Rumor has it that Inhofe was so puffed up after the hearing that he had trouble getting out the door.
A few questions of our own need to be asked at this point. First, how do Limbaugh and the over-inflated Inhofe know that the prisoners in question "committed crimes against Americans" (obviously, that is much worse than committing crimes against Iraqis), or that they're murderers, terrorists, and so on? In fact, according to Frances Williams of the Financial Times, the International Red Cross says the proportion of Iraqis imprisoned by the Empire who have done nothing at all may be as high as 90 percent!
Coalition military intelligence officers believed 70 [percent to] 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were "arrested by mistake," according to a leaked Red Cross report on prisoner abuse, further details of which were disclosed on Monday [May 10].
The confidential report, given to the U.S. and British governments in February but covering events in March to November last year, describes a pattern of indiscriminate arrests involving destruction of property and brutal behaviour towards suspects and their families.
Ill-treatment during capture was frequent and "appeared to go beyond the reasonable, legitimate and proportional use of force," the report said. Such behaviour "seemed to reflect a usual modus operandi by certain CF [coalition forces] battle groups." ("Most Iraqi detainees 'arrested by mistake,'" May 10, 2004)
According to a story in the Washington Post, only 600 out of 43,000 people detained by Imperial troops have been referred for prosecution.
Kind of puts things in a different light, doesn't it? Chances are that the terrified Iraqi in the photo is being brutalized for the criminal act of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. How did the victims wind up in prison? Seymour Hersh, in his New Yorker magazine article that kicked off the revelations of torture, says that many of them were caught up in "random military sweeps." Others were nabbed at traffic stops, or during home invasions, as noted by Williams of the Financial Times:
The report, published in full on Monday [May 10] by the Wall Street Journal, said arrests tended to follow a pattern. "Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house, and further breaking doors, cabinets, and other property.
"Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped, or sick people. Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking, and striking with rifles."
There go "our troops, our heroes" again, winning hearts and minds.
Even so, the spinners are continuing to spin. A more recent attempt, which I heard on the radio May 13, went like this: A small group of soldiers did those bad things after hours, when their superiors weren't looking.
So that's why secret police and paramilitary thugs all around the world have traditionally preferred to do their dirty work in the dead of night! If they did it during normal business hours, the tender-hearted Himmlers and Berias back at the office might be offended.
The "isolated incident" excuse looks more threadbare the more it is examined, particularly because Iraq isn't the only place the United State has treated prisoners inhumanely. The treatment of John Walker Lindh, the American Muslim caught by Imperial troops in Afghanistan, is only one example. Lindh said he was thrown into a shipping container and left there for days bound with duct tape, wounded, bleeding, and hungry.
Other reports also tell of the Empire using shipping containers to hold and discipline prisoners. The most horrifying of these is a TV documentary by Jamie Doran, a Scottish filmmaker, which reveals that hundreds of Taliban prisoners were suffocated during transport in shipping containers and then buried in mass graves. The prisoners were loaded in the containers by Afghan allies of the United State, but what is alleged to have happened afterward was under actual Imperial supervision, as reported June 16, 2002, by Neal Mackay of the (Scottish) Sunday Herald:
When the trucks arrived at Sheberghan Prison they were greeted by American forces who had established a command post there to interrogate prisoners. Some 150 U.S. soldiers and CIA officers were at the site. U.S. officers ordered the lorries to leave. One Afghan soldier says on film: "All the containers were full of holes which were visible. In each container about 150 to 160 had been killed. The Americans told the Sheberghan people to get them outside the city to avoid them being filmed from a satellite.
"Everything was under the control of the American commander. In each container they put 200 or 300 bodies and took them to their destination and buried them. That's all I know. They put them in the desert for the dogs to eat them."
Two civilians who drove the trucks from Zeini to Sheberghan and then to the desert of Dasht Leili were also interviewed by Doran. "We collected the prisoners from Qaala Zeini and took them to Sheberghan prison," one said. "Many of the prisoners had lost their lives on the journey and at Sheberghan they off-loaded the prisoners who were still alive. But some of the Taliban were injured and others were so weak they were unconscious. We brought them to this place, which is called Dasht Leili, and they were shot."
According to the account, 30 to 40 U.S. soldiers were present when the prisoners were murdered. But that was only the beginning:
If an estimated 3,000 Taliban were buried in the desert, those who remained behind in Sheberghan Prison were said to have fared little better. Conditions were overcrowded, and there were diseases like tuberculosis, but it was the Americans that the Taliban had to fear the most.
One Afghan general tells Doran how Taliban selected for interrogation by American personnel were tortured and summarily executed in barbaric ways. "I was a witness," he says. "They cut their legs, they cut their tongues, they cut their hair and cut their beards. They were Arab prisoners.
"Sometimes they did it for pleasure; they took the prisoners outside and beat them up and then returned them to the prison. But sometimes they were never returned and they disappeared, the prisoner disappeared. I was there."
Another soldier confirmed the general's story, adding that he would be prepared to identify American soldiers if given the chance. "They broke their necks and cut their tongues," he said. "The Americans had come to the prison to choose whoever they wanted to send to America. Then they came again after 10 or 15 days to choose some more to deliver to America. Many prisoners were killed. Some of them cried. No one listened to their cries. No one cared."
Another soldier adds: "I was a witness when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck and poured acid on others. The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop them." ("Did the U.S. massacre Taliban?")
When that account was published in June 2002, it received little attention: few people could imagine that U.S. forces were capable of such depraved criminality. Now that we know better, the allegations have become much more credible.
When Imperial abuse of captives as a policy became apparent to the world, attention centered on Camp X-Ray. Run by the United State within its enclave at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, X-Ray is where prisoners captured in Afghanistan are kept, with no charges, no rights, and, for most, seemingly, no hope of release. First came the revelations that the Ministry of War had cavalierly designated the prisoners "enemy combatants," so that they would not be entitled to basic rights under the Geneva Conventions. Then Rumsfeld and his gang managed to extract a Catch 22-style legal ruling that their victims don't have any rights under the Constitution because they're not on U.S. soil. Got that? It's a U.S. base. No other entity has jurisdiction over it certainly not the Cuban state. But somehow U.S. rules don't apply there. Nice trick. 
It soon became clear that the X-Ray captives were being treated poorly pictures were circulated showing that they were kept in open-air cages on concrete with no furniture. So it wasn't at all surprising when the first prisoners released claimed they had suffered brutal treatment at the hands of U.S. soldiers:
... Jamal al-Harith, 37, who arrived home [in England] three days ago after two years of confinement, is the first detainee to lift the lid on the U.S. regime in Cuba's Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta.
The father of three, from Manchester, told how he was assaulted with fists, feet, and batons after refusing a mystery injection.
He said detainees were shackled for up to 15 hours at a time in hand and leg cuffs with metal links which cut into the skin.
Their "cells" were wire cages with concrete floors and open to the elements giving no privacy or protection from the rats, snakes, and scorpions loose around the American base.
He claims punishment beatings were handed out by guards known as the Extreme Reaction Force. They waded into inmates in full riot gear, raining blows on them. ("My Hell in Camp X-Ray," The Daily Mirror, March 12, 2004)
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? But wait, it gets even better:
... Jamal's most shocking disclosure centered on the use of vice girls to torment the most religiously devout detainees.
Prisoners who had never seen an "unveiled" woman before would be forced to watch as the hookers touched their own naked bodies.
The men would return distraught. One said an American girl had smeared menstrual blood across his face in an act of humiliation.
[Jamal said:] "It was a profoundly disturbing experience for these men. They would refuse to speak about what had happened." (Daily Mirror)
Isolated incidents, indeed. Sexual humiliation appears to be a standard item in the U.S. interrogators' bag of tricks. It shouldn't be surprising that similar outrages were committed in Iraq, because the commander of Camp X-Ray was sent to work his magic in that benighted country. William Lowther of the Australian News writes:
The torture tactics used to "soften up" Iraqi detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail began under orders from the highest level of the U.S. defence administration, it was claimed yesterday [May 9].
The creation of torture units was the consequence of orders by the Defence Department headed by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to prise information out of prisoners.
Last August, the Department ordered General Geoffrey Miller then in charge at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay to go to Iraq to find ways to improve the flow of intelligence from detainees, an investigation by Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper has found.
The general recommended creating a single central interrogation unit at Abu Ghraib. It was in this unit where the degradation of Iraqi prisoners now graphically exposed by more than 1,000 photographs took place. ("Top brass 'picked man who ordered torture,'" May 10, 2004)
General Miller is an intelligence officer. It seems clear that the imprisonment and torture of random Iraqis has nothing to do with their supposed guilt or innocence. The whole point of brutalizing them is simply to get information. As Michael Corleone would say, it's not personal, only business.
It goes much further than throwing a few random victims into Hell. It would appear that an entire state apparatus exists behind our backs: one that seems to justify the worst fears of the wildest conspiracy theorist. On May 11, Dana Priest and Joe Stephens of the Washington Post completed their three-part exposé of an established system of kidnapping, transport, and secret imprisonment and interrogation a new Gulag Archipelago, if you will which they describe as
an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safekeeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States.
... The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al Qaeda and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services some with documented records of torture to which the U.S. government delivers or "renders" mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning. ("Secret World of U.S. Interrogation")
According to the story, more than 9,000 people from all over the world are caught in this secret system of abduction and torture.  Not to worry, though. It's all legal:
None of the arrangements that permit U.S. personnel to kidnap, transport, interrogate, and hold foreigners are ad hoc or unauthorized, including the so-called renditions. "People tend to regard it as an extra-judicial kidnapping; it's not," former CIA officer Peter Probst said. "There is a long history of this. It has been done for decades. It's absolutely legal."
In fact, every aspect of this new universe including maintenance of covert airlines to fly prisoners from place to place, interrogation rules and the legal justification for holding foreigners without due process afforded most U.S. citizens has been developed by military or CIA lawyers, vetted by Justice Department's office of legal counsel and, depending on the particular issue, approved by White House general counsel's office or the president himself. (Priest and Stephens)
The question American lovers of freedom must ask
themselves is this: If the Imperium can subject
foreigners to such atrocities, how long will it be
before we ourselves are the victims? If the
possibility seems remote, consider that not long ago
nobody would have dreamed that the horrors here
described would be carried out by the United State
on such a monstrous scale. And consider the
continuing efforts by the half-mad Minister of Love
Ashcroft to destroy all legal barriers to just such
The ordinary military police were coached in
dehumanizing their victims by officers from
military intelligence and from the CIA and
by mercenaries. It was a sadist's dream. And being
encouraged to be a sadist can corrupt even people
who ordinarily wouldn't dream of such behavior, especially if they have neither received
any moral education nor developed much strength of
character conditions that seem even more
endemic among Imperial troops than in American
society as a whole. In a story headlined "Soldier:
Foul photos of inmates were prized," Knight Ridder's
John Simerman writes:
Pictures of abuse and humiliation of Iraqis, taken
with digital cameras, were burned onto CDs that
circulated widely among prison personnel, said
Sindar, 25. Peeks could be had in the chow hall.
... Brutality was also in the air. Sindar recalled a
14-year-old Iraqi with a broken arm being hurled to
the ground and then mocked by U.S. soldiers as the
boy wept and wet himself in the prison intake
... "The thing with the soldiers there, they think
because we're Americans, you can do whatever you
want," said Spc. Ramon Leal, 25, of San Jose, Calif.
The officers "didn't have the nerve to discipline
soldiers," Leal continued, "so the bad soldiers had no
reason not to" misbehave. (Posted at the Tallahassee
Democrat, May 10, 2004)
Apparently, the prison came more and more to
resemble a madhouse:
Oh, by the way, when Strong refers to "these guys," he's talking about soldiers, not prisoners. ***
So here's how things stack
up. Imperial troopers have been treating
Iraqis like subhumans almost from the time they
arrived in the Iraqis' country. They destroy
property, invade people's homes, and abduct
civilians randomly. They are scared, miserable, and
trigger-happy, and they have killed thousands of
men, women, and children since the war officially
Long before the world saw shocking photos of U.S.
soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees, Sgt. Michael Sindar
and other military police serving at the Abu Ghraib
prison saw all they wanted of them.
... "You can see these guys messed up ... running up
and down the halls naked, or when they're not
eating, losing weight," Strong said. "There were
probably 30 people that went on medication while
they were over there Prozac, Zoloft, those
kind of drugs." (Simerman)
The ordinary military police were coached in dehumanizing their victims by officers from military intelligence and from the CIA and by mercenaries. It was a sadist's dream. And being encouraged to be a sadist can corrupt even people who ordinarily wouldn't dream of such behavior, especially if they have neither received any moral education nor developed much strength of character conditions that seem even more endemic among Imperial troops than in American society as a whole. In a story headlined "Soldier: Foul photos of inmates were prized," Knight Ridder's John Simerman writes:
Pictures of abuse and humiliation of Iraqis, taken with digital cameras, were burned onto CDs that circulated widely among prison personnel, said Sindar, 25. Peeks could be had in the chow hall.
... Brutality was also in the air. Sindar recalled a 14-year-old Iraqi with a broken arm being hurled to the ground and then mocked by U.S. soldiers as the boy wept and wet himself in the prison intake center.
... "The thing with the soldiers there, they think because we're Americans, you can do whatever you want," said Spc. Ramon Leal, 25, of San Jose, Calif. The officers "didn't have the nerve to discipline soldiers," Leal continued, "so the bad soldiers had no reason not to" misbehave. (Posted at the Tallahassee Democrat, May 10, 2004)
Apparently, the prison came more and more to resemble a madhouse:
Oh, by the way, when Strong refers to "these guys," he's talking about soldiers, not prisoners.
So here's how things stack up. Imperial troopers have been treating Iraqis like subhumans almost from the time they arrived in the Iraqis' country. They destroy property, invade people's homes, and abduct civilians randomly. They are scared, miserable, and trigger-happy, and they have killed thousands of men, women, and children since the war officially "ended." The Imperium refuses even to allow counting of civilian deaths, underlining its indifference to Iraqi suffering.
Any feeble last attempts to win Iraqi hearts and minds have been effectively sabotaged by the publicizing of the torture photos and by the bombing of civilians and holy places. More photos and revelations of brutality will undoubtedly emerge, and the hatred of the Iraqis (and other Muslims) for the United State and possibly all Americans will grow.
Meanwhile, the Marines have had to back off on their pledge to subdue Fallujah, because doing so would have inflamed public anger more than they could afford. They have withdrawn from the city, while the population celebrated and, yes, jumped for joy. Other enclaves of resistance continue to exist and grow, with the Empire unable to take decisive action against them because of fear of the Iraqi people's (and the American people's) response.
Here at home, support for the war and for Bush is falling steadily.
To use the impolite metaphor quoted by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff, this pooch has been thoroughly scr*wed. There is no way to de-scr*w it. The United State faces three options:
1) It can cut its losses by getting out as quickly as it can, and damn the loss in "prestige" and other trifles.
2) Assuming it has the will and resources to do so, it can do as the Romans did with fractious subjects, and kill everyone, indiscriminately, until all resistance is ended.
3) It can resign itself to being driven out slowly and painfully.
Lord Acton's adage that power corrupts has never been illustrated more clearly, both by the Bush-Cheney regime and by its minions. Knight Ridder's Simerman writes:
Strong, 50, said he found himself hitting Iraqi prisoners and recognized in himself how anger could turn into brutality.
"You get a burning in your stomach, a rush, a feeling of hot lead running through your veins, and you get a sense of power," Strong said. "Imagine wearing point-blank body armor, an M-16 and all the power in the world, and the authority of God. That power is very addictive."
And that power, growing all the time, is what we all face. It doesn't bode well for us; and it bodes worse for our children.
© 2004 WTM
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