This article was written before the second release of photographs, in the Washington Post, the publication of the Taguba Report, Donald Rumsfeld and Antonio Taguba's respective testimonies to Congress, and many other developments. Matters have now gone so far that I do not feel a re-write of this article is practical.

The photographs

On Thursday, April 29, 2004, the American CBS TV programme 60 Minutes II screened photographs taken at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Abu Ghraib was an infamous place of torture and execution under Saddam Hussein, and the kind of place which provided some justification for the war in the eyes of those not swayed by arguments of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. The pictures had apparently been held back by the station for two weeks on the instructions of the Pentagon, which had also recently sought to control images of the coffins of US personnel. Permission was only given to release the pictures when they had begun to appear in other places. The photographs show American troops abusing prisoners in a variety of ways, and are part of the evidence in a continuing investigation into conditions at the prison. The image most widely circulated in the British media shows a dark-skinned man, presumably an Iraqi captive, standing on a small box. He wears a black cape and hood, slightly reminiscent of the form of a Ku Klux Klan uniform. The hood entirely obscures his face, but his thoughts may be guessed at. His outstretched arms are attached to wires which lead up and out of the frame. According to reports, he had been told that if he fell or stepped down from his precarious position, he would be electrocuted. It is claimed that the wires were not in fact part of any circuit, but this cannot be proved or disproved from the evidence. The psychological effect, though, seems incontestable. It has also been reported that other photos supplied show a man in a similar predicament, but without the cover of the cape, and with the wires attached to his genitals.

In other photographs, grinning American soldiers preside over piles of naked men, their captives, who seem to be simulating a sex act. Needless to say, this is not an activity they could be expected to engage in voluntarily. In another photo again, a female American soldier, casually smoking a cigarette, gestures at the groin of a prisoner as he stands in line with others, all naked. Prisoners are shown being attacked by dogs, or pinned under smiling soldiers. According to CBS, a photograph of a battered corpse was also provided. Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, for US central command, stated that the charges against the six soldiers facing court-martial included ordering detainees to masturbate publicly, and assaults of various kinds. Brigadier-General Janice Karpinski, who was in charge of the prison, has been suspended from duty. Just as I was putting the finishing touches to this article, the BBC released photographs showing British troops beating up a captive with rifle butts and urinating on him. According to a report in tomorrow's Daily Mirror the victim was accused of theft; he suffered a broken jaw and extensive bruising, in addition to the psychological effects of his treatment, said to have lasted eight hours. the Mirror photos, and the accompanying story, subsequently proved to be a misleading hoax. Accusations against British troops continued, though. The Abu Ghraib photographs are said to have been handed over to US authorities by a concerned soldier in January. Although CNN's web page seems to play down the gravity and likely truth of these accusations, the general reaction has been one of disgust, revulsion, and anger.

Use of mercenaries

A number of things are striking about these reports. Firstly, the role of mercenaries. Although seventeen military police personnel have been suspended, and six soldiers have been charged with a variety of offences, one of the most serious individual charges seemingly cannot be pressed. An Iraqi boy in his mid teens was allegedly raped at Abu Ghraib by a hired man - CBS refers to him as an interpreter, The Guardian as a contractor, with the implication he was some sort of soldier. CBS also alleges that US personnel abetted the crime by creating a screen of sheets, and that a female soldier photographed the rape. It is claimed that because the sanctions of military law cannot be applied to the alleged perpetrator, nothing can be done about this specific charge. This claim will strike many as remarkable, since the man in question is employed by the US military, and is said to have committed the offence at a site under the control of the military. Moreover, as Iraq is currently under occupation, and policed by a combination of American and Iraqi law enforcement officials, there are non-military legal authorities to deal with such a matter. All responsibility for these mercenaries has been abdicated, it seems. History students may recall a similar situation at the end of the Thirty Years' War. But according to the official US version of events, the war in Iraq has been over for nearly a year. The mercenary in question, and many others employed by CACI International Inc or the Titan Corporation, are working in the detention and interrogation of prisoners of war. Given the high level of caution, even paranoia, evoked by the official stance of the American and British governments over matters of intelligence and security at present, how can the use of non-government personnel in such a context be justified?

Testimony and attitude of accused military personnel

The next point of concern is the terrifyingly amoral and ignorant attitude of the accused. Staff Sergeant Ivan 'Chip' Frederick, interviewed by CBS, said that no training or instruction had been provided to troops on prison duty. "We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things... like rules and regulations. It just wasn't happening." According to Sgt Frederick's account, he did not even see a copy of the Geneva Convention until after he was charged - at which point he found it on the Internet, where it had been all along. It seems surprising that this is offered as a defence by Sgt Frederick and his lawyer, Gary Myers. One of the photographs shows Sgt Frederick sitting on a detainee, and he is also accused of committing an indecent act, assaulting a prisoner, and ordering prisoners to attack each other. The implication of the 'no instruction' defence is that Sgt Frederick and his fellow soldiers otherwise think it right to humiliate, assault and sexually abuse people placed in their care. Looking at the photographs of naked prisoners forced into sexual or pseudo-sexual contact with each other, it is hard to imagine how any professional soldier could think this appropriate. A soldier ordered by a senior officer to commit such an act should refuse the order, as it is well-known that it is not a sufficient legal defence to state that one was 'just following orders'. Soldiers are not automata, to fulfil the whims of their superiors, any more than captives are toys to gratify the urges of their captors. Myers said that 'Chip Frederick had no idea how to humiliate an Arab until he met up with' senior officers who provided instruction in the methods seen. I am astonished that someone fighting to liberate a country from oppression did not resist such indoctrination more robustly - rather than getting stuck in, as seems to be the case. Amazingly, Sgt Frederick's peace-time occupation is as a prison warder.

The Associated Press published details drawn from a journal kept by Sgt Frederick following his initial questioning in January. According to this volume, Iraqi prisoners held by US forces at Abu Ghraib were made to stand naked for three days in cells whose floors were a yard square. During this treatment, they were not even allowed out to relieve themselves. Sgt Frederick claimed to have questioned this with his battalion commander, who responded that 'I don't care if he has to sleep standing up'. Members of Sgt Frederick's family, and the families of other soldiers awaiting court-martial, have endeavoured to present their relatives as victims of circumstance. Frederick's uncle, Mr William Lawson, who supplied AP with the diary, said his son was 'just the guy they put in charge of the prison'. I am extremely concerned that any person placed in such a position of authority on behalf of the United States should participate in, rather than strive to prevent, these abuses. The grinning faces of the soldiers in the pictures supplied to CBS hardly fit with the presentation of good, decent people following orders with heavy hearts and brooding consciences. They look to me like they're enjoying it. Terrie England, mother of US reservist Lynndie R England, pictured in the foreground of one of the photos of naked prisoners, described the abuses as 'stupid, kid things - pranks'. She also expressed concern that only the US was being held to account for violations of the Geneva Convention. Especially as ending the torture and abuse of captives was one of the purported motivations for the invasion, such a query does not seem to me to excuse the crimes of allied forces at all. Zeenithia Davis, whose husband Javal is said to be another of the accused, suggested that the treatment received by prisoners might have been an appropriate response to misbehaviour on their part. A woman who expects her husband to view involuntary sexual humiliation as an appropriate response to anything might worry when he gets home, I feel.

The wider picture

Then there is the international dimension. The United States is one of very few nations to refuse to sign up to the International Criminal Court. Idealists within the USA asserted that the Land of the Free could not make itself subject to external jurisdiction, and that in any case no American would commit the kinds of crimes which the Court was convened to try. Cynics and anti-American demagogues retorted that the US administration wished to insure itself against the risk of legal action for crimes which might be committed by its representatives - or even planned by its members. It now seems that in this case the cynics were right. The US government has distanced itself from the idea of international oversight in the conduct of war, and must now account for its agents grossly breaching legal and moral standards. An exceptionally strong position must be maintained by the leadership if the abuses at Abu Ghraib are not to be seen as the fruit of wilful unilateralism on their part.

The International Court is probably of mainly academic interest at this stage. A more crucial international aspect of this scandal is the effect it will have on America's credibility. Allied nations may well be less willing to offer troops to serve in Iraq if the existing occupying forces appear to consist in part of lawless mercenaries, sadistic voyeurs, and rapists. The reaction from America's existing enemies will likely be much worse. The Pentagon's reluctance to let the pictures become public has been attributed to fears for the safety of hostages currently being held by rebels in Iraq. Whilst it is easy to say that the Pentagon is not less afraid of losing face, or that it relishes secrecy for its own sake, concern for the hostages is a real enough issue. Many of those who have so far been released have not reported particularly harsh treatment. Now that America has raised the stakes, the fear must be that no more such cases of leniency will happen. And images of Arab men forced into degrading situations, made to abase themselves before laughing and jeering American women, will be a powerful propaganda tool for the diffuse assortment of agents provocateurs collectively referred to as Al Qaeda. When the USA invaded Iraq, few observers taking a critical view of the situation believed that Osama bin Laden's gang of rabid fundamentalists had much connection with the quasi-fascist, secular, Ba'athist regime. Now, a year after that order passed away, it seems more and more likely that Iraq will prove a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists. These new revelations of abuse will enable the expansion of the so-called global terror network much further afield.

Comparisons with related issues

The Geneva Convention which Sgt Frederick seems to think of as the answer to all his moral doubts does not seem to trouble his masters at the Pentagon unduly. The continued internment of 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo Bay features some of the same issues as the Abu Ghraib case. The limits of jurisdiction, which inhibit action against the mercenary accused of rape in Iraq, are also cited when legal action is brought on behalf of the detainees in Cuba. Although the camp is entirely owned and operated by the United States military, on behalf of the government, it is regarded as extra-territorial when anyone calls for public trial by jury or the suspension of cruel and unusual punishment. President Bush's statement in connection with the Abu Ghraib photographs that 'that's not the way we do things in America' will prompt some to suggest that Americans just go to Cuba to do them. The detention without trial or charge, the open cages, the hoods and shackles, and the lack of access to lawyers or other outside contact seen at Guantanamo are not what the western world commonly understands by justice, no matter what accusation has been made. The treaties and laws which were allegedly not explained to the soldiers in Iraq are claimed not to apply in Cuba, for reasons which appear opaque to the majority of lawyers. Perhaps the lack of understanding of these things on the part of the accused in Iraq can be attributed in part to the government's very public contempt for them elsewhere. While individual responsibility for these crimes cannot and should not be avoided, the role of central government in promoting human rights is at issue as well. Amazingly, the former commander of the Cuban camp has been dispatched to Iraq following the breaking of this scandal in order to clean up the prison system.


I hope that these comments do not seem too strongly coloured by my liberal political opinions. The traditional power base of the current administration is among conservative Christians in Middle America. While issues of foreign conflict and military command may slightly affect people's feelings on this issue, I would hope that few Christians would sanction the acts that have been committed at Abu Ghraib. Similarly, conservatives are in part characterised by a respect for existing laws and traditional standards of moral conduct in public and in private. Few people would describe the actions of the soldiers and mercenaries in this case as upholding those standards or obeying those laws. And as I have mentioned briefly above, concern for world security is at the heart of current US foreign policy. The employment of private mercenaries in facilities which question captives sits very badly with the understandable insistence on maintaining the integrity of intelligence data. Americans who respect their armed forces might reasonably ask why the administration has not strengthened those forces enough for them to be able to perform these crucial security functions themselves.

Sources:,,,, BBC1 news programming, The Guardian for 30/04/04.

Addendum: This question has occured to me: has anyone attempted to identify the prisoners and offer them counselling or legal aid?

Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad, one of Saddam Hussein's favored locales for the beating and torturing of prisoners, now has become the site of allegations of abuse by American servicemen and women towards Iraqi detainees. The irony, while not intended, is striking.

The story seems to grow deeper and more disturbing every day. The pictures more graphic, the lack of answers about who was in charge, more appalling. Heads are going to, or at least should, roll, court martials of those involved, will be inevitable. Denials and finger pointing are sure to be the next ugly step. The Army will blame the intelligence community and the intelligence community will either go into hiding or start placing the blame somewhere else. Either way, it makes me sad to see that people, not only Americans, feel the need to act this way.

Here are some excerpts from MSNBC of the findings by one Major General Antonio M. Taguba about the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees.

Between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility (BCCF), numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees. This systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force (372nd Military Police Company, 320thMilitary Police Battalion, 800th MP Brigade), in Tier (section) 1-A of the Abu Ghraib Prison (BCCF).

In addition, several detainees also described the following acts of abuse, which under the circumstances, I find credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.
  • a. Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees;
  • b. Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol;
  • c. Pouring cold water on naked detainees;
  • d. Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair;
  • e. Threatening male detainees with rape;
  • f. Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell;
  • g. Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.
  • h. Using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

The intentional abuse of detainees by military police personnel included the following acts:

  • a. Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet;
  • b. Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees;
  • c. Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing;
  • d. Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;
  • e. Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear;
  • f. Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped;
  • g. Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them;
  • h. Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture;
  • i. Writing “I am a Rapist” on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked;
  • j. Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee’s neck and having a female Soldier pose for a picture;
  • k. A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee;
  • l. Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee;
  • m.Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.

These findings are amply supported by written confessions provided by several of the suspects, written statements provided by detainees, and witness statements.

The various detention facilities operated by the 800th MP Brigade have routinely held persons brought to them by Other Government Agencies (OGAs) without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention. The Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC) at Abu Ghraib called these detainees “ghost detainees.” On at least one occasion, the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib held a handful of “ghost detainees” (6-8) for OGAs that they moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team. This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law.

"I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

Those are the words of the Vice President of the United States of America - Dick Cheney spoken on March 16, 2003 to Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press. While I'm sure Mr. Cheney couldn't have foreseen the events that are unfolding, the latest estimates by pundits and the like are that these actions by a few misdirected individuals will set back Arab - American relations for many years to come. Some say 20, some say 30. Either way, its too long.

Editorial Comment:

The other day, I was listening to NPR’ s Daniel Schorr compare the recent allegations of Iraqi detainee abuse with the days of Vietnam and the My Lai Massacre. Truth be told, even though I’m as just about as liberal as they come, I thought the comparisons were a bit overboard. While I don’t think there’s a liberal bias to the news, I do think that comparisons made by either liberals or conservatives tend to the extremes rather than the reality. And although I wish we could get the Vietnam monkey off our back, as long as events such as the alleged abuse continue to take place, the comparisons seem inevitable.

Incidents such as this alleged abuse also demean the efforts of those soldiers who are risking their lives on a daily basis, not to mention those who have already died, and, those who are going to die. It leaves an even more sour taste in the mouths of those who believe we shouldn’t be there in the first place, whether they be citizens of the United States, Iraq, or any other civilized person or nation. These acts do nothing but discredit our intentions and our place in the eyes of the world. Of even greater importance, they serve to inflame the Iraqi and Arab populace and place our troops on the ground in an even greater danger.

While I’m ashamed at the actions of the few, I hope they don't go on to discredit the actions of the many. That's at least one of the lessons we should have learned a long, long time ago.

5/6/04- Final thoughts - I was watching the news this morning and even more graphic and disturbing pictures are being released. It makes me wonder about the Americans in those photo's. In particular, there's one of a young woman who seems to be taking a certain joy in demeaning those under her charge. I wonder how proud she'll feel of herself in the coming years when she tries to explain her actions to her family, friends, children and possibly grandchildren. That's something we should all take heed of.

"Because our coalition acted, Saddam's torture chambers are closed." - George W. Bush

"I think that -- I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. Just a minute. I don't know if the -- it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the "torture" word." - Donald Rumsfeld

If this weren't such a horrible thing, it'd almost be funny to see Teh Administration scrambling to cover their arses and put a positive spin on things. You can always rely on good old Rummy, and there he is, popping up right on cue, being incredibly insensitive and inappropriate, and mangling the English language once again. Let's have a look at his fatuous statement, checking the definitions with Webster.

abuse - ignoring the "put to a wrong use" meaning, which we're not referring to here, Webster says abuse is "To use ill; to maltreat; to act injuriously to; to punish or to tax excessively; to hurt; as, to abuse prisoners, to abuse one's powers, one's patience."

torture - again, there's a "pain; anguish of body or mind" definition, but the one we're talking about is "Especially, severe pain inflicted judicially, either as punishment for a crime, or for the purpose of extorting a confession from an accused person, as by water or fire, by the boot or thumbkin, or by the rack or wheel."

Sure, Webster is ancient and full of silly words - "thumbkin"? - but even using Teh Internet gives the same results. says abuse is "to hurt or injure by maltreatment; ill-use", and torture is "infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion". Same thing, but one is just motiveless.

So, abuse is punishing or hurting, and torture is inflicting pain to punish for a crime or to get information. Okay then, technically, no, torture is not the same as abuse - torture is for a reason (even if the reason is wrong or invented), abuse is just for shits and giggles. So that's all right, then.

New! Torture chambers reopening, under NEW management!! You don't have to have done anything, just come on in, we'll treat you right! Free kick in the nuts with every breach of the Geneva Convention! And remember: it's abuse, not torture!

Yeah, I know, war is hell, blah blah, terrorists, blah blah blah, September 11th, I don't understand the fine details, be realistic, blah blah, can't expect miracles, blah, they're building schools, not a quagmire, blah blah, Saddam was worse (yeah, cause he should always be our barometer of excellence), etc etc etc. Listen: If you're going to msg me and you're a conservative/republican/pro-war/whatever, that's cool, but please, watch your fucking manners. I get the most rude, violent, angry msgs from you people, and I'm not going to be patient with you anymore. I'm capable of arguing with you without insulting you or belittling your intelligence, please do me the same fucking courtesy. Any abusive msgs will be reported to them what's in charge, and copied into the catbox for a laugh.

A lot has already been written on the Abu Ghraib torture pictures (and I use the word 'torture' quite deliberately, please see the WU above for more information). But this node will deal with the media's handling of the Abu Ghraib incidents. I will the use this to argue that there is an element of racism in all that has taken place so far, including the way the media has portrayed it. Before I do so, I also want to sound one further note of warning. The pictures that have emerged from the prison are sickening. But the problem is that Abu Ghraib is not the only detention centre in Iraq- there are others. It is still not known how prisoners in those camps have been treated, and till such time, there will always be speculation.

The media reaction, especially in the United States to the Abu Ghraib pictures was, quite naturally one of shock and disbelief. This was reflected in the statements made by family members of those accused, such as Private Lynndie England, whose friend made the following remarks to the Washington Post:

It just makes me laugh, because that's not Lynn," said Destiny Goin, 21, a friend. "She wouldn't pull a dog by its neck, let alone drag a human across a floor."

The common reaction from family members of the accused has been that their loved ones have been set up, and that they were 'merely following orders'. Hence, those to blame are higher up in the army hierarchy and a cover up is underway. All of this is quite plausible. But it doesn't answer the simple question: what kind of 'civilized' army would resort to these measures and then take photographs of it, and send it home, almost as (to use the words of one BBC1 newsreporter) 'mementoes'?

In dealing with Lynndie England (and her case stands out because she is a woman), the media has adopted one of two roles. Either she is an outright villain, a vicious 'sex sadist of Baghdad' as one South African newspaper put it, or she is a 'girl gone wrong'- as the Independent UK tried to argue- she is from small town America, a girl who wouldn't even shoot a deer, who has then performed these inexplicable acts. The theme is: it's not her, there's more to this than meets the eye, she's the fall girl. There are also the usual comparisons with Jessica Lynch, seen as the all-American heroine when she was rescued, although her story has been somewhat tarnished since then.

It seems to me that the argument, from every section of the media, including those who claim that the prison was 'unprofessionally run' (to quote the Washington Post), assume that there were 'institutional factors' behind what happened at Abu Ghraib. Why? Because it is much harder to stomach that their good all American boys and girls, would actually perpetuate this horror and humiliation of their own volition. So by humanizing the perpetrators, one is almost absolving them of guilt. Not only is this absurd, there are racist connotations to this that shall be tackled later.

Let's take two comments from two eminent news sources. First the Weekly Standard had this to say:

The prison guards were badly trained, we hear; they thought they were doing what the interrogators/contractors/CIA wanted them to do; they were cogs in a corrupt military machine. We might say something like that if we were being paid to defend these lowlifes. And, yes, there do seem to have been lamentable weaknesses in training and command.

I don't know about you, but I would think that what went on in Abu Ghraib is an example of a 'lack of humanity' not merely a lack of training or a lack of knowledge of the Geneva Convention. More interestingly, is the media suggesting that the soldiers in question need to be taught the Geneva Convention to know what they are doing is inhuman and immoral? Are these actions only immoral by the standards of war, or are they just so blantanly horrible that no standards of morality could be applied to them at all?

Then let's turn to the New York Times and to their claim:

But a more worrisome category of prisoners emerged from the widening insurgency in Iraq, as played out in the shootings, bombings and other attacks against American soldiers. More and more of those prisoners were filling the makeshift jails"

Aw shucks...what were these Amerian soldiers going to do? It's the prisoners fault after all...these evil Iraqis who insist on filling up jails and putting pressure on the prison system. After all, it's all a fall out of that, isn't it?

In their relentless focus on the perpetrators of the horrors at Abu Ghraib, and the occasional attempt to portray them as victims, the real victims have been forgotten. Almost no major newspaper report has tried to ask: who were these men and what are their stories? Only one man, Haider Sabbar Abed, a 36 year old from Baghdad has so far come forward to say that he was one of the men in the pictures and then proceeds to detail his torture. (Please refer to for details). Again, the media focus on the perpetrators and the lack of attention on the victims, seems to suggest that again there is a process of de-humanizing. And this brings me to the important question: is this covertly racist?

Note that the perpetrators who have been paraded as victims by at least part of the media, were all white. More astonishingly for an army, that is 40% black, Hispanic or Native American, not a single soldier from any of these communities have been charged with these crimes. Which brings me back to my thesis: that there is above all, an element of racism in what has occurred. These were brown Iraqi men being tortured by white American soldiers. Why haven't I heard the word 'racism' being so far? And considering the fact that a number of those involved, served as prison guards back home- prisons known for their brutality, and for their overwhelmingly black inmates, again, are we saying that racism is not a factor?

These paragraphs from Ahdaf Soueif in the Guardian sums it all up neatly:

The acts in the photos being flashed across the networks would not have taken place but for the profound racism that infects the American and British establishments. At squaddie level, Sarah Oliver reports in the Mail on Sunday that "the British soldiers loathe the dirtiness of Iraq and the native population's slothfulness, kleptomania and determination to do as little as possible for themselves". There have been reports of US troops outside Falluja talking of the fun of being a sniper, of the different ways to kill people, of the "rat's nest" that needs cleaning out. Some will say soldiers will be soldiers. But that language has been used by neocons at the heart of the US administration; both Kenneth Adelman and Paul Wolfowitz have spoken of "snakes" and "draining the swamps" in the "uncivilised parts of the world".

The media in this country is politely shocked at photos of Iraqis being tortured and humiliated by US and British soldiers. A BBC1 news presenter says the pictures seem to have been "merely mementos". That's all right,then. The folks at home will have a good laugh and paste them into the family album. In the first half of the last century, the French in Algeria and Morocco used to send home postcards of prostitutes posing sullenly, with breasts bared and skirts pulled up to their thighs, over captions like "Le harem Arabe" or "Fille Mauresque". The Americans have pushed it further: their pornography of occupation is at once more childish, playful, crude and sinister than that of "old Europe". Also, we assume the prostitutes were paid. BBC commentators and British politicians have been reminding us that the soldiers' activities "do not compare with Saddam Hussein's systematic tortures and executions". Hussein is now the moral compass of the west. The media are fearful that these images will go down badly in the Arab world because "they show Muslim men being humiliated by American women".

Again the not-so-subtle reduction of the Arab world to an entity that reacts only to religious prodding. A world that oppresses women, is full of 'kleptomaniacs', a 'dirty world' of 'dirty people- who are only humiliated because this offends their religion! After all, they're all religious fanatics, aren't they? Of course, it isn't remotely possible that the humiliation and the anger of the Arab world, is not a religious one- it is anger because an occupying army has tortured and sadistically humiliated their own- and that humiliation is not just linked to their religion but to their dignity and self worth as human beings. But of course, in a world where the media, often characterizes Arabs as only barely human, that's easy to forget isn't it? It's easy to forget (with much apologies to Shakespeare), that they have eyes, ears, and that they feel pain, humiliation and sorrow just as any white Amerian does?

One last point. What would America do if an occupying army tortured their civilians on American soil, and those pictures were broadcast all over the world? I haven't lived long on this planet, but my meagre experience tells me, that they would probably bomb them!

I've used a number of media sources for this node- the Guardian, the NYT and the WaPo in particular. There are enough media reports on the scandal floating around for me not to give you individual references. A Google search will reveal it all.


I have received a number of comments about the WU and I'm going to try and respond and incorporate some of those:

1. unperson says that my WU is too vitriolic and that I should reconsider some of the things I've said in the light of what happened yesterday. Well so here goes. Yesterday three things happened. We heard that an American, Nicholas Berg had been beheaded and the video of that posted on the net. Then, we heard that the British army, according to Amnesty International had shot and killed an 8 year old girl, without provocation. Finally we heard that there were more disturbing pictures emerging from Iraq, including this time, abuse and torture of female prisoners.

a) Let's take Berg's beheading first. Ghastly, grisly, and reprehensible. But nothing in my above WU says that I condone acts like this. I am not an apologist for terrorism in any form. I have my greatest sympathy for the Berg family, I am sickened by what they are having to endure, and I pray that some day they will be able to attain some peace of mind. The worst that can happen to a parent is to know that your child died in the utmost agony, and despite my agnosticism, I pray that the parents of Nicholas Berg are given all the strength they need to cope with this.

HOWEVER, this raises a good question. What happens if we capture a bunch of Iraqis who may/may not have killed Berg? Do we put them into Abu Ghraib and humiliate them, as in those pictures, or do we follow the due process of law, modified as it may be by war, but not including at any point torture of prisoners? Is that a fair enough?

So yes, I think Berg's killers need to be punished. And since I don't believe in the death penalty, may they be given life long imprisonment. But I refuse to change my views on how the Iraqi prisoners were treated on the basis of yesterday's murder. Nor will I advocate that Berg's killers be treated the same way, despite my revulsion.

b)Equally disturbing is the news that female prisoners at Abu Ghraib were molested and in one case raped, leading to the woman in question, allegedly named Noor, becoming pregnant. She has since disappeared. I find it astonishing that there is no clamour for the photographs and reports to be made public, no matter how distasteful, so that the truth could be revealed. I do not believe in crimes being functionally equivalent. I don't think that Berg's murder in any way lessens the horror of what has been going on inside Abu Ghraib. More importantly, I think we need to know now how women prisoners were treated, and we need the full story of what has been going on inside those interrogation cells.

2. Noung argued with me that the term 'racist' is perhaps really strong and seems to suggest, as Robert Fisk does that the entire Anglo-Saxon civilization is tainted by it. I don't think I ever say that do I? I am arguing that the American soldiers who took part in the crimes at Abu Ghraib were racist. Whether this was a pre-existing racism that allowed them to do what they did, or even motivated them, or whether it was racism born of a justification for the acts they committed (i.e. it's okay to do this to Iraqis) as Noung suggests might have been the case, I think it's racism anyway.

It's a hard one that- racism. Brings back lots of unpleasant memories. And if you're a good white man or woman, I can see why you would flinch at the use of the term and complain of generalization. But at the end of the day, I think the sooner we admit that race was a factor, (And as I told Noung, if 40% of the army is non-white, the statistical probability, according to Suvrat of none of the perpetrators being non white is a mere 2.7%. Surely that deserves some explanation) the earlier we can deal with incidents like this.

If you find it hard to believe that soldiers from your own army- boys and girls who lived next door could be racist (that I think is the hardest pill to swallow- these are people like us, surely they can't be racist, it must be a mistake or it must be the system), then go ahead and read some of the statements that both US/UK soldiers constantly make about Iraq and Iraqis. I've included one excerpt from the Mail on Sunday above, but there are plenty of others on the Web.

Finally, I think there is a need for justice to be done (am I old fashioned? Maybe). Justice for Nicholas Berg, for Hanan Saleh Matrud, and for those humiliated and tortured in Abu Ghraib. Let's not allow people to just blame systemic causes and get away with this. Because if you say that it's the system, or point to the Stanford Prison Experiment, all you are saying is that prisons and prison guards are bound to behave like that. We can't have humane prisons. I fear that's not true- maybe realistically you can't have a completely humane prison, after all imprisonment is to a degree traumatizing, but you can at least abide by a code of conduct. And thank you to Andrew Aguecheek for pointing out why the Stanford Prison Experiment analogy doesn't really work in the Abu Ghraib case, because in the experiment the prison guards were completely on their own, with no higher ups. Which means, that more than just the 7 or 8 who've been indicted for the Abu Ghraib incidents, there are others who need to be punished as well.

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