Daily Archives: May 5, 2004

Abu Ghraib …

by John McKay

… and I see that Mick just beat me to it with a much more thoughtful post. Oh well, below is what I had to say (and read Sy Hersh, who is excellent as always):

The recent story about torture of Iraqi prisoners is presented as if it is an anomaly – six or so soldiers who got out of hand. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Seymour Hersh reports that (as any reasonably well informed person knew) this stuff happens all the time; it’s SOP for intelligence officers in and out of the military.

As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

Reports of the US employing torture in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay are nothing new; this time was different because photos actually got out and mainstream US media actually gave it a little coverage.

Saying “we’re the good guy” doesn’t make us the good guy – not even if we repeat it over and over again. The rest of the world knows it, and it’s time for Americans to figure it out too.

No Choice: We Have To Get Out

About a month ago, I wrote in “Gitmo Commander Taking Over Irag Prisons”:

Gitmo is a legal travesty. Prisoners have been badly mistreated (torture is routine), lawyer-client conversations are bugged by authorities (when prisoners are allowed to see lawyers at all), most of the 600 inmates are being held without charge and without opportunity for bail, and not one conviction for any “crime” has been obtained. The only inmate charged with wrong-doing, Jimmy Yee, was recently released for lack of evidence after almost two years’ incarceration, and nobody even apologized. The whole operation is disgraceful, an exercise in extrajudicial revenge that is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.So what do the Bushies do? Why, promote the man in charge, of course.

I fully expected that Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller in his new assignment as head of the whole Iraq prison system would bring his award-winning techniques with him and turn the prisons of Iraq into the hellish nightmare that Gitmo is. Little did I know he was bringing nothing new to the table, just taking over a going concern.

Today, in what may be the Irony of Ironies, Maj Gen Miller, who has never admitted to much less apologized for the atrocities committed under his command in Cuba, stepped before the cameras to do just that over Abu Ghraib.

“I would like to apologize for our nation and for our military for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorized acts here at Abu Ghraib,” Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller told Arab and Western reporters taken on a military tour of the prison.”These are violations not only of our national policy but of how we conduct ourselves as members of the international community,” Miller said.

“It has brought a cloud over all the efforts of all of our soldiers and we will work our hardest to re-establish the trust that Iraqis feel for the coalition and the confidence people in American have in their military.

Uh-huh. The ring of sincerity is palpable, isn’t it? Can’t you feel the love?

I was getting concerned about the potential for atrocities in Iraq and had planned to do a post on it soon. Our troops are way overextended, morale is low, many of them haven’t been trained for the jobs they’ve been assigned to for too long, and–worst–they weren’t prepared for the wearing grind of a long war before they came by their “leaders”, who told them it would be an easy in-out: knock out Saddam, be strewn with roses by grateful Iraqis at the Victory Parade a few days later, and then home to hoopla and hosannas. It’s a classic scenario.

But I thought it would come as My Lai came or the depredations of Tiger Force–in gonzo attacks on Iraqis in the field. I expected Fallujah might very likely be that moment. Marines storming into a beleagured city where you can’t tell the enemy from the friendlies and mowing down everything in sight without fear or favor. It’s still possible, don’t kid yourself. The troops are exhausted, angry, betrayed by their own commanders (anybody remember “fragging”?) and by the President who lied to get them there and then put them in the position of jail-keepers, only the jail they have to watch over is an entire country. It is hard enough to control an army when it believes in its mission; it is almost impossible when it doesn’t.

I’m not making excuses for those involved, only trying to put what’s happened into the context of the reality they are now facing, a reality most of us–lucky us!–will never have to face. If you ask young men and women to die for you in the name of some great humanitarian cause and it turns out to be a crock, it turns out that you’ve asked them to die for some cock-eyed dream of empire or the piling up of your personal wealth or the fortunes of yourself and your family–and in this case, your contributors–you have turned those young men and women into mercenaries, Hessians. You have made them not a force of liberation but a force of occupation, not liberators but oppressors, and don’t think they don’t know it. Their rage, depression, and growing sense that everything they’ve just done was pointless, worthless, a sham, has to go somewhere.

And so we have not seen the end of this, oh no. There is more to come, and worse. Just ask Napoleon, if you don’t believe me. There are costs to Empire, and this is one of them when the Empire turns greedy (which this one didn’t have to “turn into” as it was that way from the beginning) and the greed makes it blind. It is illogical and unrealistic to expect anything else.

The revelations from Abu Ghraib–and it doesn’t matter that the perps were mostly military intelligence types from the School of the Americas, and mercs trained by the jolly guys who used to run South Africa’s anti-apatheid prisons–mean we no longer have a choice: Kerry has to get us out of Iraq. Armageddon is on the horizon. The Arab world hates us now with a virulent passion formerly reserved only for Israel; we have deadly enemies everywhere, even in the ones that pretend to be our friends. The nature of the tortures at Abu Ghraib has convinced them that America has launched a religious war on them. There is no way to alter that perception short of leaving. Iraq must be turned over to the Iraqis without conditions whether Bechtel and Halliburton like it or not.

Yes, chaos will ensue. Yes, the new Iraqi govt may be Islamic, may be dictatorial, may be corrupt and there won’t be much we can do about any of it. But as bad as all that is, it’s better than the alternative: a Holy War that engulfs the entire region in flames and blood, a Holy War that could easily, almost without our noticing it, become WW III in a NY minute. That may be what Junior wants (I think it is; I think he sees himself as God’s Warrior, the man chosen to bring about the Biblical Prophecies of Armageddon that prepare the way for the Second Coming), but it isn’t what you want. It isn’t what they want, either, except for fanatics like bin Laden whose attack on 9/11 produced exactly the response he hoped it would, a response that all but guarantees a wide-spread jihad. Every day we play deeper into his hands, give him more of what he needs to enflame the Arab World. Abu Ghraib is a powerful weapon, and he will use it cheerfully.

We’re sunk. We have to get out. It’s our only hope–maybe the only hope for the whole world.