“You deserve better than tyranny and corruption and torture chambers. You deserve to live as free people. And I assure every citizen of Iraq: your nation will soon be free.” – George W.Bush, April 10, 2003
“Living conditions (for the Iraqis) are better in prison than at home. At one point, we were concerned they wouldn’t want to leave.” – Brig. General Janis Karpinski, when she took over command of Abu Ghraib prison in December 2003
These were the rosy promises the Americans made to the Iraqis and the world a year ago. A grateful Iraq ‘liberated’ from tyranny, where the wretched Iraqis would find that even the prisons under the new dispensation were more luxurious and ‘free’ than their Saddam-era homes! A year later, the images of sexual humiliation, abuse and torture inflicted on Iraqi prisoners by gleeful, gloating US soldiers in the selfsame prison have nailed that lie. Those images, prepared by the soldiers themselves, speak more loudly than words about the racist barbarism which always lurks behind the colonial rhetoric of ‘civilisation’.
From being touted as its foremost triumph, the ‘war on terror’in Iraq has turned into the biggest liability for the Bush and Blair administrations in the US and UK. With six months to go for Presidential elections, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as well as Bush himself are desperate to present the Abu Ghraib horrors as aberrant excesses by some delinquent soldiers. Severe action has been promised against the guilty soldiers. Of course, ‘severe’ only means a court martial, in which the maximum punishment is one year in prison, or else a reprimand, demotion, pay cuts or discharge from the military. So the American soldiers will simply have to look for a new job, face a rap on the knuckles, or one year safely in jail. Had it been Iraqis who had stripped, paraded, sexually humiliated, raped and photographed Americans, as well as set dogs on them and killed them, we can imagine the Biblical roars about a clash of civilisations, and vows of retaliation that would have been heard!
Conservative media opinion in the US is even trying to blame the abuses on feminism, homosexuality, Hollywood, progressive anti-war universities, the poor, uneducated background of the soldiers, in fact everything except colonial logic and Pentagon policy! However hard these efforts to present Bush, Rumsfeld and Co. to be pure as driven snow, as innocent and righteous upholders of justice, the dirt from the torture revelations is sticking hard to the Bush regime. Whether it be back home in the USA or in Iraq, angry and outraged people are unerringly recognising the real culprits. Even the gruesome videotaped beheading of the young American Nick Berg as an act of ‘revenge’ by the Al Qaeda has failed to generate the expected jingoistic support for the Iraq occupation. Even Nick Berg’s own parents have refused to find comfort in jingoism. His father has revealed how the US Army itself had illegally detained his son in Iraq for over a week, and had released him days before his death only due to a lawsuit filed by his parents. He said his son would have “felt positive about his executioners” until the last minute, and that it was Bush and Rumsfeld who were to be blamed for his son’s killing.
The damning evidence is now piling up, that the human rights abuses captured in the photos were not the products of idle sadism but were in fact part of a systematic, calculated plan shaped by the US within weeks of 9/11. In December 2002, a CIA Officer interviewed by the Washington Post candidly declared, “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job...”. An article in the New Yorker has revealed that Rumsfeld personally authorised a secret ‘Special Access Programme’ that gave advance permission to use whatever methods they wished in order to kill, capture or interrogate ‘high value’ targets. Prisoners from Afghanistan were subjected to the same range of dehumanising abuse – hooding, stripping, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation etc... at the US Prison Camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In fact, these methods of abuse have been developed based on pseudo-academic racist studies which have claimed that the ‘Arab mind’ understands only force, and is particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation. Interestingly, at Guantanamo Bay, Geneva Conventions ‘do not apply’, though Pentagon says they will be respected ‘in spirit’! The logic seems to be that human rights can be violated at will in order to nab terrorists, and, as Emperor Bush has decreed, all those who resist US aggression are terrorists! So it follows that Afghan or Iraqi soldiers and civilians alike, have no human rights, since they sympathise with and participate in the resistance against US invasion.
In December 2003, just prior to the worst abuses in Abu Ghraib Prison, Major General Geoffrey Miller, who headed Guantanamo Bay, visited Abu Ghraib. In the US military’s own private investigation into the abuses, Major General Taguba noted that Miller’s role was to train prison guards to make sure that ‘detention operations act as an enabler for interrogation’. Can it be a coincidence that soon after his visit, guards at Abu Ghraib began using the same ‘techniques’ that are used at Guantanamo Bay? The accused soldiers have said they were encouraged by Military Intelligence Officers to use these techniques in order to ‘loosen up’ prisoners for interrogation.
Guess who has been brought into Iraq to ‘clean up’ the Abu Ghraib scandal – none but General Miller, who headed the notorious Guantanamo Bay, and who was probably the genesis of the abuses at Abu Ghraib too! Not surprisingly, Miller has announced that ‘in future’, coercive techniques like hooding, stripping, sexual abuse etc... will ‘no longer’ be used in Iraq. This implicitly acknowledges that they were in fact being used till now!
In the context of Presidential elections, however, the Opposition in the US is trying to paint the human rights scandal as a result of the ‘excesses’ or the ‘anarchy’ created by the Bush Administration; they imply that there is a humane and benign way in which the war and occupation could have been run. Others, however, have reminded that such brutality is part and parcel of the baggage of imperialism and colonialism. In India, we who know about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre or the crushing of 1857, need no reminder of the racist hatred and sadism that colonialists bear towards their victims. Veterans of US wars have pointed out that the only thing that sets the Iraq torture cases apart from the sadism inflicted by American armies on other peoples, is the fact the photos have become public. After all, it was the US which dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and which developed napalm to burn up Vietnamese people to a pulp. The US Veterans For Peace issued a statement on May 13, saying, “We recall that such brutalities were commonplace in Korea and Vietnam, wars fought, as in Iraq, in the midst of a civilian populace, where combatants blend into and disappear among communities of non-combatants”. Another veteran US soldier and prison guard, Lou Plummer, now a member of Military Families Speak Out, recalls that the racist abuse and humiliation of the enemy is an ethic that is systematically instilled in the US military. He says, “President Bush says he intends to get to the bottom of this situation. I suggest that he should get to the top of it instead.” The fact that racist attitudes continue to be widespread in the US Army, and that racist hatred and fear fuel the violent sadism seen in Abu Ghraib, are further proved by the remarks of a US soldier at another prison camp, Camp Bucca, in Iraq. In a secret video shot by her, this soldier resents the fact that ‘they’ (the Iraqis) are fed too well. She also freely uses sexually and racially abusive language against the detainees. She also reveals how the US soldiers shot and killed a detainee, during ‘riots’ where the prisoners refused meals in protest against the inhuman living conditions and demanded clothes and soap. It is obvious from her tone that she feels sorry for herself and her armed colleagues for having to live ‘so close’ to such scum as the Iraqi detainees, and that she fears and hates her prisoners. Amazingly, in the CBS news story which revealed this video, there was less concern for the conditions of Iraqi prisoners and freedom fighters, and more for the ‘low morale’ of US soldiers forced to work in such anarchic, sordid and ‘dangerous’ conditions. The story was focussed on the ‘appalling’ conditions in Iraq, and the disturbed mental state of the American soldiers; not one word on the sheer bravery of the Iraqi prisoners who, even within the jails, continue to wage war on their colonisers, armed with nothing but rocks, razor blades and their unity and dignity. The US media focus is in line with that of the US military’s own attitude to the abuses; the Taguba report which investigated the Abu Ghraib case, is only concerned about whether the abuses are ‘authorised’ or not, and about the inept leadership and low morale in the prison. It is equally concerned about the high incidence of escapes from the prison, and recommends that prison security be tightened up. But any sensitive individual who reads between the lines of the report, and sees those photos, is bound to admire the defiant Iraqi spirit. The American military set out to dehumanise the Iraqis, but it ends up dehumanising only itself; we are left impressed by the humanity of the Iraqis because of their will to resist, to fight back, to escape.
The project to dehumanise the Iraqis and rob them of their dignity is not restricted to prisons alone; it is a calculated move to reinforce the colonial logic that imperial occupation is part of a civilising mission. Consider the words of Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Defence Secretary, about Afghanistan in 2001: “While we’ll try to find every snake in the swamp, the essence of the strategy is draining the swamp.” Or those of General Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, US Army, describing the town of Fallujah where 600 civilians, mostly women, children and old people were killed by a US army siege a few weeks back: “What we found was a huge rats nest that is still festering today. It needs to be dealt with.” If ordinary Afghans and Iraqis are not people, but ‘snakes’ and ‘rats’ (i.e. subhuman, pests, dangerous threats to civilised people like Americans), is it not natural, even necessary, to destroy them, ‘put them down’? Is it not harmless to put them on leashes, and photograph them in obscene postures for innocent enjoyment or to make them reveal facts about other rats and snakes? Recall that US ‘civilisation’ laid its foundations by eliminating the Red Indian ‘pests’ through deadly viruses and poisons.
In April 2003, the US Army and its allies were supremely confident of their military superiority over the ‘unruly’ hordes of Iraqi fighters. One US General John Kelly then declared that the behavior of the Iraqi resistance was not that of a ‘rational army’, and so it was bound to collapse; “They stand, they fight, …but often they run into our machine guns and we shoot them like the morons they are… they appear willing to die. We are trying our best to help them out in that endeavour.”
Now, one year later, the ‘morons’ and ‘rats’ seem to be teaching their occupiers a lesson or two. The Iraqis have refused to accept their colonisation quietly, and their fierce resistance is breaking the morale of the occupation forces and sending their bosses back in the US into a panic.
Last year in April, the US military brutally suppressed the peaceful protests of Iraqis in Fallujah; this crackdown sparked off a mass armed resistance that has emerged as a major challenge to the occupation forces. By February this year, US paratroopers were forced to withdraw to fortified positions on the city’s outskirts. By the end of March, the paratroopers were replaced by US marines, who set siege to the city. They stormed civilian settlements armed with warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery, killing 600 residents, predominantly women, children and old people in six days. But this failed to crush the resistance. The Telegraph reported that one father who lost his son expressed his strengthened resolve by declaring that Fallujah would prove to be the Stalingrad for the US. On April 20, a group of former Iraqi Army generals, hitherto ‘Baathist’ pariahs for the US forces, stepped in and offered to assemble a force to restore order in Fallujah. The US agreed and the generals called their battalion the Fallujah Protection Army. The US claims this FPA will operate as a proxy force for US marines, but facts seem to belie this claim. Instead, Fallujah residents welcomed the FPA in the old Iraqi Army uniforms, and interpret the retreat of the US troops and their inability to enter the city, as a victory. One of the former Iraqi Generals, who now heads the FPA, echoes these sentiments when he says, “ I want the American soldier to return to his camp. What I want more is that he return to the US.”
More recently, there has been fierce fighting in Najaf, Nasiriya, Karbala and other cities. The US has termed this resistance led by the militant Shiite cleric Moktada-al-Sadr to be a ‘minor uprising’. But it is clear that the resistance shows no signs of abating as the June 30 deadline for ‘handover of power’ draws nearer.
The US has obviously failed to convince the Iraqis that the ‘handover’ will mean real sovereignty for them. Bush, Rumsfeld and Powell have repeatedly said they will vacate Iraq if asked to do so by the Iraqi interim Government, adding the rider that the Iraqis are not ‘trained’ to provide security, and so coalition troops will continue to be needed to maintain law and order. Echoing such opinion is Bush’s main contender for President, Democrat John Kerry, who argues against withdrawal of troops and for more troops in Iraq, saying, “ You can’t leave a vacuum.” In the eyes of the corporate US ruling class, Iraqis themselves, when they are not snakes or rats, are nothing but a ‘vacuum’ – i.e. quite incapable of running their own country! Aren’t we all too familiar with such arguments, which were regularly peddled by the British as the excuse for postponing their departure from India indefinitely?!
The occupation forces imply that if it were not for the disciplining and civilising role played by them, Iraq would collapse into anarchy and Shia-Sunni civil war. This is nothing but the old wine of ‘Arabs, Indians, Africans etc… will keep fighting barbaric tribal wars unless ruled by the White Man’, in a new bottle. Such a myth flies in the face of the real situation in Iraq, where, despite the US’ best efforts to divide and rule, Shias and Sunnis are united in resistance. When Sunni-dominated Fallujah was under siege, thousands of Shias marched in a convoy from Sadr City to donate blood, food and medical aid. Reportedly, posters of Moktada-al-Sadr have appeared in Fallujah, and Sunni leaders have sent delegations to meet Sadr’s aides in Baghdad. The US-trained Iraqi Army and Police force have, in most places, refused to cooperate with the occupation. A fresh blow was delivered to US plans to put in place an Iraqi Government of its choice, with the Head of the Iraqi Governing Council being killed in a bomb blast.
In the wake of the infamous torture revelations internationally, stories appeared in India about Indians lured to Iraq and treated like slaves in the US camps. More shamefully, the US seems to have circumvented India’s refusal to send troops to bail them out in Iraq, by hiring retired soldiers of the Indian Army as mercenaries. During the elections, this news was the final black spot on the NDA and its infamous, corrupt and pro-imperialist Defence Ministry. This illegal racket which supplies slaves and soldiers to a colonial force occupying a nation fighting for its freedom, is truly a national shame for India. If India’s dignity and the sentiments of Indian masses are to be upheld, the Indian Government must at once take the US to task. Since it is the Pentagon(US Military), which controls all contracts, their leaders must be punished for allowing their favourite corporates to lure Indians in the name of jobs in Kuwait, and treat them like slaves in Iraq, and to hire former Indian soldiers as mercenaries in Iraq.
The Bush regime’s favoured friend, the BJP-led NDA, has been shown the door in India. It remains to be seen whether Bush himself will suffer a similar fate in the Presidential elections in November. Unfortunately, the Democratic Opposition, while it would like to channel anti-war resentment against Bush in its favour, has no real alternative to offer on the Foreign Policy front. Its candidate John Kerry was an old chum of George Bush at Yale, (where both belonged to an all-male secret society called the ‘Skull and Bones’ which indulged in juvenile sexual competitions and games)! Rather than speak out against the war or support the demand to pull out US troops, Kerry, who voted for the war in the Senate, has restricted himself to accusing Bush of running an “extraordinarily mismanaged and ineptly prosecuted war”. In other words, he promises to rectify Bush’s mistakes by involving the UN and European nations, and conducting the colonisation and plunder of Iraq in a more efficient manner. Such opinions may be the reason why the fall in Bush’s popularity ratings in the wake of the torture photos scandal has not translated into a corresponding surge in Kerry’s favour. As the Socialist Equality Party candidate Bill Van Auken remarks, “The mass anti-war sentiment finds no expression in the 2004 elections. Democrat Kerry supports the occupation and calls for a further build-up of military forces in Iraq.” One wonders if and when the American people and the anti-war movement will succeed in creating a genuine political alternative. Meanwhile, the mass protests across the world continue; on May 22, the Stop The War Coalition plans to hold a massive demonstration at Trafalgar Square to protest the atrocities by coalition forces in Iraq. q