Photos showing U.S. troops celebrating as prisoners were sexually humiliated and otherwise abused in the very prison that Saddam Hussein's men used for their sadistic games? Who could have imagined this latest twist in the twisted story of U.S. intervention in Iraq? A novelist, perhaps....
'APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX' REDUX IN IRAQ
By Jerry Gwizdka
** Who could have imagined the latest sadistic twist in the twisted story of U.S. intervention in Iraq? A novelist, perhaps. **
United for Peace of Pierce County
April 30, 2004
We are all familiar with the stories of the torture and humiliation committed by agents of Saddam Hussein being used as one of the pretexts for the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq a year ago.
Who would have thought that only a year later we would be reading about the U.S., that paragon of virtue, being guilty of its own shocking acts of abuse -- acts involving the crude degradation and humiliation of human beings forced to strip and form for an amateur photographer odd sexual tableaux that look as though they might have been inspired by some madcap fan of the Marquis de Sade, who wrote the book (literally) in this area?
Well, a lot of people, actually -- but that was supposed to be a rhetorical question.
There is probably a very strange, interesting, and ultimately pathetic underside to this story.
But it would be one that mainstream news articles, with their mandatory crowd-pleasing conviction that America is the quintessence of goodness itself and that U.S. military personnel are avatars of that goodness who grace the benighted corners of the globe where they descend, would be incapable of addressing.
People like the U.S. commander in chief, who considers it part of his job description to boost the self-esteem of Americans who take pride in their simple-mindedness, will never inquire into these aspects.
That's too bad. Their link to colonial mindsets like those explored in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness are immediately apparent and worth delving into. But they are ill-suited to the popular media.
Dostoevsky would have been fascinated. Or William Burroughs. But they're no longer with us. Hubert Selby Jr. would have been intrigued, but he passed away just a week ago.
Perhaps some American novelist will take up the subject. Robert Stone, author of A Flag for Sunrise, might be interested.
All the elements -- the acts themselves, their sociohistoric and cultural context, the taking of the pictures, the apparent attitudes of Americans shown in the pictures, the fact that the photographs were taken in Abu Ghraib, the very prison most notorious for acts of abuse committed by Saddam Hussein's regime, why the photos might have been taken and how they became public, and the response from the press, world leaders and public opinion ñ all combine to make this story a compelling one.
In the meantime, the story is just one more disaster for this administration in Iraq.
An article from Bahrein's Gulf Daily News, reproduced below, is a modest expression of Arab outrage. The editor of Al Quds Al Arabi concluded: "This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America. The liberators are worse than the dictators. They have not just lost the hearts and minds of Iraqis but all the Third World and the Arab countries."
U.S. WORKS TO CALM FUROR OVER PHOTOS
By Dana Milbank
** Bush Vows Punishment for Abuse of Prisoners **
May 1, 2004 [posted April 30]
Arab countries reacted with rage and revulsion yesterday after images of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners were broadcast around the world.
Bush administration and U.S. military officials scrambled to contain the furor and to assuage concerns among allies. The photos showed U.S. troops celebrating as prisoners were sexually humiliated and otherwise abused.
"I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated," President Bush said in a Rose Garden appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. "Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America. And so I didn't like it one bit." Bush said the abuses will be investigated and the perpetrators "will be taken care of."
Analysts said the strong response by Bush appeared directed less at an American audience than at an international audience skeptical about U.S. intentions in Iraq. The United States and Britain are struggling to meet a June 30 deadline for a transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, and the images threatened to undermine already tenuous international cooperation.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "deeply disturbed" by the photos, and the British government called the matter appalling. Arab countries were more strident, with the Arab League calling the mistreatment "savage acts" and Arab broadcast networks describing the incidents in similar terms. Arab newspapers and students and even a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said the images could be pivotal in turning Iraqis against the United States.
"This is the logic and modus operandi of imperialist conquest and colonial occupation," the Tehran Times wrote. "The pictures of torture, brutality and sexual sadism are representative of the entire criminal operation being conducted in Iraq."
The photos, first broadcast Wednesday on CBS's "60 Minutes II," showed hooded prisoners piled in a human pyramid and simulating sex acts, as U.S. soldiers celebrated. One photo showed a hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands; the prisoner was told, falsely, that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box.
"It provides a graphic portrayal of many of the worst impressions that much of the world has about America," said Andrew Kohut, who, as director of the Pew Research Center, has polled extensively in Arab and European countries. "It's red meat to large numbers of people all around the world who are increasingly anti-American and don't think we represent the things Americans pride themselves on."
Foreign policy experts said the photos could cause lasting damage to U.S. efforts. "It is a disaster," said Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and until earlier this year a political adviser to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. "Five or six people have managed to soil the reputation of American soldiers worldwide."
Arab commentators said the images were particularly damaging because of Muslim restrictions on nudity. The photos also invited parallels to Saddam Hussein's regime because the abuse occurred in Abu Gharib, a prison used by Hussein for torture.
Without detailing the abuses, the military brought criminal charges in March against six soldiers over incidents, allegedly the ones in the photos, at the prison in November and December 2003. Charges included indecent acts with another person, maltreatment, battery, dereliction of duty and aggravated assault. The military has also recommended disciplinary action against seven U.S. officers involved in running the prison.
In addition, the commander of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, is being sent to Iraq to take over the coalition detention facilities. And the CIA said yesterday that its inspector general has two longstanding probes into abuse of prisoners at Abu Gharib, including one investigation into a prisoner's death. But a CIA spokesman said there is "no direct evidence" connecting the CIA to the incidents in the photographs.
In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a military spokesman, said he tried to limit the damage before the CBS show on Wednesday. "I talked with the Arab press two nights ago, before the '60 Minutes' show was broadcast because I wanted the Arab press to understand and possibly communicate to their fellow Iraqis a couple of key points," he said. Kimmitt said the U.S. military is "absolutely appalled" by the photos and that the perpetrators are facing criminal charges. He also said authorities believe the incident involves fewer than 20 of about 8,000 prisoners at Abu Gharib.
"Please don't for a moment think that that's the entire U.S. Army or the U.S. military, because it's not," Kimmitt said in remarks directed at Iraqis. "And if you think those soldiers that are walking up and down the street approve of what they saw, condone what they saw or excuse what they saw, I can tell you that I've got 150,000 other American soldiers who feel as appalled and disappointed as I do at the actions of those few."
--Staff writers Sewell Chan in Baghdad and Glenn Kessler and Dana Priest in Washington contributed to this report.
WORLD RAPS U.S. OVER ABUSE OF IRAQ PRISONERS
Gulf Daily News ["The voice of Bahrain"]
May 1, 2004
LONDON -- Photos of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners drew international condemnation yesterday, prompting the stark conclusion that the US campaign to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a lost cause.
"This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America," said Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. "The liberators are worse than the dictators."
"They have not just lost the hearts and minds of Iraqis but all the Third World and the Arab countries," he said.
The CBS News programme 60 Minutes II on Wednesday broadcast photos taken at the Abu Ghraib prison late last year showing American troops abusing some Iraqis held at what was once a notorious centre of torture and executions under toppled president Saddam Hussein.
The pictures showed US troops smiling, posing, laughing or giving the thumbs-up sign as naked, male Iraqi prisoners were stacked in a pyramid or positioned to simulate sex acts with one another.
The Arab League reacted angrily to the images of US abuse. It called on the coalition to punish those responsible for the "savage acts" shown in the photos.
"We roundly denounce this mistreatment and humiliation, which is contrary to human rights and to international conventions concerning the protection of civil populations under occupation," said Hossam Zaki, spokesman for Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
US President George W Bush expressed "deep disgust" at the abuse of Iraqi detainees and vowed to punish those responsible.
"I share a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated," Bush said during a joint appearance at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. "I didn't like it one bit.
"Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people," he said. "That's not the way we do things in America. There will be an investigation and they'll be taken care of."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was deeply disturbed by the pictures. "In all circumstances, and in all places, the secretary-general is strongly opposed to the mistreatment of detainees," his spokesman said in a statement.
"He reiterates that all detainees should be fully protected in accordance with the provisions of international human rights law," the spokesman said.
The pictures were widely condemned in the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Tony Blair condemned the mistreatment. Blair was appalled at the images, the prime minister's official spokesman said. He said that the photographs were in "direct contravention of all policy under which the coalition operates."
"We fully accept that these things should not happen. But the important point is to underline that actions of this kind are in no way condoned by the coalition and this is in contrast with what went before," Blair's spokesman said.
"When it comes to winning hearts and minds, the US Army hasn't got a clue," wrote the Daily Mirror tabloid, one of several British papers to splash the photos on its front page.
Saudi Arabia's English-language Arab News daily said: "The greatest loss the Americans face is to their reputation, not simply in the Middle East but in the world at large.
"US military power will be seen for what it is, a behemoth with the response speed of a muscle-bound ox and the limited understanding of a mouse."
In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross voiced concern. "We take this extremely seriously. Torture is forbidden in any circumstances of any person detained in the world. Humiliation and degrading treatment is a form of torture," chief spokeswoman Antonella Notari said.
Calling for an independent inquiry, Amnesty International said: "There is a real crisis of leadership in Iraq with double standards and double speak on human rights."
Meanwhile, a soldier facing a court-martial for his role in the alleged abuse of Iraqi war prisoners says commanders ignored his requests to set out rules for treating POWs and scolded him for questioning the inmates' harsh treatment.
Army Reserves Staff Sgt Ivan "Chip" Frederick wrote that Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad lacked the humane standards of the Virginia state prison where he worked in civilian life, according to a journal he started after military investigators first questioned him in January.
The Iraqi prisoners were sometimes confined naked for three consecutive days without toilets in damp, unventilated cells with floors one metre by one metre, Frederick wrote in materials obtained on Thursday by The Associated Press.