April 16, 2004
By Raffique Shah
LAST Sunday I argued that what has now come out in the open, those photographs of prisoner-abuse at Abu Ghraib, was not the exception. It was not a case of a few "bad eggs" in the US military who had broken all the rules and conventions of war. New evidence reveals that the methods of interrogation used against captives in America's futile war against terrorism were devised at the highest levels of the Bush administration. The CIA was actually in charge of Abu Gharaib. And at the top of the torture heap sat the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld's castle.
Which is why I wrote that anyone from among the hierarchy who pretends to apologise for the "deviants" in Iraq, is being supremely hypocritical. In today's world of instant information, volumes have been written about the "atrocities""committed by US troops in Iraq. But Bush, as Commander-in-Chief, does not have the balloons to take the rap. I need remind readers, by way of comparison, that when the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that was sanctioned by the US government turned into an unmitigated disaster, one John F. Kennedy came to the fore and accepted blame for it. He did not pass the buck to some hapless subordinate, or worse, a female private who seems to have a fetish for Iraqi penises.
In order to invade and occupy a country, then subjugate its people, one must first declare or perceive them to be inferior to you, even sub-human. This was the basic philosophy behind the African slave trade as it was of colonisation that held more than half the world's population in semi-slavery for centuries. It was not until after World War II that the colonised, fed-up with the inferiority complex that was branded on their foreheads, began to fight fiercely against colonisation and occupation. Mao led the way in China, followed closely by Gandhi and Nehru in India, with many countries in Africa and elsewhere following in the 1950s-60s.
While the colonisers of the day-Britain, France, Portugal, The Netherlands-put up a fight to hold on to several pieces of "real estate", they soon learnt that not only was might-not-right, but that the seemingly feeble in the colonies could make life for the colonisers and occupiers very unsafe. Algeria was the classic case for the French (after Vietnam). For the British, the body count in countries like Kenya and Aden proved to be kick they needed to quit.
America did not endure such experiences, hence its belief that occupation and colonisation are vogue in the 21st Century. With its military might and economic power, the USA subjugated almost all of Central and South America mostly through surrogate military officers who proved to be excellent students of CIA torture and terror tactics.
America did not need to intervene directly, only to lend support by way of the latest weaponry and big bucks that kept its murderous minions chained through greed. Vietnam was its major disaster in trying to force a people into accepting American-style democracy a la Marcos in the Philippines or Suharto in Indonesia.
Now, with its forays into Afghanistan and Iraq for strategic reasons, it has entered into a war theatre it does not understand. From a military standpoint, those wars are an unmitigated disaster. The Military Times (is that publication anti-American, Roy?), in a recent editorial, said of the Iraq debacle: "This was a failure that ran straight to the top." And later, after those soldiers accused of prisoner-abuse at Abu Ghraib were dubbed "the six morons", the Times said: "But the folks at the Pentagon are talking about the wrong morons. Responsibility extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld set the tone early in this war by steadfastly refusing captives the rights accorded to prisoners under the Geneva Convention. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and accorded no rights whatsoever. The message to the troops: anything goes."
What an indictment against both the military and political high commands in Washington, this time by personnel from within its armed forces. There are calls for the impeachment of Rumsfeld, but a beleaguered Bush is holding fast to this decrepit relic of America's past failures (yes, he was around since the Vietnam war) like a lifeline. My guess is they will all go down with the sinking Republican ship come November. And now we know why Bush did not want to accede to the International Criminal Court: He, Rumsfeld, Cheney and a number of other senior politicians and military officers would have been hauled before it since their crimes are no different to Milosovic's.
But I need, too, to say something about the soldiers who committed these abuses in Iraq. Bear in mind that before they were sent into Iraq, they will have been told that Saddam was the devil incarnate, and that most Iraqis were sub-humans. In their minds, they weren't fighting against human beings, they were merely destroying Arabs-or animals, same difference. Besides, it is clear now from all documentation produced, they were given a free hand in the way they were to treat with these "animals". So when female Private England played out her phallic-fantasy on naked, bound Iraqi men, as far as she was concerned she was doing nothing wrong. Her superiors had sanctioned that kind of behaviour. The CIA and the Pentagon knew well that parading Muslim men naked, more so in the presence of women, was the ultimate humiliation. In Afghanistan, where such atrocities also took place (and one can only imagine what transpires in Guantanamo), one ex-prisoner who was eventually released told a reporter he was so ashamed after the Gharaib photos appeared, he was considering suicide. His manhood was stripped by the Americans and he saw no reason to continue living.
While, therefore, the unspeakable acts were committed by soldiers, the real culprits are Rumsfeld and Bush and Cheney. Now, as happened in Vietnam following the My Lai massacre in which a single lieutenant was made to pay half-price, a few privates and non-commissioned officers will face courts martial. They will receive slaps on their wrists for their wrongdoings even as they watch the real butchers of Baghdad run free, campaigning for re-election. Morale in the military will further decline. Desertions, already a problem, will escalate. And the now-permanent headline will continue to dominate the world's leading news publications: How can America get out of Iraq?
Tell us, Roy. Hell, you have all the answers-and here you enjoy the ultimate freedom to talk tatah.
- Part I