has not been a comfortable week for the US administration.
While torture may not be anathema to everybody, fortunately
it remains sufficiently repulsive to large swathes
of humankind to have provoked the type of outrage
that has been raining down on the US government since
evidence emerged of gross maltreatment being meted
out to Iraqi prisoners. Torture assumes many forms.
It does not always come in the application of electric
shocks as in Buenos Aires or in the swinging of baseball
bats familiar to West Belfast. As often as not it
is psychological, as any denizen of H-Block 4 will
readily testify. The photographs we have so far seen
of US soldier Lynndie England abusing Iraqi prisoners
suggest little in the way of physical violence. But
her psychological brutality, expressing a relationship
of dominance and control, was just as damaging to
the US projected image of itself as anything that
could have emerged from old fashioned torture techniques.
Tugging a naked man along with a lead as if he were
a dog combined with wilful abuse suggestive of S&M
sexual activity sans consent was torture refined and
made insidious; 'stealth torture' as Professor Darius
Rejali terms it. And the effect, as Robert Fisk put
it, is that 'no sadistic movie could outdo the damage
of this image ... today, Lynndie smashes to pieces
our entire morality with just one tug on the leash.'
Lynndie England, US soldier, exudes the thuggery of
some Nazi concentration camp guard-fiend from a bygone
era and who was supposedly exorcised at the Nuremburg
trials - ironically by the Americans.
report commissioned by senior US military personnel
and drafted by Major General Antonio Taguba proved
damning. It found that between October and December
of 2003 there were numerous instances of sadistic,
blatant, and wanton criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib,
where the regime of Saddam Hussein ran with the baton
of torture before passing it on the Americans. Tagubas
report stated that US military forces and civilian
contractors were responsible for:
chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid
on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees;
beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair;
threatening male detainees with rape; sodomising
a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom
stick, and using military working dogs to frighten
and intimidate detainees with threats of attack,
and in one instance actually biting a detainee.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has publicly made
no attempt to justify what took place in Iraqi prisons.
Obviously the case for legalising what many wrongly
consider to be medieval practices made by torture-advocate
Professor Alan M. Dershowitz is still a mite too controversial
to be approved by government. Better that it float
around the universities for a while longer before
being launched onto a US public which mistakenly believes
that US troops are in Iraq to end torture. With little
space to deny or defend, Rumsfeld was forced onto
the back foot, referring to 'acts that can only be
described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman.'
He went on to breast beat:
to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of
the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.
It was inconsistent with the values of our nation.
It was inconsistent with the teachings of the military,
to the men and women of the armed forces. And it
was certainly fundamentally un-American.
what is so fundamentally un-American about this type
of activity? Many countries with experience of the
US military would testify that what happened in Abu
Ghraib is consistent - even mild by comparison - with
previous American behaviour and is not a deviation
from it. Drawing on some elementary research by Mickey
Z at Counterpunch brings this to light.
February 5, 1901 edition of the New York World
unflatteringly illustrated the U.S. response to a
guerrilla war in the Philippines.
soldiers here and there resort to terrible measures
with the natives. Captains and lieutenants are sometimes
judges, sheriffs and executioners. 'I don't want
any more prisoners sent into Manila' was the verbal
order from the Governor-General three months ago.
It is now the custom to avenge the death of an American
soldier by burning to the ground all the houses,
and killing right and left the natives who are only
much difference when Korea is looked at either. Between
July 26-29, 1950 at No Gun Ri in the South Asian country,
300 terrified peasants, in the main women and children,
took refuge near a bridge after their village had
been destroyed by US bombs. Decades later American
military veterans told the story of what followed.
They claimed that Captain Melbourne C. Chandler:
speaking to superior officers by radio, ordered
machine-gunners from his heavy weapons company to
set up near the bridge tunnel openings and open
fire. His orders, the hell with all those
people. Let's get rid of all of them.
16 year old survivor, Park Hee-sook, said I
can still hear the moans of women dying in a pool
of blood. Children cried and clung to their dead mothers."
Chun Choon Ja, 12 years old at the time, said the
U.S. troops, dug into positions over hundreds
of yards of hilly terrain where they could fire
on the defenceless peasants. The American soldiers
played with our lives like boys playing with flies.
month the Blade newspaper of Toledo, Ohio won
a Pulitzer Prize for its expose on war crimes carried
out in Vietnam's Quang Ngai province - evidence of
which was suppressed for 35 years. Blade reporters
detailed how the Tiger Force unit butchered hundreds
of civilians over a seven-month period in 1967. Neither
age nor sex proved a barrier to the murderers. In
addition the unit routinely tortured prisoners before
ending their lives. Not too long ago Danny Morrison
gave a brief but powerful account of what the Blade
seven months the platoon of 45 paratroopers slaughtered
unarmed farmers and their wives and children, and
tortured and mutilated victims. One sergeant, William
Doyle, who killed so many civilians he lost count,
took the scalp off a young nurse to decorate his
rifle. Private Sam Ybarra slit the throat of a prisoner
with a hunting knife before scalping him. He later
shot dead a 15-year-old boy because he wanted the
teenager's tennis shoes. When these didn't fit he
cut off the teenager's ears and placed them in a
ration bag. Other soldiers wore severed ears around
their necks as souvenirs. A baby was decapitated
for the necklace he wore. A 13-year-old girl's throat
was slashed after she was sexually assaulted. Twenty-two
paratroopers raped then executed a Vietnamese peasant.
A medic pumped swamp water into the heart of a prisoner
before he was fatally shot.
two classified US army archives obtained by the Blade
showed that the military top brass knew about the
atrocities but made no effort to call a halt. US military
authorities found that 18 soldiers serving with the
Tiger Unit were guilty of war crimes. Despite such
findings making their way to the Pentagon and the
Nixon White House, no military personnel appeared
of the unit's atrocities are still being told in the
villages where the soldiers of Tiger Unit wreaked
their sadism. It is something many of us have bamboozled
ourselves into believing occurred on the eastern front
during the second world war and in which US troops
intervened in order to halt. Vile as it seems to agree
with a Nazi, Hermann Goering was not wide off the
mark in stating, the victors will always be
the judges, the accused the vanquished. Something
accepted by his fellow mass killer, US General Curtis
LeMay, commander of the 1945 Tokyo fire bombing operation
that killed 672,000 Japanese civilians: I suppose
if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as
a war criminal.
biggest surprise about the torture at Abu Ghraib is
that anyone is surprised. When it comes to the US
and war crimes there is little new under the sun.
What would be new would be the Iraqis trying the US
war criminals of Abu Ghraib.
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