By A.K. Gupta
Trying to limit the political damage from the prison torture scandal in Iraq, President Bush called it “Un-American.” Right.
Sure, the apologists say the scandal represents the actions of a few rogues, which incidentally reveals our enlightened form of government because we are investigating the abuses for all the world to see, but the photos of violence, humiliation and degradation are as American as apple pie.
The precursor to torture is first to dehumanize the subject. In the U.S. prison system, for example, inmates are described as “animals,” “savages” and “predators,” implying that whatever happens to them is okay because they’re not really human. The New York Times noted that the torture in Iraq – the use of hoods, stripping and parading prisoners, forcing them to wear women’s underwear – is “routine” in U.S. prisons.
The dehumanization of Iraqis has flowed down the chain of command, making the torture inevitable. With each day comes new allegations – a 16-year-old boy subject to a mock execution, a 70-year-old woman ridden around like a donkey by U.S. soldiers, photos of rapes, prisoners subject to electric shock, the sick left to die.
Former detainees have been telling of the barbarity within the U.S. prison camps for months. The Associated Press reported last October on torture that included, “detainees punished by hours lying bound in the sun; being attacked by dogs; being deprived of sufficient water; spending days with hoods over their heads.” A journalist caught up in the U.S. torture chambers was al-Jazeera camerman Suhaib Badr al Baz. He was picked up by soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division on Nov. 13 and shuffled around to various prisons for 74 days. His first stop was a prison near the town of Samarra. Al Baz said soldiers came into his cell, spit on him and screamed in his ear to keep him awake. His wrists were bound so tightly, he said, they “started bleeding.” He adds, “This was a wonderful period compared to my time in Abu Ghraib.”
There, he said: “They brought a 12-year-old girl into our cellblock late at night. Her brother was a prisoner in the other cells. She was naked and screaming and calling out to him as they beat her…. This affected all of us because she was just a child.” Al Baz told ITV News that “the guards at the prison were keen to take photographs of the abuse and turned it into a competition. ‘They were enjoying taking photographs of the torture. There was a daily competition to see who could take the most gruesome picture. The winner’s photo would be stuck on a wall and also put on their laptop computers as a screensaver.’” To deal with the prison debacle, the Bush administration has tapped Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the former commander of the Guantanamo prison camp, to oversee the various facilities in Iraq. Yet his record in Guantanamo has largely escaped scrunity. One of the British detainees recently released from Guantanamo told the Daily Mirror of the conditions there. Jamal al-Harith, who was held for more than 750 days, said “The whole point of Guantanamo was to get to you psychologically. The beatings were not as nearly as bad as the psychological torture – bruises heal after a week – but the other stuff stays with you.”
Miller’s predecessor in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, says he “Gitmo-ized” Abu Ghraib when he visited the facility in August and September of 2003. It was during this period where abuse is said to have intensified. The report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba that exposed the systemic torture indicates that Miller himself set the stage for the widespread torture. Taguba writes: “The recommendations of MG Miller’s team that the ‘guard force’ be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees would appear to be in conflict with the recommendations… that military police ‘do not participate in military intelligence supervised interrogation sessions.’”
In the “war on terrorism” the media has softened up the public psyche so torture is seen as a reasonable riposte to “terrorism.” After all, we fight “evildoers” who “celebrate blood and death and the will to power, and we celebrate life and freedom.” After September 11, it wasn’t just the reactionaries who scrambled aboard the torture train, so did the liberals. Less than two months after the attack, Newsweek gave Jonathan Alter a platform to opine, “Time to Think about Torture.” Alleged civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz followed suit in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 8, 2001, arguing for “torture warrants” in the case of a “ticking bomb.”
The problem, one unnamed British officer fumed to The London Telegraph, is that the Americans see the Iraqis as “untermenschen,” borrowing the Nazi phrase for sub-humans. The officer explained that “U.S. troops view things in very simplistic terms…. It’s easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them.”
This attitude is common in the media and has apparently filtered down to Lynndie England’s hometown of Fort Ashby, West Virginia. Her hometown has rushed to the defense of the smiling, cigarette-dangling-from-the-lips face of the scandal. Local bar owner Colleen Kesner told Australia’s Daily Telegraph: “To the country boys here, if you’re a different nationality, a different race, you’re sub-human. That’s the way girls like Lynndie are raised.”