Notes on the Atrocities Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
"True, most soldiers probably don't condone torture. But all soldiers have been tarnished by it. George W. Bush's new gulag archipelago, a string of concentration camps, military and INS prisons that span the globe from North Carolina to Iraq to Afghanistan to Guant?namo Bay to New York City, has been designed to give torturers the veil of secrecy they require to carry out their hideous acts as well as the tacit understanding that they won't be held accountable. The Red Cross, defense lawyers and relatives of the victims, few of whom are charged with a crime, are denied access to the detainees or even the simple confirmation that they're being held by our government."
In this context, of course, it makes sense that U.S. interrogators would feel enormous pressure to use any means necessary to verify the absurd claims made so aggressively by the president and his Cabinet before the war. Far from the jurisdiction of the U.S. legal system, they apparently felt quite free to approve techniques clearly banned by war crimes statutes.
Bush's spokesman said the president was not shown the photos of the abused prisoners until after they were disclosed in news reports. Nor did Bush learn of a scathing classified Army report about the Abu Ghraib abuses, which was completed in February, until news organizations reported on it this week, the spokesman said.
The repercussions inside and outside Iraq can hardly be overstated. The scandal only further complicates the task of working with Iraqis to put down the insurgency and transfer power to an interim government. University of Michigan Middle East scholar Juan Cole said, "The release of these pictures may be the point at which the United States lost Iraq."
But there are tons of ways to get arrested in Iraq these days. As an occupying force, the military has carte blanche. A woman working in the Iraqi Assistance Center, which helps the families of detainees, told me that people often get picked up because they happened to be nearby when U.S. troops got attacked. In the ensuing chaos, the soldiers make sweep arrests, detaining anyone in the vicinity who strikes them as suspicious.
Jen Banbury, Salon
Nearly as disturbing as the repulsive behavior by some U.S. soldiers is the fact that the Pentagon has been so slow to share the sense of outrage over their actions, even though it has known about the allegations for almost six months.... Efforts by the Pentagon's top brass to suppress the scandal rather than move swiftly and decisively to punish offenders suggest that the U.S. military doesn't practice the values it wants Iraq to embrace. They include respect for human rights and public accountability.
At very least, detainees interviewed by NEWSWEEK indicate that maltreatment was not limited to Abu Ghurayb prison. Their tales hint at a "culture of impunity" that encouraged some Coalition soldiers to abuse and humiliate detainees--or expose them to harm from other Iraqis--with little concern about getting caught.
With the administration's familiar disdain for public disclosure, the Pentagon did not share the report with Congress until it was forced to do so this week, after the report was described in a New Yorker article. There are still many unanswered questions, about issues like the military's failure to train prison guards properly and the role of military intelligence and private contractors in the abuses.
With each setback and blunder in Iraq, the administration has reacted this way, cheerfully denying that anything happened and sticking to its original plans while international support for the occupation has steadily fallen to its current minimal level. Recovering from this latest horror will require a lot more than that sort of business as usual.
New York Timeseditorial