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Home Publications Op-Eds & Columns Torture in Iraq

Torture in Iraq

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Mark Weisbrot
Providence Journal, May 17, 2004
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services - May 5, 2004
Providence Journal
- May 17, 2004

Opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq is growing abroad, including within Iraq itself. Even before the torture and sexual abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison were widely publicized, 57 percent of Iraqis told pollsters from CNN-USA Today-Gallup last week that U.S. troops should leave, while only 36 percent said they should stay.

These numbers would undoubtedly be much more lopsided today. And why should we expect otherwise? What would we heavily-armed Americans do if foreigners invaded our country, and announced that they would remain in control until a suitable "democracy" could be established? We would shoot at them and kill them until they left. We would learn to make roadside bombs, too. We might not carry pictures of bearded clerics, or call the invaders infidels. But we would try to drive them out by any available means.

Here in the United States it is easy to forget that for most of the world, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has never had any more legitimacy than Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Now it appears to have even less, as images of the occupying forces' brutality circle the globe.

And they are very disturbing images. One shows a female American soldier, cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth, posing cheerfully and pointing below the waist of a naked, hooded Iraqi prisoner. He is being forced to masturbate in front of her. Others show Iraqi prisoners, always naked and hooded, forced to simulate sexual acts or piled up in human pyramids.

Another is the corpse of an Iraqi prisoner, packed in ice, who looks as though he were beaten to death. "They killed him -- either civilians, the private guards, or the CIA or the military killed him during an interrogation," said Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter who provides the details of this latest scandal in the current issue of the New Yorker (www.newyorker.com).

Hersh, a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter who also broke the story of the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, got hold of a 53-page report written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba of the U.S. Army. The report determined that there were "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib - a prison 20 miles from Baghdad that ironically was infamous under Saddam Hussein's rule for its torture and execution of political prisoners.

The evidence indicates that these abuses were not just the work of a few individuals, but part of a systematic effort by military intelligence to "break" prisoners so that they would divulge more information during interrogation. One of the six soldiers now facing prosecution for these crimes, Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II, wrote that military intelligence officers encouraged the abuse of prisoners. "We have a very high rate with our style of getting them to break," he wrote in an e-mail released by his uncle. "They usually end up breaking within hours."

Frederick also wrote that military intelligence "instructed us to place a prisoner in an isolation cell with little or no clothes, no toilet or running water, no ventilation or window, for as much as three days."

This week the army announced seven reprimands of officers and non-commissioned officers who had responsibility for Abu Ghraib prison. But so far there have been no criminal charges - or even discharges - brought against higher-ups.

It remains to be seen whether this latest scandal will lead to an independent investigation and charges against those responsible at all levels. But the more immediate problem is the war itself. There appear to be many Americans who opposed this war and yet now believe that "we cannot just leave" until the country is stabilized. This view mistakenly assumes that U.S. forces can stabilize Iraq. But all the evidence is to the contrary, including these latest photos now inflaming anti-American hatred in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson declined to run for re-election because of overwhelming opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet it took seven more years to get out of Vietnam, during which tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lost their lives. In the end, we did in fact "just leave" Vietnam. The same will undoubtedly happen in Iraq; the only question is how many people will die before we leave.


Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy

 

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