Iraq's Humiliation, America's Disgrace
Iraqs Humiliation, Americas Disgrace
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 1, 2004
Seeing humiliating images of Iraqi prisoners, in shape of a pyramid, hooded, naked, images of explicit sexual acts performed by the captives while the thumbs up sign of prison guards in military or private contractors uniforms, pointing towards manhood of tied prisoners in obscene gesture, expose clearly what this war is about.
What wars are all about?
This war is about complete destruction of dignity of a nation.
War is such.
It is for dehumanization of the opponents, like the termite comparison invoked by a guest in a CNN news event just a few days back. Like these shocking images, comparison between insects and Iraqi insurgents, the resistance fighters, de-bubbles Bushs lofty proclamation of bringing democracy and civilization to Iraq.
It is the grizzly butcheries on display on the streets of Fallujah where thousand pounds bomb from a safe distance demolishes buildings, incinerating occupants in so-called precision attacks. It is the demotion of civilization into a world of hellish darkness in remonstration against all those feel-good publicity of this gruesome war.
I share a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated. Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. Thats not the way we do things in America. I didnt like it one bit, Mr. Bush said.
Agreed. The nature of the American people does not conform to the revolting treatments of Iraqi prisoners. And Bush perhaps is indeed disgusted seeing these graphic images. After all he is from Texas. He was proud to enforce capital punishment in record number when he was the governor there. But in southern hospitality, there is no place for flagrant brutality. Millions can attest to this self-evident truth.
However, there is a catch. Lethal injections are allowed in so posh cordial and air-conditioned environment that death signatory felt in delusion that prisoners die happy, free from burden of crime, wiggling to doggy heaven.
The relevant questions are: was there no one from the medium to the upper echelon of American civil and military leadership who were aware of these shameful human rights violations, in American military run prison camp in Abu Ghraib? These violations captured in images reportedly occurred months ago. Just when the images surfaced, then comes the condemnation. Why not before?
How many other not-so-isolated incidents are buried in other prison camps? How many Iraqi pyramids are occupying dark prison cells? And how many prisoners are duped, terrorized in the name of compassionate interrogations, standing on a box, holding wire, told bluntly that they would be electrocuted if they fell off the box?
Amnesty International says: "There must be a fully independent, impartial and public investigation into all allegations of torture. Nothing less will suffice. If Iraq is to have a sustainable and peaceful future, human rights must be a central component of the way forward. The message must be sent loud and clear that those who abuse human rights will be held accountable. Our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident. It is not enough for the USA to react only once images have hit the television screens".
Abu Ghraib has that notorious reputation from Saddams oppressive rule when reports of tortures and killings of prisoners were plenty that still haunt many Iraqis. And now the occupiers, the liberators have become the oppressors, losing their moral strength into frenzied decadence.
One prison guard was forthcoming in his CBS interview. He said, We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things...like rules and regulations, says Frederick. And it just wasn't happening."
Why is it so? Are the Iraqi prisoners so dehumanized that they dont deserve rules and regulations sanctioned under international laws? Is it their religion on trial? Is it the vengeance for 911?
What is it? Are these questions unfair to ask?
When fairness itself is stripped, shaped naked in a pyramid form, is it too impolite to ask: what is the real purpose of this unjustified war?
Iraqs humiliation is Americas disgrace.
The leader article of United Kingdoms the Guardian used John Stuart Mills insight that civilized societies succumb to their previously vanquished opponents only after losing their moral strength. If this be so, the sooner such a civilization receives notice to quit the better, Mill warned.
This is the time for quitting unlawful occupation. This fabricated war has caused so much deaths and destructions, on both sides, for a cause that is based on deception and falsity. This war has achieved nothing but invigorating murderous tensions between East and the West, clearly preparing for the promised Armageddon and numerous more deaths and destructions to follow.
Maiming, killing and humiliating a nation and its occupants are deemed to meet defeat in the end.
Sadly, it is the defeat of humanity in the shape of a death pyramid eclipses civilization, once for all.
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@....
- Historians Reflect on the War in Iraq: A Roundtable
Marilyn B. Young, New York University
William McKinley paced the floor and asked God's advice on whether to annex
the Philippines. George W. Bush, who rises before dawn to read a selection
from Oswald Chamber's evangelical My Utmost for His Highest, never paced any
floors. He only has to ask himself to know what God thinks. Bush can tell
good and evil. Once he decided Saddam Hussein was evil, Howard Fineman
explained in Newsweek, "everything flowed from that" (1). This reassuringly
deductive approach to the world seems to characterize the thinking of
Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the cabal
that currently runs the country. For months they have told the public that
Iraqis would rise up to greet the Anglo-American invasion force as their
liberators. So far as I can tell this conviction was based not on
information and analysis but on the cabal's conviction that it should be the
case. Therefore it was. You will be liberated, the president instructs the
Iraqis. Armed with that imperative and Rumsfeld's desire to demonstrate how
feasible, how easy, how inexpensive war can be -- so that we may look
forward to one, two many Iraqs -- the invasion was launched.
When things failed to adhere entirely to the plan, senior Pentagon planners
and retired officers complained to reporters. They knew it all along. There
simply were not enough troops on the ground. This was "war on the cheap,"
and it wouldn't work (2). The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General
Richard B. Myers, angrily denounced the military critics and the press. They
were wrong and, more ominously, their criticism was "harmful to our troops."
Rumsfeld was his familiar declarative self: "So let's be clear," he
instructed a press conference. "Saddam Hussein will be removed from power,
the Iraqi people will be liberated, coalition forces will go home as soon as
the military mission is complete and return Iraq to the long-repressed Iraqi
To be sure, as Bob Buzzanco's work on the Vietnam War has taught us, the
Pentagon always wants more troops, especially when things threaten to fall
apart and the secretary of defense always wants to save money. And, as H.R.
McMasters' book explained with respect to Vietnam, there is no tradition of
principled resignation in the military. Actually, one general did quit, not
the war, but the war-games which took place last summer. "Millenium
Challenge 02" was the largest war game in U.S. military history. Two years
in preparation, it cost over $250 million and involved 13,500 participants
in a three week exercise intended to test Rumsfeld's strategic concepts. In
the game, General Paul Van Riper, commanding the forces of "an unnamed
Middle Eastern state," managed to sink much of the U.S. naval fleet through
the use of unconventional tactics. At which point, the games were halted,
the fleet re-floated and Van Riper walked out. "Instead of a free-play,
two-sided game," he complained, "... it simply became a scripted exercise.
They had a predetermined end, and they scripted the exercise to that end"
(4) So the game began again and the unnamed Middle Eastern adversary duly
lost the war. On the March 29, 2003, Lt. General William Wallace discussed
the "bizarre" behavior of Iraqi guerrilla forces. The enemy, he observed, is
"a bit different from the one we war-gamed against" (5). As Brig. General
John F. Kelly ruefully told a reporter: "What we were really hoping was to
just go through and everyone would wave flags and stuff."
Meanwhile, in the $250,000 set prepared for the 600 reporters assigned to
Central Command (CentCom) in Qatar, Brig. General Vincent Brooks tried to
explain the disparity between the insistence of senior commanders that the
war was "on track" and what reporters and field commanders in Iraq were
experiencing. It is important to know that Vincent Brooks was auditioned for
his job as chief communicator by the White House staff. They chose well;
Brooks is not only handsome, he looks intelligent and seems to have an
earnest desire to answer questions as honestly as he can. He explained the
disparity this way: at the tactical level things sometimes go wrong, but "at
the operational level, with what we seek to achieve, it remains unchanged."
(He may have also been chosen because sometimes his syntax resembles that of
his Commander in Chief.) Then he really explained: "And so that's what we're
talking about at this level, at the Centcom level. There's a different view
down on Planet Earth, if you will, as you described it. The closer you get
to the line, the more precise the realities are."
Most of us live on Planet Earth (though as Aldous Huxley observed, earth may
be some other planet's hell). Sergeant Eric Schrumpf, a sharpshooter in the
5th Marine Regiment, for example, is very close to the realities. Riding on
top of an armored personnel carrier as it moved north to Baghdad on Highway
1, Schrumpf faced Iraqi soldiers and irregulars, some of whom, he charged,
used women and children as shields. Nevertheless, he had had a "great day,"
he told a reporter. "We killed a lot of people." Once, encountering an Iraqi
soldier amidst a crowd of women and children, he had held his fire. But
another time, he found a single soldier standing with two or three
civilians. He and his men opened fire and watched one of the civilians, a
woman, fall to the ground. "I'm sorry," the sergeant said. "But the chick
got in the way" (6). A tank attack on the village of Kifl, 75 miles south of
Baghdad, was also a precise reality. Units of the 3rd Infantry Division
fought three days and nights to take the village, firing rockets, calling in
air strikes and blasting it with tank rounds whose concussive force was so
great it "sucked everything off the sidewalks. 'even people.'" Later, after
the battle, the brigade's chaplain said he had spent hours talking with the
troops. "We're in the thousands now that were killed in the last few days,"
he told Steven Lee Myers. "Nothing prepares you to use a machine gun to cut
someone in two. [The soldiers] tell stories amongst themselves. When I come
up, they tell different stories. It bothers them to take life, especially
that close. They want to talk to me so that they know that I know they are
not awful human beings" (7). Soldiers in Korea and Vietnam faced similar
issues and solved them in identical ways. In all three countries the US goal
If Vietnam was Korea in slow motion, then Operation Iraqi Freedom is Vietnam
on crack cocaine. In less then two weeks a 30 year old vocabulary is back:
credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian
interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics,
winning, or more often, losing hearts and minds. "Marines Losing the Battle
for Hearts and Minds," read a Guardian headline on March 25, 2003. No one
has yet counted the dead. Asked if there were enemy forces were in the
village of Kifl, Capt. Darren A. Rapaport replied: "It sort of depends on
how you define enemy." In Nassiriya, where cluster bombs were dropped, a
surgical assistant in the town's only hospital, told the British reporter he
understood the effort to reach Baghdad and drive Saddam Hussein from power.
But he was "outraged" at the attack on his city. "There's no room in the
Saddam hospital because of the wounded. ... When I saw the dead Americans I
cheered in my heart" (8).
Once over the shock of meeting opposition, in Iraq, as in Korea and Vietnam,
soldiers on the ground as well as senior commanders, describe the enemy as
fanatical and unfair: their soldiers hide amongst the civilian population,
forcing the U.S. to kill civilians; they wear ordinary clothes, they are
brutal to prisoners of war. In all three conflicts, the tactics of the enemy
were said to reveal their utter indifference to the value of human life,
which then became the grounds for US indifference to their lives. In all
three as well, according to memoirs written by veterans, a growing dislike
for the entire population of the country in which (and presumably for whom)
they fought sometimes overwhelmed them. "The Iraqis are sick people and we
are chemotherapy," a Marine corporal told a British reporter, amidst the
wreckage of some 15 civilians cars and the bodies of 12 civilians, including
a small child. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of
a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill them." I do
not want to misrepresent. There are also soldiers and Marines who not only
mourn the dead but for a time will put themselves at risk in an effort to
avoid killing unarmed civilians. Inevitably, as the war continues, they will
take fewer risks.
This war was supposed to introduce something new and different by way of
tactics: "shock and awe." Shock and awe is a "concept" developed by Harlan
Ullman, a senior associate with a strategic policy think-tank. Ullman's
plan, repeated ad nauseum in the "countdown" to the war, looked forward to
"showering" Baghdad with more bombs in the first 48 or at most 72 hours of
war than were used for the 39 days of Gulf War I so as to "take the city
down." The idea of shock and awe is to gain "rapid dominance," Ullman has
written. "This ability to impose massive shock and awe ... will so overload
the perception, knowledge and understanding of [the] adversary that there
will be no choice except to cease and desist or risk complete and total
destruction." You will all remember how disappointed correspondents sounded
when, on the first day of the war, they were neither shocked nor awed. Of
course, massive bombing is not new. What is somewhat new is the open naming
of a terror tactic that in the past would have merited a euphemism or two.
One real innovation, however, first developed during the war in Afghanistan,
is the "phrasealtor," a hand-held computer which soldiers can carry around
with them. It has a menu of 1000 phrases in Arabic, including "come out with
your hands up," or "I need to search your car." The problem with the
phrasealator is one that may represent Operation Iraqi Freedom as such: it
does not understand the answers.
The embedded press corps is another innovation. In Korea, correspondents
requested military censorship rather than risk offense and MacArthur granted
their wish; in Vietnam, reporters could hitch rides to the front if they
liked, though only one chose to report from Hanoi. Operations Urgent Fury,
Just Cause and Desert Storm subjected the press to very strict control. In
this war, the embedded journalists have by and large fulfilled their punning
name. A recent Boondocks cartoon captures one sort of embedded coverage:
"I'm Aaron Brown. This is CNN. We're talking to one of our brave
correspondents in Iraq. ... You are so brave to be out there." The
correspondent answers: "Thanks, Aaron. I am brave. But our troops are
braver." "Yes," the anchor replies, "our troops are brave. But you are very,
very brave as well." The correspondent agrees: "Yes, Aaron. There's a lot of
bravery here." "There sure is a lot of bravery ... in you, my friend," the
anchor replies. "... And that's it from Iraq. Back to you Aaron."
The other night Charlie Rose conducted a telephone interview with Frederik
Balfour, a Business Week correspondent who is embedded in or with (hard to
know which prepositions to use) the 3rd Infantry. Rose asked what it was
like and Balfour said his mother had asked him to same question. He said he
was cursing more and his grammar had deteriorated and then he apologized for
his "elitism." Balfour told Rose that he had opposed the war before it
began, but that now, protected as he was by these soldiers, fond of them as
he had clearly become, it was impossible not to join their "cause," to want
them to win. Rose next asked Colin Soloway, Newsweek correspondent with the
101st Airborne Division if he'd been able to go along on any Apache
helicopter missions. No, Soloway sadly explained, Apache helicopters, only
have seats for the two pilots. Still, he got to review the video tape when
the helicopters returned to base and the pilots were glad to "walk him
through" whatever engagement they had conducted. The TV audience did not get
to see the tapes -- any more than they had in Gulf War I when, a pilot told
an LA Times reporter, Apaches had shot up Iraqi troops "like sheep."
"Embeds" on TV, such as the normally skeptical Ted Koppel, have little
distance from the story they are supposed to cover. However, the
"unilaterals" (someone in the Pentagon has a sense of humor) as the
independent print and TV journalists are officially called, have done some
extraordinary reporting from inside Baghdad and from villages and towns
south of the capital which cannot help but raise doubts about the US as a
force for the liberation rather than destruction of the country.
[I have not had time to check this out, but it occurs it to me that the idea
for embedding reporters may have had its roots in a plan for a 13 part TV
series worked out by Jerry Bruckheimer (director of Pearl Harbor, among
other megamovies), the ABC entertainment division and the Pentagon in
February 2002. According to a report in the NYTimes, the Pentagon planned to
"promote its war effort [then it was the war in Afghanistan of course]
through television's genre of the moment, the reality series." The ABC news
division, whose reporters, like others covering the Afghan war, had been
subjected to tight restrictions, protested. But while Rear Adm. Craig R.
Quigley agreed that the nightly news was the "principal means" of giving
information to the public there were "a lot of other ways" and "if there is
an opportunity to tell about the courage and professionalism of our men and
women in uniform on prime time television for 13 straight weeks, we're going
to do it. That's an opportunity not to be missed" (9). ] Anthony Swofford,
whose memoir of the first Gulf War, Jarhead, recorded how soldiers were
instructed by their officers to lie to the press, expressed his doubts about
the new system in a recent short essay for the NY Times Magazine section.
"Embeds serve up burly-chested kids full of charisma and grit," he wrote.
"Television reports soften war and allow it to penetrate even deeper into
the living rooms and minds of America. War can't be that bad if they let us
watch it" (10).
Nor can it be that bad if kids can play it. The differences between the war
and play, between war toys and weapons have been considerably narrowed. For
example, a Marine corps laboratory is developing a small remote controlled
mobile weapon called the "Dragon Runner." It is guided by a keypad modeled
after the Sony PlayStation 2 video game. The designers believe that
"soldiers would be familiar with [the keypad] and by default, partially
trained to use it." Just as the Pentagon looks to toy designers and video
games for new military ideas, the toy industry is quick to make toys out of
new weapons and wars. One toy manufacturer introduced a new line of model
soldiers as soon as the the networks began their "showdown" to war (11).
Something else is new in this war -- or rather, something is missing. There
is no Iraqi Sygmann Rhee or Ngo Dinh Diem -- or even Chiang Kai-shek. Nor
does the administration seem particularly interested in developing a local
anti-Saddam Hussein nationalist leadership. Instead, the US plan for
post-war Iraq appears to be for retired Lt. General Jay Garner, to run the
country. A close friend of the secretary of defense and former president of
SY Technology, a defense contractor which helped develop the Israeli missile
defense system, Garner is now head of the Pentagon Office of Reconstruction
and Humanitarian Assistance. Post-war, according to one report, Garner will
oversee 23 ministries, all of them to be directed by Americans with the
assistance of US appointed Iraqi advisers. Already a split has developed
between the State Department and the Pentagon over precisely which Americans
will get to direct these ministries. Disgruntled but anonymous State
Department officials suspect the "more ideological" Pentagon officials, like
Douglas Feith, are determined to control "what a new Iraq should look like."
The Onion must have a direct line to the Pentagon. A recent headline read:
"U.S. Draws Up Plan for Post-War Transitional Dictatorship in Iraq" (12).
In November, 1950, Eric Larrabee reflected on the progress of the Korean
War. The aim of the Soviet Union, as he saw it, was to force the U.S. "to
become the Mechanical Monster who -- in the eyes of the ill-armed majority
of mankind -- burns and tortures at a distance, and never fights fair." "
... if this war ever becomes one of Machines vs. People, with the United
States on the side of the Machines," he concluded, "we shall most surely
lose it." Korea, Vietnam, Iraq are different countries, with different
histories. It is the US that remains the same -- only more so: a mechanical
monster. There is no real victory possible in Gulf War II. To have gone to
war on the side of the Machines is already to have lost.
The war in Iraq is an illegal war fought in defiance of international public
opinion and the UN. As William Pfaff argues in a thoughtful essay published
the day after the war began, the French catalyzed "constructive resistance"
to US power in the course of the Security Council debate. "The result," he
writes, "has been a basic shift in international relations, which will
affect the future configuration and policies of the EU, no matter what
happens in Iraq." Closer union and a common defence are no longer luxuries.
"A similar development," Pfaff observes, "is taking place in the Far East,
caused by US policy toward North Korea ... ." Pfaff concludes even if the US
should prove successful in establishing its authority in the Middle East,
the aftermath "will automatically generate new forces of resistance and
hostility. ... The American superpower has been the centre of a solar
system. Centrifugal political forces now have been set loose." Already the
war in Iraq has become enmeshed in Islamic fundamentalism -- possibly ending
Iraq's long secular history. To be sure, history does not repeat itself,
certainly not as farce. But the world has never been a more dangerous place.
Bush's fundamentalist Christianity keeps him calm in the face of what is to
come. But the rest of us had better be agitated. What is to come is likely
to be terrible. Biblically terrible.
Is this war and the openly imperial vision of the administration which
pursues it a new development in US history or just the latest articulation
of American hegemony. I have gone back and forth on this -- sometimes
arguing for a nearly seamless history of American imperialism; at other
times struck by the speed with which what Paul Krugman calls a new,
oligarchic ruling class has seized the state and begun to transform it. I
don't really have an answer. If pressed to respond -- and the question is,
after all, a particularly historical one -- I think I'd insist that it's
both. The tactics through which various post-1945 administrations have
attempted to order the world so as to sustain the dominant power of the U.S.
have been shaped by the individual predilections of the president and his
men, domestic opposition, the state of the economy and the actions of other
nations. And tactics have consequences, certainly to those on the receiving
end. There is a difference between the interim bombing of Iraq, however
brutal and futile, and Operation Iraqi Freedom; between, that is to say the
veiled, cautious, unilateralism of the Clinton administration, and the
brutal, naked, crusading version with which we live today (13).
1.Howard Fineman, "Bush and God," Newsweek, March 10, 2003 (accessed
4/01/03: http://www.www.msnbc.com/news/. There is also a Presidential Prayer
Team (http://www.presidentialprayerteam.org) constantly working on the
2. As quoted in Seymour M. Hersh, "Offense and Defense," the New Yorker,
April 7, 2003, p.43. The entire article repays close reading, pp.43-45.
3. Thom Shanker and John Tierney, "Top-ranked officer denounces critics of
Iraq campaign," New York Times 4/2/03, p1. At least one retired general,
Barry McCaffrey, spiritedly defended his criticisms. See Jim Rutenberg,
"Ex-Generals defend their blunt comments," New York Times, B1.
4. Quoted in Sean D. Naylor, "War Games Rigged?" Army Times, August 16,
2002; see also Julian Borger, Guardian, August 21, 2002.
5. New York Times, March 29, 2003, p.1
6. Dexter Filkins, "Either Take a Shot or Take a Chance," New York Times,
7. See two powerful reports by Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, March 28
("A Village is Bloodied in a stubborn battle," p.1, and "Haunting Thoughts
after a fierce battle," March 29, p.1.
8. James Meek, "Marines Losing the Battle for Hearts and Minds," Guardian
March 25, 2003, online.
9. Felicity Barringer, "'Reality' TV about GIs on War Duty," New York Times,
10. Sunday New York Times Magazine section, March 30, 2002, p.17.
11. Sunday Style section, New York Times, March 20, p.1
12. Brian Whitaker and Luke Harding, "US draws up secret plan to impose
regime on Iraq," Guardian, 4/1/03, online; David Sanger, "Plans for Postwar
Iraq are re-evaluated as fast military exist looks less likely," New York
Times, 4/2/03, B11; The Onion, 27 March-2 April 2003, p.1
13. In Indonesia, the Clinton administration cut off all military aid after
the attacks against East Timor. This past December, a $17.9 million
"Regional Counter-Terrorism Defense Fellowship Program" was approved under
which Indonesian military personnel will be brought to the US for training.
See Center for Defense Information, April 8, 2002. Note too, that the task
of training foreign militaries has created a boom industry in private
military firms to which much of the work is contracted out. See Esther
Schrader, "US Companies Hired to Train Foreign Armies," Los Angeles Times,
April 14, 2002.