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contrasts « Previous | |Next »
May 11, 2004

Link this photo of an Iraqi detainee about to be attacked by US military dogs in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:

with this commentary by Newt Gingrich.

Isn't this what Prime Minister Howard has been saying?

In the Senate today the Robert Hill said the Howard Government knew about what was going on around January and February 2004, due to the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross. That claim is at odds with this claim by Robert Hill, the Defence Minister, that he only became aware of what was going on through the public domain in the last few days.

All that talk by Hill about the "transfer of sovereignty" in Junesounds more and more akin to a publicity stunt.

After listening to question time in the Senate today the Howard Government's way of trying to killing the story became clear. It is to say that the abuse of prisoners was the isolated work of a few bad apples, and that appropriate action is being taken by the US and UK Governments. In other words the system is working. No problems here, as it was called abuse not torture.

It was all said with a straight face and deep sorrow, disgust and regret about the photos of the isolated bad ones, even as media reports circulated about how widespread the torture was.

And, it was added during the urgency motion, Australia is not an occupying power. So it all had to do with the UK and the US. Hence Australia has no legal or moral responsibility. It has no involvement in the torture. So said Senator David Johnston. He is washing his hands of Australia signing a document for the transfer of prisoners of war; one that contained a commitment to the protocols of the Geneva Convention.

So what was the action by the Howard Government in response to the knowledge of what was going in the prison system? At that point we got diversion, diversion, diversion. Then we heard a story about all the good things happening in Iraq and the anti-Americanism of the critics told by Senator Sandy MacDonald. Nothing was said about the Red Cross estimating that 90% of all prisoners held by the US were innocent.

Nothing was said about the Fallujah and Najaf sieges in Iraq by Senator Lightfoot when he defended the Government. He seemed to think that military occupation by a foreign power is freedom for the Iraqi's. He showed no awareness of the uprising by forces of the radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr.

This is a government in denial.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:07 PM | | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (4)

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"This is a government in denial."

This is a government (one of three) in a freefall to oblivion. Have we ever had a government in the history of Australia since 1900 as dishonest as this one?

From hints to the press, I would think Peter Costello is dusting off his barrister's wig.

Slightly off topic- The Howard government is a model of honesty and integrity compared to some of the totally diabolical state governments of our times. In WA you had Bourke's ALP experiment of Wa Inc; here in South Australia, the Olsen government couldn't lie straight in bed, and of course there is the classic of Sir Joh's Moonshine state in Queensland.

None of this excuses Howard, who certainly gets the Gong for shonkiest government in Federal history.

Seen Sen Rob Hill babbling on how no Australian soldiers would be torturing any Iraqis. Meanwhile his Government is in whole hearted support of the countries who are doing the torturing.

Howard was saying the same. There are no linkages between Australia and the torture or abuse.

Australia's hands are clean.

There are only perceptions of linkages.

We have no responsibility to criticize the US and the UK at all.


The Americans are doing enough criticizing of themselves. You keep harping on as though some sort of cover up was going on.

Before you were a big booster of General Taguba's investigation of these abuses. Well, Taguba found that these crimes had been committed in violation of regulations by military police personnel along with some junior military intel types. That is where the criminal liability evidently lies.

But beyond the criminal element, there was clearly a total breakdown in the command structure of those units. And highers up who should have known but didn't, or who should have put a stop to it, but didn't will pay with their careers. And, that is as it should be. I think the MP company and battalion commanders should be court martialled for dereliction of duty. And the Brigade commander was justifiably sacked.

But, the fact is that the U.S. Army began to investigate this vigorously several months before the story broke in the press...

Your knee jerk propensity to believe the worst of the United States is tiresome.

It is clear from the above that you do not read the posts. You write:

"Your knee jerk propensity to believe the worst of the United States is tiresome."

This post was about the Howard government in Australia, not the US government, which was not even mentioned in the post.

The post was about the defence of the Howard Government by Government Senators in the Australian Senate on Tuesday. The context was the photos from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and an urgency motion in the Senate.

Three of the government Senators were mentioned.

How you can turn that into "knee jerk propensity to believe the worst of the United States" is beyond me.

Unless of course you assume that Australia is identical to the US?


Come on, you'll have to do better than that. So the US government "was not even mentioned in the post?"

Hmmmm... let me cut and paste a few relevant quotations from your jerimiad, and I'll commence with your first sentence:

"Link this photo of an Iraqi detainee about to be attacked by US military dogs in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:"

Nope, no mention of America in that bit.

Moving on to the 2nd sentence in the 4th graph from the bottom:

"So it all had to do with the UK and the US."

Nope, no reference to the United States there.

And, the final sentence of the third graph from the bottom reads:

"Nothing was said about the Red Cross estimating that 90% of all prisoners held by the US were innocent."

Nope, the name of the United States is nowhere to be seen in that one, either.

Holy shit, Gary, I think a few "Hooked on Phonics" sessions might be in order here.

Okay so the US was mentioned.
But America (the nation or the people) is not the same as the US government (state) or the military.

My central point remains. The argument of the post was about the rhetoric of the Howard Government in response to what happened in the Iraqi prison.

So I mock the rhetoric of these conservative Senators and you take that as a knee jerk propensity to believe the worst of the US.

Its apples and pears.

Strange reasoning.

Perhaps this posting is more appropriate here.

This is an interesting piece from the Jerusalem Post on the way the Israeli Army administers its military prisons, and why an Abu Ghraib-like scandal would never happen in Israel.


David Brinn May. 13, 2004


When I first joined the ranks of the IDF in the summer of 1990 as a 30-year-old reservist corporal in the Military Police, it wasn't the thought of being stationed in a military prison among hardened Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists that was terribly scary.

My fear was the possibility that I might witness scenes of horrifying torture and humiliation of prisoners by my colleagues and superiors. How would I react in such a situation? Would I possess the internal strength to stand up and resist such basic violations of human rights, or would I sit still and passively accept those atrocities? Such thoughts chilled me as I entered my first IDF prison 14 years ago to serve as a jailer, the fear that the Israeli soldier, a fellow Jew, could be capable of inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Seeing the pictures of abuses of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib facility near Baghdad reminded me of my own trepidations back then. Whether this inexcusable affront to Western, democratic sensibilities could have been prevented will take a thorough investigation of the US military to determine. Could such a travesty occur at an Israeli military prison? Almost certainly not.

A senior Pentagon official has said that the US military units responsible for prisoners in Iraq were not given specifics on permissible techniques for questioning.

In the IDF, there was no such ambiguity. In fact, the entire reasoning behind sending a raw yet comparatively aged recruit like me to serve in military prisons was part of a carefully conceived and implemented plan by the IDF to ensure that such dehumanizing practices would never occur.

When I was inducted for shlav bet (a program for older recruits, largely new immigrants to Israel, who did three months training instead of three years mandatory service) army service in the summer of 1990, it was still the height of the Palestinian intifada that had begun in 1987. The IDF had been forced to open up numerous facilities to house all the Palestinians who were being detained daily for rock-throwing, tossing Molotov cocktails, and worse offenses. These prisons - such as Ketziot, Ofer, Dahariya and Megiddo - were being run predominantly by conscript soldiers between 18 and 21, young men who were not necessarily capable of reigning in their feelings about the people in their charge.

Out of the 95 fellow conscripts I was inducted with, 90 were assigned to the Military Police. "We need you to go to these prisons and be in charge of the hour-by-hour contact with the prisoners," an officer told us during basic training. "We need mature, thoughtful people who aren't going to blow up and let their emotions dictate their actions. There are certain rules that have to be abided by, and you are the best people to ensure they are observed."

So for the next 14 years, I joined conscripts, officers, and other reservists down on the ground with Palestinian detainees, making things run. Huge shipments of food delivered daily had to be dispersed, prisoners had to be taken to doctors and to dentists. Others had appointments with their attorneys, and every day there were staggered visits from family members. All of this required coordination, cooperation, and mutual respect.

Our group of reservists received daily instructions from the young officers who were permanently stationed at the prison. Reservist officers accompanied us everywhere to make sure the different activities were carried out in the most efficient and businesslike manner.

There was a rigid order of checks and balances at work for every activity. For any abuse of prisoners to be carried out, there would have to be a huge conspiracy of silence to which dozens, if not hundreds, of soldiers would have to be part of. The block commander - generally a 20-year-old officer - reported directly to the prison commander, a career army officer.

Our reserve officers came from all walks of life but, to a man, their underlying credo was "Follow the rules." In no corner would have there been any tolerance or simply turning the other way in the event of anything remotely resembling abusive or humiliating behavior.

I WON'T deny that there was no love lost between the soldiers and the prisoners. And even among the "cooler heads" of the reservists, there was plenty of talk about the "Palestinian dogs" that we were in charge of.

But a telling example describes how such racist talk stayed within the ranks and was not allowed to spread. A reservist guard whose job was to watch us military police from one of the many towers surrounding Machane Ofer was walking through our block on the way to his position. He made eye contact with a prisoner on the other side of the fence. The prisoner didn't back down, and the soldier began yelling unprintable things about the prisoner's mother and started to cock his weapon in the prisoner's direction. Within five seconds, the soldier was surrounded by military cops who herded him out of the block.

Justice was quick. Within minutes, the prison commander personally apologized to the prisoner and his block leader, and the soldier had his next leave from the base rescinded.

After spending more than a year of my life in such situations, I can say that the above incident was the closest I came to witnessing any type of prisoner abuse in the IDF.

I make no claims of knowing what goes on when the Shabak takes a prisoner away for interrogation, but I can say that prisoners I saw who returned from such interrogation walked under their own direction and looked no different than when they were taken.

I'm proud of my service in the army and the high moral standard that I saw enacted day after day by ordinary Israelis put into difficult circumstances. Of course, the IDF certainly isn't perfect, and I can remember cringing more times than I would like at some uncivilized or hurtful behavior by soldiers toward prisoners.

These incidents fostered hate and served the interest of neither side in the conflict. But senseless macho posturing is far different than deliberate humiliation. And just as the IDF realized this years ago when they were forced to deal with the dilemma of soldiers guarding civilians, the US military will have to grapple with its mistakes and draw its own conclusions. The question is not why the atrocities at Abu Ghraib took place but how the Americans can stop it from happening again.


The writer, a former news editor of The Jerusalem Post, is the editorial director of ISRAEL21c ( He retired from active IDF duty in 2003.

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