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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the pictures from Abu Ghraib « Previous | |Next »
May 9, 2004

The pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have effectively challenged the imperial presidency's narrative of liberating, civilising mission of the US. The US Congress knows that the 'democracy flowering in Iraq' narrative has been effectively undermined.

So do the Arab commentators in the Middle East:

Nasser Al-Ja'afari, Alquds, 5/2/04. Quiet: Iraqis are being trained in US-UK "Democracy" in Abu Ghraib Prison

The pictures show American soldiers willingly engaged in torture, whilst the report of abuse made by Maj Gen. Antonio Taguba shows that the torture is systemic.

A key point from this is that the problem exposed at Abu Ghraib is illustrative of a standard operating procedure of the military body, from the Secretary of Defense (Rumsfeld) to the lowly foot soldier. Abu Ghraib is not an exception. Throughout the prison system for the war on terror (eg., Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo. etc) prisoners have been “softened up” for interrogation so they would talk, with clear directives all the way up the chain of command.

What we are now seeing is the imperial Bush administration, and its loyal allies here in Australia, trying to disguise what’s really going on. The script is that they never knew what was going on; the incidents of torture are an aberration;and the demeaning behavior of the few rogue agents will be duly punished. The crimes at Abu Ghraib were a big mistake; an oversight that can be fixed by slapping a few rogue low-level (churchgoing) soldiers on the wrist.

Who taught these grinning low-level soldiers the refined techniques of torture to soften up" the detainees so as to prepare them for the interrogation. it would appear to be contracted interrogators from the Rumsfeld testimony at the Senate hearings.

I didn't see the hearings. So I'm reading the transcript.

So who trained the privates in the softening up techniques? And who was in charge of the trainers? Was it the civilian interrogators who were responsible to military intelligence. The latter hired the civlian interrorgators and had the responsibility for supervising them.

It was the public relations spin we heard most of last week. What we did not hear much about was the racism about getting rid of the snakes", and "draining the swamps" in the "uncivilised parts of the world".

Bush said that what happened in the Abu Ghraib prison did not represent the compassionate, freedom-loving America he knew. We should remember that torture is also an integral part of the operating procedure of both the CIA and the US prison system. Tough-on-crime Texas is as good a place to start as any.

So there is good reason for many in the Middle East to understand the symbol of America not to be the Statue of Liberty. It's the prisoner standing on a box wearing a dark cape and a dark hood on his head, wires attached to his body, afraid that he's going to be electrocuted. That image has become an iconic portrait of imperial US power.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:29 PM | | Comments (20) | TrackBacks (1)

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference the pictures from Abu Ghraib:

» Torture in Iraq - Did Australia Know? from Bilby's Blog
Something a tad political this time. As evidenced by the amount of ongoing discussion (eg. public opinion), the recent photos of torture victims in Iraq are (and should be) a major concern. Certainly I found it hard to belive that... [Read More]



Eh, Gary:

How can you say that torture was "systemic" when it is the U.S. Army system that began investigating reports of abuse long before this story ever broke in the public eye? The U.S. Army ordered an General Taguba to investigate back in January, and his report was submitted back in March. It was a no holds barred condemnation of excesses and abuses committed by one MP unit. The perpetrators will be prosecuted and imprisoned. The careers of highers up who bear ministerial responsibility already have been ended by fatal letters of reprimand.

Seems to me that the military justice system is doing what it is supposed to do - find soldiers who violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice, prosecute them and send them to the slammer.

It's worthwhile noting that the term - systemic - in the New Yorker article is Seymour Hersh's word, it is not a quotation from the Taguba report.

The word "systemic" means that it is a system-wide phenomenon, something that these abuses clearly were not. These were abuses committed by some out of control soldiers who belonged to an out of control unit.

Those responsible are going to end up on the other side of the bars. As well they should.

Their illegal and immoral actions tarnished the honour of the American military, and they'll do some serious time as a result.

While this is a terrible way to teach a lesson in democracy, I think the way the American authorities have handled this issue does teach the principle of accountability and that no one is above the law. The Iraqi people will see these people being court martialled and imprisoned, as opposed to promoted and rewarded under Saddam.

read the Red Cross report. Been telling them for months.And who knows whats going in Afghanistan and Guantanamo?
The Iraqi people will only believe that those responsible are punished when Bush, Blair and Howard get the flick. After all they are the one's ultimately responsible for what is/has happened.

I can confirm che's statement. I heard the Red Cross on Radio National this morning saying that the practice of abuse within the terror prison system was systemic.

John Cain in the Congress hearings raised questions about the chains of command about the interrogators that were not answered.

Who trained the soldiers in the techniques of softening up prisoners for interrogation? Who was responsible for the whole process of interrogation?


A big part of the problem was that these soldiers weren't trained at all. Not in the laws of war laid down in the Geneva Conventions, not in the Army's own regulations on prisoner treatment.

The US Army has been dealing with a chronic shortage of MPs and intel types in Iraq by transferring people from other military occupational specialties into military police and intel functions. This has caused serious problems in many areas, including detention facilities.

But, rest assured, the people who perpetrated these criminal acts will be court martialled. In fact, the first court martial is scheduled for the 19 of May. As for higher ups who bore ministerial responsibility for this screw up, they will face criminal prosecution where appropriate, and have their careers ended when something less than criminal liability is involved.

The US military will clean house and punish those who committed these abominable acts. Of that, you can rest assured.

"The US military will clean house and punish those who committed these abominable acts. Of that, you can rest assured."

Let's hope the house-cleaning will go further than that, right up to where 'the buck stops'.

I am beginning to believe that any culture that is capable of building, maintaining and defending Guantanamo Bay is capable of anything.

The Geneva Conventions do not provide unlimited protection to everyone who engages in military action. In fact, is creates a set of criteria that combatants need to satisfy in order to be eligible for POW status.

Unless you are going to argue that Al Qaeda fighters abided by the laws of war and wore uniforms, then they don't qualify as POWs. Period. Hence, the "unlawful combatant category," because that is what they are... combatants who violated the laws of war.

And at Guantanamo they are treated accordingly

How much are they paying you VOS?

Who is "they," Glenn? I make a pretty good living, true enough, but there is nothing malign about that. After all, don't you believe in the free marketplace of ideas and ideological diversity?

'Who is "they," Glenn?'

You tell me.

'After all, don't you believe in the free marketplace of ideas and ideological diversity?'

I believe in them, but they don't exist. There's no freedom (except for Rupert) in Merde-och's 176 newspapers all toeing his warmongering line last year - this is just the most obvious example of a rightwing hegemony of opinion in the West, a hegemony the disaster of Iraq is happily helping to destroy. It's existence is why fools like yourself sound so fat and happy advancing the most irrational and unpleasant notions; you feel you're in good company.

Well you're not and I wonder how your commitment to 'the free marketplace of ideas and ideological diversity' will fare once it's clear that your second hand ideas are heading down the historical toilet where they belong.

I mean that in the nicest possible way of course...

Uh huh, Glenn... and every syllable that you utter is the quintessence of originality?


The only real difference between us, Glenn, is that my sources are far more reputable than yours.

VOS, you voice is ignorant, stupid, racist, evil. And I don't rest assured.

Wow cris, I am overwhelmed by the unassailable logic of your argument... not.

Ah,that namby,pamby red cross.Just because they visit the jails all the time they think they know what is going on.
I would make them stand on the milk crate,with a broomstick up their arse,electrodes on their balls (if I could find them),attack dogs on either side and that little hill billy trailer trash gal with a leash around their neck...
and THEN see what they say.

Hey guys,
loosen up.the reis a genuine failure by the politicians to accept responsibility for the abuse/torture of prisoners in Iraq.

Hill, Howard and Downer duck and weave here in Australia. But so is Rumsfeld in the US. He evades responsibility by not accepting that he is accountable for the prosecution of Iraq policy.

How long before the US military start demanding that the politicians become accountable for the conduct of the war? For the way the occupation of Iraq has been handled.

The US military must be feeling pretty restive and uneasy by now. They are taking an awful battering on behalf of the ducking and weaving Washington politicians.

When will the leaks from the military start?

It might surprise you to learn that I think that Rumsfeld should be sacked, the MP company and battalion commanders should be court martialled, and any MI types who were in any way involved in this should be court martialled, as well.

As for "leaks" from the military, it was information from a military investigation that got this whole media feeding frenzy started in the first place. There is no attempt to whitewash anything here. The US Army started to investigate these crimes long before the story broke in the New Yorker.

You are a living example of what Richard Hofsteader meant when he talked about the paranoid tradition of politics.

Good to hear that you think the Washington politicians should be made accountable for the system they put in place.

That was my argument. The military should not take the rap for this. If it was going to, then it would leak to bring down Rumsfeld. He ran the show.

So we agree.

In calling that the paranoid tradition of politics you are describing the American political tradition you live within.

I emphasis that Richard Hofsteader's well known text is about the America of the stereotypical 1950s, since it distinguishess between right wing extremism under the guise of conservatism. He differentiates between traditional American conservatism espoused by the likes of President Herbert Hoover and and the right wing extremism (the John Birch Society) which set about to take over the US Republican Party in order to save the U.S.A from the decadent liberals.

That paranod style of politics is represented by the Christian right (moral majority) right-wing white militias, and Anne Coulter today. A liberal Washington--(Ie Clinton or Gore) Washington is the prime agent of evil and it must be destroyed.

All that is a long way from from where I sit as an Australian.

While it is true that Hofstaeder applied his case study in paranoia to the American lunie right. But, I think the principle and the psychological factors that underpin it are far more universally applicable.

The theory of "horseshow politics" holds that the farther out on the political spectrum you look in either direction, the more that rhetoric of the radical left begins to resemble the rhetoric of the far right.

The white supremacists describe Washington as ZOG (zionist occupation government) while the John Pilger wing of the political left decries the insidious influence of the "Zionist" (read Jewish) lobby on American foreign policy.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

I think that your focus on paranoia in politics is too narrow.It is not delusional rantings" of the fringe elements in society( eg., the extreme right or left) anymore.The "paranoid style" of rhetoric as a form of "political pathology" has changed.

Conspiracy theories now constitute "many people's normal way of thinking about who they are and how the world works."

See Peter Knight's Conspiracy Culture

Since the assassination of President Kennedy paranoia in the form of conspiracy thinking is an integral part of American culture.

Arguments about the existence of secret treachery in the highest ranks of public and private leadership are very popular and pervasive in the US today.

This form of conspiracy theory is often characterized as illegitimate, pathological, and a threat to political instability--your argument presumably.

But on the other hand, the political logic of paranoia is now an entertaining narrative form. It is a populist expression of a democratic culture that circulates deep skepticism about the truth of the current political order throughout contemporary culture.