Prison Photos: The sh*t has hit the fan, and is headed west

[ For more on the conditions — condemned by Amnesty International — in which the U.S. has detained and tortured Iraqis, including Free Speech Radio Network interviews with Abu Ghraib prison insiders and more, visit this DemocracyNow! page. –BL ]

by Brendan Lalor

If you have not seen the photos of U.S. soldiers sexually and otherwise abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, they are available at The prison photo story, which broke in a major way when the photos became public a few days ago, has of course fueled anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab world. The fact that a female U.S. soldier is pictured belittling an Iraqi prisoner’s male genitalia is not particularly helpful. As the Tehran Times (5/1/04) put it:

The photographs, which show American soldiers — men and women — smiling, laughing or giving thumbs-up signs alongside naked Iraqi prisoners, expose the sadistic and brutal methods employed by American forces and provide more evidence of the catalog of war crimes being committed by US-led forces in Iraq.

Al-Jazeera, too, suggested the photos show the “immoral” practices of the occupiers. From the soldiers’ point of view, they were “softening up” the prisoners for interrogation by the CIA.

Along with other reservist jail guards, he [Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick, a Virginia prison guard] was directed to physically and mentally “prepare” Iraqi detainees for interrogation. He said that dogs were also used as “intimidation factors” against prisoners. One of Frederick’s email messages said: “Military intelligence has encouraged and told us ‘Great job’. They usually don’t allow others to watch them interrogate. But since they like the way I run the prison, they have made an exception. We help getting them [detainees] to talk with the way we handle them…. We’ve had a very high rate with our style of getting them to break. They usually end up breaking within hours.”

There are reports of an alleged rape of a prisoner, as well.

The Iranian press has properly pointed out that the U.S. is in violation of some relevant pieces of international law:

These acts of sadism and cruelty constitute a blatant violation of the “UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” and are war crimes as defined by Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of war prisoners. Article 3 prohibits: a. violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; b. taking hostages; c. outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.

And, with unfortunate plausibility, the Tehran Times charges that

Washington anticipated and prepared in advance for the war crimes now being committed against the Iraqi people. No criminal charges can be brought against a US soldier in Iraq because the Iraqi Governing Council has given the American military a blanket amnesty from prosecution. Secondly, with the backing of Germany and a number of other countries, no US soldier or citizen can be prosecuted for war crimes in the International Criminal Court.

The prison photos are seen by many as the latest in series of U.S. violations of international law, not as an exception to an otherwise untarnished record on Iraq. During the 1990s, international aid agencies condemned the cruel U.S.-promoted U.N. sanctions against Iraq as causing the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children per month. Prior to the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War, the U.S. came under attacks for failing to meet the jus ad bellum (“justice in going to war”) conditions of the Just War Theory. During the war, the U.S.’ use of depleted uranium shells and cluster bombs violated international law and the jus in bellum (“justice in the conduct of war”) conditions of Just War Theory. In this context, how does the Administration expect the occupation — including the bombing of Fallujah, mistreatment of civilians, and now abuse of prisoners — to be perceived?

It is, of course, well known that the U.S. exempts itself from the standards to which it holds other nations. But the degree to which this episode in that history of hubris increases the probability of attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and less discriminate attacks in the U.S. is hard to overestimate. Ironically, this war and occupation — full of terror for the Iraqis — are just the latest developments in Bush’s “war on terror,” which, Bush alleges, aims to make Americans safe from terror. Then again, under Bush, a large portion of our lexicon is, or has become, ironic and oxymoronic (“compassionate conservatism,” “Clear Skies Initiative,” “No Child Left Behind Act,” “Family Time Flexibility Act,” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” to say nothing of the misnomers, “Justice Department” and “Department of Defense”).

I digress.

In the end, this phase of Bush’s “war on terror” certainly gives increasing plausibility to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s 2003 prediction that the war will produce ‘100 Bin Ladens’. Citizens of the U.S. and other “coalition” nations may not be aware of this yet. But, as Nietzsche wrote, of another reality yet to be recognized,

This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard.

The sh*t has hit the fan, and is headed west.

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