By Danny Morrison
The admission by military intelligence officers to the International Committee of the Red Cross that between 70% and 90% of the prisoners they had taken had no involvement in the attacks on US forces and were arrested ‘by mistake’, speaks volumes about the real nature of the conflict in Iraq.
A war initially sold by Bush and Blair because Iraq could cause mass destruction to the world in 45 minutes had to be then hyped as a war of liberation and as a strike against international terrorism to mask the fact that what they really wanted to ‘liberate’ was Iraq’s oil reserves.
The ICRC figures, combined with the indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians by coalition forces and the endurance of the insurgency tell the real story. If the US/British occupation enjoyed the consensus claimed by Bush and Blair then good intelligence about the insurgents would be forthcoming from the population. When an occupying power lacks any local support it has to resort to a general sweep up among the population and beat names (usually the wrong names) out of inmates.
Now the US government and its forces have been caught out by their own supreme arrogance and there is a scramble to blame others for the debacle, beginning with, as usual, the lower ranks.
The guards pictured humiliating the prisoners claim that the abuse was systemic and ordered by their superiors to soften up those for interrogation. Certainly the evidence points in that direction.
But the defence that one was ‘following orders’ has long been ruled as no defence in War Crimes Tribunals. The truth, however, should any soldiers care to resort to it, is that they are not monsters but are the pathological victims of US patriotism.
Successive US administrations have promoted and perpetuated a culture where its soldiers and citizens have been encouraged to believe that they live on the greatest nation on earth, thanks to God. God also helped create Israel and God is going to make sure that the Palestinians eat dirt.
Last Friday Bush told graduates at a Christian College: “Where there is tyranny, oppression and gathering danger to mankind, America works and sacrifices for peace and freedom. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is the Almighty God’s gift to humanity.”
It is frightening that large numbers of US citizens truly believe that their ‘freedom’ is an exemplar for the rest of the world, which they are entitled to export, regardless of how other peoples want to rule themselves. To us, and to millions of progressive but powerless US citizens who have opposed their country’s military aggression, this attitude is the antithesis of freedom.
The US’s victory over communism, its initial victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, has only encouraged its zeal and unbridled arrogance. Rampant patriotism, incessant propaganda and an atmosphere of McCarthyism, intimidate opponents, stifle debate and create widespread ignorance.
Why wouldn’t those American soldiers in Abu Gharib have felt they were carrying out the will of the President?
In January 2002, US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld declared that the USA was no longer bound by the Geneva Convention and that those detained after the war in Afghanistan “do not have any rights”. He said that the Convention did not cover suspected terrorists being interrogated in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, Cuba, and that the Convention was not fully applicable to prisons in Iraq either.
Thus, the US has appropriated to itself the right to seize any person, anywhere in the world, designate them as an ‘enemy combatant’, and transfer them to secret interrogation centres where they can be held in solitary confinement indefinitely, without charges or trial or right to a lawyer.
Why wouldn’t American soldiers feel that they could torture prisoners at will? After all, it was the Pentagon that approved the interrogation methods including corporal punishment and mental torment. And it was the Pentagon that sent Major General Miller (the man in charge of interrogations in Guantanamo) to Iraq to make recommendations on how to extract better intelligence from the 8,000 inmates. After his arrival the worst abuse of prisoners began, resulting in the deaths of a number of inmates. (Six Iraqi inmates have also died in British custody.)
Why wouldn’t American soldiers feel that the rules didn’t apply to them given their government’s rejection of the International Criminal Court at The Hague? The ICC has the power to investigate and prosecute individuals including heads of state (responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, rape, ethnic cleansing) both in countries that are party to the treaty and, with the approval of the UN Security Council, those that are not. It has the power to impose large fines and prison terms of up to 30 years.
The US has refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC over its troops stationed overseas. Instead, it signed bilateral impunity agreements with those countries it could coerce into exempting US military and civilian personnel from being charged with crimes against humanity.
One of the MPs facing court martial, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, told of how one inmate died in Abu Gharib during interrogation.
“They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice... the next day the medics came in and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away.” Frederick said the prisoner had not been recorded in the prison system and never had a number.
Among the findings documented by the ICRC was a report that noted that one corpse had a broken nose, broken ribs and facial wounds indicating a beating. “He was heard screaming for help before he died.”
Prison guards snapped photos of a smiling US soldier standing beside the bruised and beaten corpse of this unknown human being, freed at last by America’s gift to the world and their Almighty God’s gift to humanity.