Saturday, May 08, 2004

Torture fallout

I am wary about focusing too much on the Iraq torture news, but I do think it's important and worth documenting. With that in mind, here's some reading:

* Echoing the charges of a "systemic" problem in the Taguba report and Seymour Hersh's reporting, the Guardian reports that the torture was "part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing."

* Pick a euphemism: Was the torture done to "soften up" or "break down"?

* Worse is yet to come: "U.S. military officials told NBC News that...unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and 'acting inappropriately with a dead body.' The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys."

* David Corn thinks Rummy got off easy with his testimony yesterday.

* These "shocking" events, I think it goes without saying, are bound to cause lasting damage to the American image abroad.

* The Independent chronicles the narrative shift from "war hero" Jessica Lynch to "war criminal" Lynndie England. The media hoopla surrounding both of these West Virginians tells you a lot about the evolving depiction of American efforts in Iraq.

* Here's a profile of Lynndie England, the woman at the heart of the controversy. Also see this profile of England's hometown in West Virginia, which I think speaks for itself.

* Intellectual stewards like David Brooks are all concerned about the "crisis of confidence" this scandal creates. This should hardly be a surprise, since it comes from the same camp that thinks the most regrettable part of the Vietnam war, which killed upwards of 3 million people, was that it instilled a national "syndrome" that resulted in the "sickly inhibitions against the use of military force," to quote Norman Podhoretz's beloved phrase. Tune in 25 years from now and I can almost guarantee you that the torture revelations will be seized upon by apologists for state sanctioned violence to explain how the US "lost the war." The evaporation of America's moral certainty will be pointed to as what we should rue about the Iraq conflict, not the carnage this nation and its erstwhile allies have inflicted.

* There's "nothing surprising" about the pictures of prison abuse that have emerged, says Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post. They are "pictures of colonial behavior, the demeaning of occupied people, the insult to local tradition, the humiliation of the vanquished. They are unexceptional. In different forms, they could be pictures of the Dutch brutalizing the Indonesians; the French brutalizing the Algerians; the Belgians brutalizing the people of the Congo." Likewise, John Pilger asks, "So what's new?"

* Baghdad Burning has some relatively simple advice for the Americans: "don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can -- while it still looks like you have a choice... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We'll take our chances -- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go."

* "If pictures are worth 1,000 words," observes Margaret Kimberley, "we should no longer hear the clueless question, 'Why do they hate us?' Americans are hated because we want to control and dominate which always leads to killing, stealing or helping others who want to do the same thing. They hate us because we say we want to free a country from the grip of an evil dictator when we really want to take a nation's resources and turn it into a military base. They hate us because it is inevitable that the theft and destruction will lead to using the dictator's torture chambers for our own torture sessions. They hate us because after we kill and destroy we ask stupid questions as if we were innocent."

* And what's that "oversized elephant in the American media’s living room"? Try racism.

* What has happened in Iraq's prisons, according to the NY Times, "takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern." Yeah, no kidding.