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Torture: A Deliberate Tool Of Imperial Occupation

Iraq: Torture: A Deliberate Tool Of Imperialist Occupation

By Rohan Pearce - Green Left Weekly

As more and more photographs of abuse and torture inflicted on Iraqi detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison by their US guards have come to public light, US officials have been desperate to claim that they are an “aberration” in Washington's ''war on terror''.

However, there is no shortage of evidence that the torture of US-held Iraqi prisoners is a deliberate part of Pentagon policy, not the excessive result of “a few bad apples” as US officials have claimed.

While denying the torture of Iraqi prisoners was Pentagon policy, in his February report into allegations of abuse by US military police, US Army General Antonio Taguba found that there had been “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses”. He added that this “systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force”.

In a May 11 interview with the Denver KCNC-TV station, 21-year-old reservist Lynndie England, pictured humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners in a number of the photos from Abu Ghraib, claimed that the photos “were for psy-op reasons”.

In the interview, later broadcast by CBS News across the US, England, said: “And the reasons worked. I mean, so to us, we were doing our job, which meant we were doing what we were told, and the outcome was what they wanted. They'd come back and they'd look at the pictures, and they'd state, `Oh, that's a good tactic, keep it up. That's working. This is working. Keep doing it. It's getting what we need'.”

England claimed that she was carrying orders given to her by “persons in my higher chain of command”. England, who is now facing a court martial, said: “To all of us who have been charged, we all agree that we don't feel like we were doing things that we weren't supposed to, because we were told to do them. We think everything was justified, because we were instructed to do this and to do that.”

In a May 12 interview, CBS News anchor Dan Rather asked Bob Baer, who worked in the Middle East for the CIA, whether England's claims were credible. “I couldn't imagine a prison guard arranging for this to happen in the middle of a hallway like this, unless there was some sort of complicity in the higher command”, Baer said.

England's claim that the humiliation and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners is part of CIA and Pentagon policy has been confirmed by a leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The February 2004 report by the Red Cross stated: “Several [US] military intelligence officers confirmed to the ICRC that it was part of the military intelligence process to hold a person deprived of his liberty naked in a completely dark and empty cell for a prolonged period to use inhumane and degrading treatment including physical and psychological coercion, against persons deprived of their liberty to secure their cooperation.”

The report confirmed that the “physical and psychological coercion” includes many of the techniques revealed in the photos from Abu Ghraib — including photographing naked prisoners in humiliating positions as a form of psychological coercion.

After witnessing acts of physical and psychological abuse during a visit to Abu Ghraib in October 2003, Red Cross delegates queried US military officers at the prison about the practice of keeping some prisoners naked, in completely bare and unlit cells. According to the report: “The military officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was `part of the process'.”

Those who wondered why the US government refused to support the establishment of the International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes now have a definitive explanation — the attempt to subjugate Third World nations to US corporate interests demands the carrying out of war crimes, including the systematic torture of prisoners.

Most prisoners at Abu Ghraib have not been charged with any crime and are being held without trial. A report released by human rights group Amnesty International in March observed that “families waiting outside Abu Ghraib prison say most of their relatives were picked up in indiscriminate raids” aimed at netting some suspected supporters of Iraqi resistance attacks on US occupation troops.

In some cases, the detainee has simply been related to an Iraqi whom the US invader army wants to detain — spouses and children being arrested to “encourage” people sought by the US occupiers to come forward, a blatant violation of international law.

The illegal detention and torture at Abu Ghraib is not an isolated case in Iraq. Amnesty's report cites the example of Abdallah Khudhran al Shamran, a Saudi Arabian national detained by occupation troops in April 2003 while travelling to Baghdad: “On reaching an unknown site, he said he was beaten, given electric shocks, suspended by his legs, had his penis tied and was subjected to sleep deprivation.”

After being held for four days, Shamran was transferred to a camp hospital, interrogated and released without any charges being laid. Released without money or his passport, he approached a British soldier, “whereupon he was taken to another place of detention, then transferred to a military field hospital and again interrogated and tortured. This time torture methods reportedly included prolonged exposure in the sun, being locked in a container, and being threatened with execution.”

In December 2002, the Washington Post revealed that suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters held at the US-controlled Bagram air base in Afghanistan were being tortured. It reported: “Those who refuse to cooperate inside this secret CIA interrogation center are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, according to intelligence specialists familiar with CIA interrogation methods. At times they are held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights — subject to what are known as `stress and duress' technique.”

If prisoners didn't cooperate, they were handed over to US-friendly governments that, according to human rights organisations and US State Department reports, had a history of torturing detainees.

For its report, the Washington Post conducted interviews with US national security officials and former CIA officers. One commented: “If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job... I don't think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this [torture of prisoners]. That was the whole problem for a long time with the CIA.”

According to the Post, Jordan was a favourite destination for carrying out prisoner interrogations. The 2001 US State Department human rights report noted that in Jordan, “the most frequently alleged methods of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, prolonged suspension with ropes in contorted positions and extended solitary confinement. Defendants in high-profile cases before the State Security Court claimed to have been subjected to physical and psychological abuse while in detention.”

Of course, even before the “war on terror”, US imperialism has had long history of brutality toward foreign prisoners, including torture. As a statement issued on May 13 by the US Veterans for Peace organisation observed: “For many veterans the painful feeling that we have been here before is overwhelming. We recall that such brutalities were commonplace in Korea and Vietnam, wars fought, as is Iraq, in the midst of a civilian populace, where combatants blend into and disappear among communities of non-combatants.

“Operating in a foreign land, hostile to our presence, coupled with the administration’s demonstrated disdain for the restraints imposed by the Geneva Convention on prisoner treatment has led, inevitably, to these abuses...

“The abuse at military prisons is the latest step in the shameful course that our nation has been following in Iraq. It began with an invasion for reasons that have proven to be falsehoods and lies. This is more than the criminal activity of a few `bad apples', it is the brutal, systemically embedded result of a misguided national policy.”

Of course, US foreign policy is not “misguided” from the point of view of the US capitalist ruling class. It serves their profit-driven goal of taking control of the world's natural and human resources. To do this, the US imperialist rulers win acceptance from the US working people that US and allied state terror is a necessary part of US foreign policy. Thus those who resist the US military-corporate takeover of their countries must be branded as “rogue states” and “terrorists”.

In the wake of 9/11, the US rulers have had some successes in this campaign — the illegal detention and torture of “terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay has continued for more than two years now with little public outcry in the US.

While the more liberal of the corporate press in the US and allied imperialist countries like Britain and Australia has been full of hand-wringing about the Pentagon's torture chambers and rape rooms at Abu Ghraib, the more openly hawkish sections of the media have been unapologetic. “We're not that sorry” was the headline for Andrew Bolt's May 9 op-ed in the Melbourne Herald Sun.

More insidious than right-wing ranters like Bolt are the liberals who now decry the torture of Iraqi prisoners but who defended the 13-year-long regime of US-British-Australian enforced UN economic sanctions that killed more than half-a-million Iraqi children. (When he resigned as the United Nations' humanitarian coordinator in Iraq in 1998, Denis Halliday told the British Independent newspaper that the sanctions were “in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.”)

Although outright apologists for the Abu Ghraib torture regime have been thin on the ground (but not nonexistent), few in the corporate media have bothered to denounce the more open and ongoing violations of human rights by the US-led occupation forces in Iraq — the house demolitions, the killings of protesters, the sniper attacks on children during last month's siege of Fallujah, the everyday humiliation of Iraqis whose democratic right to national independence is violated every day that the occupation troops remain in their country.

From Green Left Weekly, May 19, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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