Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Horrors in Iraq: the prisons too

war / crimes / more
I'm not all over the latest news about the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib, because, while significant, I don't consider these revelations to be somehow amazing, or unexpected (other than the idiots' smile while taking snapshots of themselves committing war crimes, a very disturbing smile I must say). The US military was recently setting up snipers in Fallujah and targeting women and children for chrissakes. And it "shocked the world that things like this happened"? I'm willing to wager that much worse things have happened - probably not caught on film.
I hope that the furor over these uncovered abuses stops the worst of the atrocities. I'm not too optimistic though.
To me, what's even more worrying, is the kind of mess that the Americans are about to leave behind when they get the hell out of Iraq. I can see no bloodless "day after" scenario. I think Bush Jr. screwed up the region even worse than it was - and for years to come. They might try to break up Iraq and give Kurds autonomy or independence (as some, rather optimistic, Kurds are hoping), but this will open up the Kurdish question all over the region, across 4 countries... At the same time the occupation is turning fringe fanatics like Sadr into national (even pan-Arabic?) figures and generally strengthens the most backward elements in an until recently secular country... The current US administration (and Kerry has been anything but clear about Iraq as well) seems so tightly bound to their crudely imperial plans, that one can't really base any hope for a rational proposal from their side.

I hope I'm wrong, but the greater horror, I'm afraid, is the one that lies ahead.

1 comment:

talos said...

old comments


This piece by Ariel Dorfman explores our quiet acquiesance
to the horrific violence employed by our ever so righteous
and dignified friends in London and on Capitol Hill and all the other
capitols of modernity justice freedom etc.Compulsery reading I
would suggest for every American prior to next November.

THE second piece contains interesting info on the extent to which
the Abu-ghraib photos are in fact an illustration of doing things
by the book .."The School of the Americas" should be proud of its

Are there times when we have to accept torture?

Every regime that commits this crime does so in the name of salvation

Ariel Dorfman
Saturday May 8, 2004
The Guardian

Is torture ever justified? That is the dirty question left out of the universal protestations of disgust, revulsion and shame that has greeted the release of photos showing British and American soldiers tormenting prisoners in Iraq.
It is a question that was most unforgettably put forward over 130 years ago by Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. In that novel, the saintly Alyosha Karamazov is tempted by his brother Ivan, confronted with an unbearable choice. Let us suppose, Ivan says, that in order to bring men eternal happiness, it was essential and inevitable to torture to death one tiny creature, only one small child. Would you consent?
Ivan has preceded his question with stories about suffering children - a seven-year-old girl beaten senseless by her parents and enclosed in a freezing wooden outhouse and made to eat her own excrement; an eight-year-old serf boy torn to pieces by hounds in front of his mother for the edification of a landowner. True cases plucked from newspapers by Dostoevsky that merely hint at the almost unimaginable cruelty that awaited humanity in the years to come.
How would Ivan react to the ways in which the 20th century ended up refining pain, industrialising pain, producing pain on a massive, rational, technological scale; a century that would produce manuals on pain and how to inflict it, training courses on how to increase it, and catalogues that explained where to acquire the instruments that ensured that pain would be unlimited; a century that handed out medals for those who had written the manuals and commended those who designed the courses and rewarded and enriched those who had produced the instruments in those catalogues of death? Ivan Karamazov's question - would you consent? - is just as dreadfully relevant now, in a world where 132 countries routinely practice that sort of humiliation and damage on detainees, because it takes us into the impossible heart of the matter regarding torture; it demands that we confront the real and inexorable dilemma that the existence and persistence of torture poses, particularly after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. Ivan's words remind us that torture is justified by those who apply and perform it: this is the price, it is implied, that needs to be paid by the suffering few in order to guarantee happiness for the rest of society, the enormous majority given security and wellbeing by those horrors inflicted in some dark cellar, some faraway pit, some abominable police station.
Make no mistake: every regime that tortures does so in the name of salvation, some superior goal, some promise of paradise. Call it communism, call it the free market, call it the free world, call it the national interest, call it fascism, call it the leader, call it civilisation, call it the service of God, call it the need for information; call it what you will, the cost of paradise, the promise of some sort of paradise, Ivan Karamazov continues to whisper to us, will always be hell for at least one person somewhere, sometime.
An uncomfortable truth: the American and British soldiers in Iraq, like torturers everywhere, do not think of themselves as evil, but rather as guardians of the common good, dedicated patriots who get their hands soiled and endure perhaps some sleepless nights in order to deliver the blind ignorant majority from violence and anxiety. Nor are the motives of the demonised enemy significant, not even the fact that they are naked and under the boot because they dared to resist a foreign power occupying their land.
And if it turns out - a statistical certainty - that at least one of the victims is innocent of what he is accused, as blameless as the children mentioned by Ivan Karamazov, that does not matter either. He must suffer the fate of the supposedly guilty: everything justified in the name of a higher mission, state stability in the time of Saddam, and now, in the post-Saddam era, making the same country and the whole region stable for democracy. So those who support the present operations in Iraq are no different from citizens in all those other lands where torture is a tedious fact of life, all of them needing to face Ivan's question, whether they would consciously be able to accept that their dreams of heaven depend on an eternal inferno of distress for one innocent human being; or whether, like Alyosha, they would softly reply: "No, I do not consent."
What Alyosha is telling Ivan, in the name of humanity, is that he will not accept responsibility for someone else torturing in his name. He is telling us that torture is not a crime committed only against a body, but also a crime committed against the imagination. It presupposes, it requires, it craves the abrogation of our capacity to imagine someone else's suffering, to dehumanise him or her so much that their pain is not our pain. It demands this of the torturer, placing the victim outside and beyond any form of compassion or empathy, but also demands of everyone else the same distancing, the same numbness, those who know and close their eyes, those who do not want to know and close their eyes, those who close their eyes and ears and hearts.
Alyosha knows, as we should, that torture does not, therefore, only corrupt those directly involved in the terrible contact between two bodies, one that has all the power and the other that has all the pain, one that can do what it wants and the other that cannot do anything except wait and pray and resist. Torture also corrupts the whole social fabric because it prescribes a silencing of what has been happening between those two bodies; it forces people to make believe that nothing, in fact, has been happening; it necessitates that we lie to ourselves about what is being done not that far, after all, from where we talk, while we munch chocolate, smile at a lover, read a book, listen to a concerto, exercise in the morning. Torture obliges us to be deaf and blind and mute - and that is what Alyosha cannot consent to.
There is, however, a further question, even more troubling, that Ivan does not ask his brother or us: what if the person being endlessly tortured for our wellbeing is guilty?
What if we could erect a future of love and harmony on the everlasting pain of someone who had himself committed mass murder, who had tortured those children; what if we were invited to enjoy Eden all over again while one despicable human being was incessantly receiving the horrors he imposed upon others? And more urgently: what if the person whose genitals are being crushed and skin is being burnt knows the whereabouts of a bomb that is about to explode and kill millions?
Would we answer: yes, I do consent? That under certain very limited circumstances, torture is acceptable?
That is the real question to humanity thrown up by the photos of those suffering bodies in the stark rooms of Iraq, an agony - let us not forget - about to be perpetrated again today and tomorrow in so many prisons everywhere else on our sad, anonymous planet as one man with the power of life and death in his godlike hands approaches another who is totally defenceless. Are we that scared? Are we so scared that we are willing to knowingly let others perpetrate, in the dark and in our name, acts of terror that will eternally corrode and corrupt us?
© Ariel Dorfman
· The Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman is the author of Desert Memories and, with his son Joaquin, the novel The Burning City

David Leigh
Saturday May 8, 2004
The Guardian

The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but 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, according to British military sources.
The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.
One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: "It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn't know what they were doing."
He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in these techniques, which were taught at the joint services interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former US base at Chicksands.
"There is a reservoir of knowledge about these interrogation techniques which is retained by former special forces soldiers who are being rehired as private contractors in Iraq. Contractors are bringing in their old friends".
Using sexual jibes and degradation, along with stripping naked, is one of the methods taught on both sides of the Atlantic under the slogan "prolong the shock of capture", he said.
Female guards were used to taunt male prisoners sexually and at British training sessions when female candidates were undergoing resistance training they would be subject to lesbian jibes.
"Most people just laugh that off during mock training exercises, but the whole experience is horrible. Two of my colleagues couldn't cope with the training at the time. One walked out saying 'I've had enough', and the other had a breakdown. It's exceedingly disturbing," said the former Special Boat Squadron officer, who asked that his identity be withheld for security reasons.
Many British and US special forces soldiers learn about the degradation techniques because they are subjected to them to help them resist if captured. They include soldiers from the SAS, SBS, most air pilots, paratroopers and members of pathfinder platoons.
A number of commercial firms which have been supplying interrogators to the US army in Iraq boast of hiring former US special forces soldiers, such as Navy Seals.
"The crucial difference from Iraq is that frontline soldiers who are made to experience R2I techniques themselves develop empathy. They realise the suffering they are causing. But people who haven't undergone this don't realise what they are doing to people. It's a shambles in Iraq".
The British former officer said the dissemination of R2I techniques inside Iraq was all the more dangerous because of the general mood among American troops.
"The feeling among US soldiers I've spoken to in the last week is also that 'the gloves are off'. Many of them still think they are dealing with people responsible for 9/11".
When the interrogation techniques are used on British soldiers for training purposes, they are subject to a strict 48-hour time limit, and a supervisor and a psychologist are always present. It is recognised that in inexperienced hands, prisoners can be plunged into psychosis.
The spectrum of R2I techniques also includes keeping prisoners naked most of the time. This is what the Abu Ghraib photographs show, along with inmates being forced to crawl on a leash; forced to masturbate in front of a female soldier; mimic oral sex with other male prisoners; and form piles of naked, hooded men.
The full battery of methods includes hooding, sleep deprivation, time disorientation and depriving prisoners not only of dignity, but of fundamental human needs, such as warmth, water and food.
The US commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, Major General Geoffrey Miller, has confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special "coercive techniques" can be used against enemy detainees. The general, who previously ran the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, said his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.
Interrogation experts at Abu Ghraib prison were there to help make the prison staff "more able to garner intelligence as rapidly as possible".
Sleep deprivation and stripping naked were techniques that could now only be authorised at general officer level, he said.