In response to Tuesday’s attack on a US base in Mosul, the New York Times published a front-page article Wednesday, entitled “Torture is the Only Option, Americans Say.” In an “objective characterization of the nation’s mood following the deaths of the US soldiers,” the piece quoted a number of US citizens who expressed their full support for ongoing violations of the Geneva Conventions and presented their views as being representative of the US population as a whole. “The Bush and Blair administrations will be forced to acknowledge that any demand for an end to the torture and abuse of prisoners is now illegitimate and beyond the main stream,” concluded Times reporter, Heidi Fleiss.
A total of 33 cases of prisoner abuse among British forces have been investigated. Seven American soldiers have been charged with abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Charges include: the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners; shooting prisoners with slingshots; sodomizing children; running around in civies; torturing prisoners to death; covering latrines with graffiti; summary executions; photographing female subordinates showering; trussing prisoners in stress positions, dousing them with cold water, and dragging them by their feet through barbed wire; smuggling in beer; the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners; strangulation, beatings, and putting lit cigarettes into prisoners’ ears; housing hookers in cells; beating prisoners with cables; walking in the halls in their flip-flops; getting dogs to smell prisoners’ asses; shooting them; parading them naked; sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses; breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on prisoners; threatening them with pistols; beating them with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male prisoners with rape; the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners; sodomizing a prisoner with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick; maintaining inadequate laundry facilities; using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate prisoners with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a prisoner; punching, slapping, and kicking prisoners; urinating on them; jumping on their naked feet; videotaping and photographing naked male and female prisoners; leaving them to cook to death in container trucks in the desert; arranging them in sexually explicit positions for photographing; keeping them naked for several days at a time; forcing prisoners to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped; the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners; arranging naked male prisoners in a pile and then jumping on them; positioning a naked prisoner on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture; fomenting a prison riot in order to slaughter unarmed prisoners; writing “I am a Rapest” (sic) on the leg of a prisoner who raped a 15-year old fellow prisoner, and then photographing him naked; placing a dog chain or strap around a naked prisoner’s neck and having a female Soldier pose for a picture; having sex with female prisoners; taking photographs of dead prisoners; throwing them from a moving truck and leaving them to die; poor living conditions, escapes, and accountability lapses; humiliating and murdering prisoners; rape rooms; keeping prisoners naked for days in darkness; the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners; forcing them to kneel and stomping on their necks until dead; drinking too much alcohol and vomiting; losing paperwork; losing prisoners; throwing a prisoner from a bridge; beating prisoners to death; putting them on top of each other and forcing them to masturbate; wrapping a dead prisoner in cellophane and packing him in ice; leaving prisoners in their cell with no clothes or in female underpants; placing prisoners in isolation cells with little or no clothes, no toilet or running water, no ventilation or window, for three days; allowing them to be questioned by underqualified intelligence officers; taking away their mattresses, sheets, and clothes; moving ghost prisoners around to hide them from a Red Cross survey team; gross differences between the number of prisoners and the number officially recorded; setting physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses by Army intelligence officers, CIA agents, and private contractors; potential human-rights, training, and manpower issues; conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault, and indecent acts; keeping prisoners awake for all but four hours in a 24-hour period; dirty bathrooms; dragging prisoners by their handcuffs from a moving vehicle; dietary manipulation, sleep deprivation, and stress positions; the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners; hiring members of the paramilitary martyrs of Saddam as guards; killing four prisoners and wounding nine who were marching and yelling, “down with Bush”; mixing lethal and non-lethal ammo in their shotguns; feeding prisoners food full of bugs and dirt that made them vomit; jamming 7,000 prisoners into a complex supposed to hold no more than 4,000; failing to keep the area clean of trash; giving filthy water bottles to prisoners; keeping them in tents without floors; providing no treatment to mentally ill prisoners; indefinitely detaining innocent Iraqis; sexually propositioning superior officers; allowing six prisoners to escape; holding prisoners for months without ever being interrogated; allowing them to walk around in knee-deep mud defecating and urinating all over the compounds; failing to separate juveniles, females, the mentally ill, hardened criminals, and security prisoners from a small number of suspected high-value leaders of the insurgency; binding and gagging a prisoner and hanging him from a rope on a fork-lift; punching a prisoner in the chest so hard he almost went into cardiac arrest; maintaining a chaotic and dangerous environment; unlawfully killing Iraqi civilians; making prisoners engage in sexual activity between themselves; prejudicing good order and military discipline; environmental manipulation such as the use of loud music and sensory deprivation; the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners; unauthorized interrogations; forcing prisoners to kneel for three days or to go without sleep four or five days; leaving them chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water for up to 24 hours to urinate and defecate on themselves; turning up the air-conditioning until prisoners were shivering; turning it off until the temperature in the unventilated room was over 100 degrees; videotaping a translator raping a teenage boy; pushing a prisoner’s head into urine and pressing his ass with a broom and spitting on it; leaving a prisoner naked in his cell for six days; throwing pepper in a prisoner’s face, beating him with a chair until it broke and choking him; kicking prisoners until they passed out; beating a prisoner until his nose split open; putting bags over prisoners’ heads and beating them; making them bark like a dog and laughing at them; slamming their heads against walls; making them crawl on their stomachs while spitting on them and hitting them on the back, head and feet; beating them until they lost consciousness; putting part of a stick inside a prisoner’s ass about two centimeters, approximately; female guards hitting prisoners with a ball made of sponge on their dicks and otherwise playing with their dicks; tying prisoners to their beds and sodomizing them; punching a hooded prisoner in the head until he was unconscious; making naked and hooded prisoners form a human pyramid, and taking each other’s pictures; making them crawl across the floor on their hands and knees while riding on their backs; posing them as performing oral sex on each other; lining them up against the wall and forcing them to masturbate while pointing and leering at their genitals; accepting prisoners from Other Government Agencies (OGAs) without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention; creating a hell on Earth worse than Saddam’s; aggressive and improper methods of interrogation; serious physical abuses; allowing special interrogations by the CIA without any outside witnesses; grabbing people at random and throwing them into torture dungeons; and having had no more luck finding real weapons of mass destruction than the torturers of Torquemada had finding real witches. “There are even suggestions that the murder of a prisoner has been recorded,” the Times said.
The Times is again stepping forward at a critical juncture for the US’s fortunes in the Middle East. Coming less than two months after the destruction of Fallujah, which was heralded as a major blow against the resistance, the Mosul bombing has demonstrated the fragility of the entire US operation, which now hangs in the balance. The Times’ editors are acutely aware that these developments threaten American imperialism with a catastrophic defeat.
Defeat is unimaginable for the US ruling class-and for the editors of the New York Times. A recent editorial called for increased recruitment into the armed forces, more troops to be sent to Iraq, and for the stepping up of efforts to cultivate a pro-US Sunni layer. In the past, however, the newspaper prudently avoided any discussion of the strategy to manipulate and suppress information and opinions on the subject of torture and prison abuse. Photographs of the sadistic torture of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of US troops became front-page news around the world after their release. Only in the United States and Iraq itself were they largely suppressed, and Americans think the US media should have stayed focused on Michael Jackson’s court appearance, yesterday’s Times article claims.
The article begins by quoting Ricardo Sanchez, an “oil and gas industry employee” from Dallas. “They should never have published the abuse photos in the first place, but that’s beside the point now,” he declared. “We upset the apple cart and now there’s pretty much no choice. We have to press ahead.” He was aware that more than sixty per cent of the civilian inmates were deemed not to be a threat to society, but “that doesn’t mean there are no terrorists in the prison population even if only among the guards.”
The article cites images of humiliated and tortured prisoners published in the US press and rebroadcast by Arab satellite TV channels, further inflaming anti-US sentiment in Iraq and across the Middle East. The Army subsequently was forced to lighten up on its abusive practices which, according to Geoffrey Miller, a former prison warden interviewed by the Times, created the conditions for Tuesday’s bombing.
A few days after the US pictures came out, the British political science journal, The Daily Mirror, published pictures that appeared to show a UK soldier using violence and urinating on a hooded Iraqi captive. However, the British military later concluded the truck shown in the picture had never been in Iraq, and items of uniforms and weaponry were also different from those used in Iraq. The Mirror later said it had printed the fake images in order to discredit authentic photos of torture and abuse turned in by a film shop worker who said she “felt sick” when she saw them. The Times article suggested a similarity with the forged document used to discredit critics of Bush’s absentee military service. The editor of the Mirror was nevertheless sacked, and the journal apologized.
Miller claimed that it was irresponsible of the Red Cross to violate confidentiality rules in reporting the case of an arrested Iraqi who died after being severely beaten. “Saying the death occurred after the beating makes it seem like the soldiers killed him,” said Miller. He also claimed that nothing was illegal or wrong about stripping prisoners. “In fact, it’s a tried-and-true intelligence tactic.”
“Miller’s sentiment was echoed in interviews in shopping malls, offices, sidewalks and homes on a day when the news from Iraq was bleak,” the Times continued. “With 14 American service members killed and dozens injured, many people said they were dispirited or angry, but many expressed equal unhappiness about seeing a lack of options. Whether one supported or opposed the use of torture and abuse has become irrelevant, many said-there is only the road ahead now, with few signs to guide the way.”
The article quoted 72-year-old Air Force veteran Thomas Pappas, who repeated the Bush administration’s claim that the increased violence in Iraq was an indication of the insurgents’ desperation. “It tells me that they are scared about the consequences of being taken prisoner,” he declared. “They are just trying to stay out of Abu Ghraib prison, and they don’t care how they do it.”
The Times added that the veteran would not call for prosecution of those found responsible for prison abuse in Iraq, as the loss of promotion and the indignity of a public rebuke were enough punishment. “Bush should say it’s the work of just a few rogue soldiers, a few bad apples.” But the Times reporter voiced concern that “the Army’s attempt to have six soldiers atone for its sins rather than dragging every involved intelligence officer and civilian contractor into court” might stretch public credulousness. “Will Americans really believe the Army relieved a general because of six soldiers? Not a chance” Fleiss wrote.
Despite the fact that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has cited human rights as a motivating factor in the invasion last spring to oust the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein, human rights sentiments were nowhere to be seen in the Times interviews.
Steven Jordan, former director of a federal agency, stressed his support for the soldiers now facing charges of “sadistic, blatant and wanton abuses” saying that the only way to get the war over quickly was to “treat the detainees like shit until they will sell their mother for a blanket, some food without bugs in it and some sleep.” Janice Karpinski, a business consultant from Colorado, suggested that “the Pentagon should hire professional torturers, give them a free hand, and help the Iraqi people make up their minds which side they want to be on,” while Donald J. Reese, a reservist and salesman, said that, for many of the Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib, “living conditions are better in prison than at home. They probably don’t want to leave.”
The Times pointed out that those incidents which led to the killing or wounding of inmates and MPs had already resulted in a series of “lessons learned” inquiries within the brigade and many changes in day-to-day procedures. Jordan said that the riots, escapes, shootings, corrupt Iraqis, dirty bathrooms, lack of showers, unsanitary conditions, rampant sexual misbehavior, bug-infested food, daily mortar shellings, lack of materiel, and too few soldiers would have “made any one of us a little crazy.” He said the troops at the front have to be allowed to “blow off a little steam now and then.”
Michael Shavers, an Army civilian employee from Virginia, hoped to see the “whole thing swept under the rug” as soon as possible. “Who is making the charges that there is dirt, bugs, or whatever in the food?” he asked. “If it is the prisoners, I would take that with a grain of salt.” The Times pointed out, however, that salt is in as short supply at Abu Ghraib as showers, shampoo, blankets, and toilet paper.
The latest poll conducted for ABC News and the Washington Post before the Mosul bombing found that 51 percent said they disapproved of the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. When asked if the US should stop torturing and abusing prisoners, “even if that means civil order is not restored there,” 49 percent said yes. But the Times article hinted at a potential solution for such damaging findings-censorship and the elimination of opinion surveys. “Some people said that the publication of the pictures themselves were the main problem,” the article claimed.
“Steven Stephanowicz, of CACI International, said he supported President Bush but had been lukewarm about the torture issue. Now, he said there was no choice but to press forward, and that photos and opinion polls were only ‘aiding and abetting’ the enemy by getting the media all excited and making human rights organizations think the American will is weak. ‘We’ve got to hang in there and get it done,’ Mr. Stephanowicz said.”
The Times article cited a letter from FBI Director Robert Mueller which vowed to redouble efforts to cover-up abuses. The names of the agents assigned to the cover-up were blacked out, but these comments, reported without rebuttal by the Times, can only be understood to mean that the newspaper supports, in the interests of the war effort, the torture and abuse of prisoners and suppression of any expression of opposition.
The Times quoted Scott Silliman, one of the military defense attorneys in the My Lai prosecutions, as saying that his client’s defense will be that he was carrying out the orders of his superiors and, in particular, the directions of military intelligence. He said, “Do you really think a group of Virginia hillbillies and some limies from Warwickshire a thousand miles apart spontaneously decided at the same time to photograph prisoners pretending to sodomize each other and send the film home to be developed?” He claims that 5 or 6,000 pages of classified files in the annexes to his report show that military-intelligence teams, which included CIA officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors, were the dominant force inside the military prisons.
Such charges are denied by the Pentagon who say that officers at the prison tried to limit, not facilitate, abuses, often yelling at interrogators to keep the noise down. However, the Bush administration’s policies on torture and abuse now seem to be in a state of limbo. After the capture of al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in 2003, when an unnamed official told the Wall Street Journal that US interrogators may authorize “a little bit of smacky-face” while questioning captives in the war on terrorism, the administration claimed that “the United States will torture terrorism suspects and treat them cruelly in an attempt to extract information.”
The failure to block a proposal before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva designed to give more teeth to the Convention Against Torture, however, forced Bush to state that “The U.S. is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example” and to “call on all governments to join with the U.S. and the community of law abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating and prosecuting all acts of torture.”
But in reality, Bush formally rejected the treaty establishing the ICC, the first permanent international institution dedicated to trying cases of genocide, war crimes and other human rights abuses, which was formulated by the US and used as a weapon throughout the cold war, and signed an executive order authorizing some or all of the interrogation methods with which the soldiers currently stand charged.
Administration officials now deny that such an executive order exists; they say the media press have it confused with an earlier order for “aggressive techniques” issued by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, which was rescinded after complaints from military lawyers. They claim Bush only approved the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners, as long as they were muzzled. But the FBI papers state repeatedly and unequivocally that Bush himself authorized the aggressive techniques, and, as the abuses occurred long after the first Rumsfeld order was invalidated, the administration’s denial is based on a clear falsehood.
But no criticism of the Bush administration was quoted by the Times on Wednesday, nor was any reference to the wider political, legal and moral questions involved in the Iraq war noted.
“[W]hile some said the Mosul attack reinforced their belief that the Bush administration had failed in its goals, others found it hard to place blame,” the article declared. “Alberto Gonzales, a former real estate lawyer from Miami, said he thought the administration was wrong about the actual effectiveness of torture in extracting useful information. ‘They know now we don’t get the whole picture when we torture prisoners,’ he said. ‘But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful in other ways. When the Iraqis see what can happen at random to perfectly innocent people, it makes them extra careful nobody suspects them of even thinking about joining the insurgency.'”
Rumsfeld agreed that allowing the publication of prisoner abuse photos and negative opinion polls had left “a stain on our country’s honor.” Instead of court-martialing the man whom he claims authored the plan to subject prisoners at Abu Ghraib to harsh abuses, Rumsfeld has left him in charge of the facility. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have changed this,” Rumsfeld told reporters in May. “Trust us. We are doing this right.”