Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Crimes of Occupation

In an attempt to protect the public image of the US military, General Mark Kimmit argued that while the torture and humiliation of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison represented an exceptional and isolated incident under Coalition rule, during the reign of Saddam Hussein such methods were standard practice. This is a poor argument indeed, since the US should not measure its respect for human rights and the dignity of the individual by comparing it with that of Saddam. One cannot assert his credentials as a democrat by evoking Adolf Hitler as a standard for comparison. The true measure of America’s respect for human rights will be judged with respect to the punishment exacted upon those who took part in the monstrosities. Only by meting out punishment which is just and proportionate to the appalling nature of the soldiers’ brutish actions, will the US military convince the rest of the world that it conducts its occupation of Iraq on the basis of a principled opposition to torture and ensure that such phenomena do not repeat themselves by making an example out of the soldiers currently under investigation.
In a situation marked by insecurity and protracted military conflict, justice will surely be subject to the exigencies of summary execution. As is the case with any occupying force who is confronted with the vicissitudes of an ongoing insurrection, the US military is obliged to act in many instances as if they were police, judge and jury all at the same time. Following the demolition of Iraqi governmental institutions and the dismantling of the Iraqi judicial system, the US military remains the sole overarching authority able to yield some power within Iraqi society. In their dealings and transactions with local authorities, American military personnel operate under the assumption that they are the source from which all law emanates and therefore are above and beyond its binding authority. Thus, some might be tempted to commit acts that they would not commit for fear of suffering the punitive consequences of their actions. A forceful reminder must be issued to US troops that as soldiers they are still subject to a strict ethical code of military conduct, the provisions of which will be upheld and implemented to the letter, particularly when transgressions involve members of a subjugated population. Occupied Iraq will develop into a realm of lawlessness and abuse of power will become the ordinary state of affairs, unless strict military discipline is maintained within the ranks of the forces of occupation.
Yet it is questionable whether the political will exists among the US ruling elite to bring such abuses to a decisive and definitive halt. In the post-Sept.11th American political culture, it is generally acceptable that the protection and preservation of the human dignity of a suspect should be treated as subordinate to the prerequisites of national security. Conditions in the Guantanamo prison camp is the practical application par excellance of this new doctrine which pervades the counter-insurgency efforts of US security services. Characteristically, a public debate has erupted in the US even regarding the legitimacy of torture as a method of extracting information from a suspect provided it might help preempt future terrorist attacks, thereby saving the lives of thousands of innocent victims. Given that apologists of military intervention in Iraq have repeatedly asserted that Iraq is at the forefront of the war on terror, it is unrealistic to expect GIs to refrain from the actions they have taken. Particularly in view of their government’s passionate defense of the application of similar practices in relation to the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo, on the grounds that intelligence, even if obtained by way of torture and intimidation, is vital for the protection of the freedom and security of the American people.[i] Of course, the Americans forget that coerced confessions are never entirely reliable.
There is also little chance that the events reported in Abu Ghraib represent a unique and isolated phenomenon. In its latest report on prison conditions in post-war Iraq, Amnesty International notes that a pattern has emerged from its interviews with former Iraqi detainees regarding the use of torture and the employment of other techniques of coercion in the interrogation of suspects by US military police.[ii] This should hardly come as a surprise given that the US occupying force is presently involved in a violent guerrilla struggle against the Iraqi armed resistance movement. So long as there are no signs of pacification in Iraq and US casualties continue to increase, torture is bound to be utilized as a counter-insurgency tactic in an effort to break the spirit of Iraqi resistance fighters and obtain intelligence that might prevent further attacks on US troops by insurgents. In the 50s, the French made extensive use of torture against Algerian militants as a means to suppress the Algerian movement for national self-determination and so did the British, the Portuguese and other colonial powers in their respective colonial possessions.
The demonization and de-humanization of resistance fighters by spokesmen of the Bush administration and the US civil administration of occupied Iraq is designed to facilitate psychologically and legitimize the execution of such barbarous and unlawful practices against captive Iraqi militants. Instead of distinguishing between Iraqi nationalist guerrillas resisting foreign occupation and Islamic terrorists operating abroad[iii], both Bush and Blair have sought to portray them as ‘remnants of the old regime’, ‘foreign terrorist elements’ and so on, thereby arbitrarily identifying Iraqi resistance organizations with the global networks of international Islamic terrorism. This attitude amounts to a moral mandate to US troops stationed in Iraq to employ whatever means necessary in their effort to thwart popular resistance to the occupation. The pounding of Falluja and the great number of casualties which the US offensive caused among the Iraqi civilian population (with President Bush’s personal approval) gets a similar message of blatant disregard for the loss of life across to US soldiers and shows how little value is accorded to Iraqi lives by the US administration and the officials of the Iraqi provisional authority.

[i] “In emails released by his family, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, a guard at Abu Ghraib, says military intelligence used dogs to intimidate prisoners, leading to “positive results and information”. In one email he wrote: “We have had a very high rate with our style of getting them to break. They usually end up breaking within hours”. Sgt Frederick said that he queried some of the abuses: “I questioned this and the answer I got was: this is how military intelligence wants it done”. Another guard supports his claim that intelligence people controlled Abu Ghraib, as does the former head of military prisons in Iraq, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski”. In V.Dodd, Torture by the Book, The Guardian, 06/05/2004.
[ii] Eleftherotypia
[iii] As did Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats in a recent article for The Guardian.

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