“One year later, despite many challenges, life for the Iraqi people is a world away from the cruelty and corruption of Saddam’s regime. At the most basic level of justice, people are no longer disappearing into political prisons, torture chambers…” – President George W. Bush, May 1, 2004

The humiliation, torture, and brutalization of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops, intelligence officials and private military contractors is not an aberration. Rather, it reflects the racist demonization of Iraqis that has been at the heart of U.S. Iraq policy since 1990.

  • The consistent demonization of Iraqis made it possible for the U.S. government to get away with imposing economic sanctions, in the name of the United Nations, that were responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, particularly children, from 1990 to 2003. It was the basis for Madeleine Albright’s infamous remark regarding the death of 500,000 children as a result of sanctions, that “we think the price is worth it.” After so many years of that dehumanization, it is not surprising that ordinary American soldiers would find this criminally sadistic behavior acceptable when the victims were Iraqis, especially when applauded and urged on by military intelligence operatives.
  • All troops and officers responsible must be held accountable for criminal as well as administrative punishments. Those investigated should reach the highest levels of authority, up to and including Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who should have known about the events, despite any claims that they did not know. The troops’ lack of specific training in international law represents a further indictment of the military hierarchy. But that lack of training is not a defense for those who actually engaged in these assaults. It doesn’t take knowledge of the intricacies of the Geneva Conventions to know that forcing naked, hooded prisoners into simulated or real sexual torture is unacceptable.
  • This torture scandal provides further evidence why the expanding role of the 20,000 or so private military contractors in Iraq must be ended. Army reports on the interrogators employed by CACI International only recommend that one of those responsible for abusing prisoners be fired, the other disciplined. The military has no authority over these intelligence mercenaries, and even the General Accounting Office admits that Pentagon oversight of private contractors is “inconsistent and sometimes incomplete.” These mercenaries must be held criminally liable for their actions in U.S. courts. If the U.S. had joined its allies in the International Criminal Court, the ICC would have been able to hold the private military contractors accountable if the U.S. government refused.
  • The reports of similar, if not as well-photographed, abuse of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison make it unacceptable to replace General Janis Karpinsky, commander of the Abu Ghraib prison, with General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the Guantanamo facility, as a solution to the problem. During Gen. Miller’s September 2003 visit to Abu Ghraib, he urged that military police play a more active role in preparing the prisoners for their interrogation; according to General Antonio Taguba, who wrote the Army’s report, such a role would violate Army regulations.
  • We should remember that it was photographs of abuse by U.S. soldiers in Viet Nam that helped convince Dr. Martin Luther King to go public with his critique of the war in his Riverside Church speech…
Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism project. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer.

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