America's Shame: Torture in the Name of Freedom
By Der Spiegel
Spiegel" -- -- The new pictures from Abu Ghraib
provide the most recent evidence: America's moral bank account
is empty -- and it has lost the image wars. The entire Muslim
world no longer trusts the world's most powerful nation.
They are photos that make your blood run cold. They take your
breath away. They turn your stomach. They are photos that make
you wonder what kinds of human beings would do these things to
other human beings. They trigger anger, disgust and shame.
One photo shows a prisoner being sandwiched between two
stretchers, like some perverse ad for a burger. In another, a
disoriented detainee, his body smeared with an unidentified
substance, stumbles down a prison corridor. A third image
depicts a hooded man waiting helplessly on a stool, with
electric cables attached to his body. There are many more -- and
they all show prisoners being deliberately humiliated for their
captors' amusement, men stripped naked and forced into
submission. But it's not just humiliation -- the photos also
depict physical pain. In one photo, an American soldier kneels
on the back of a naked Iraqi prisoner, a puddle of blood
indicating rough treatment. In another, a prisoner bows deeply,
servant-like, in front of an American military officer: Uncle
Tom's Cabin in the Middle East.
Once again, images from Abu Ghraib will burn themselves into the
world's collective memory, the shocking legacy of a superpower
gone astray -- icons of America's shame. They will become the
images future generations most associate with the war in Iraq,
just as the photo of a pro-US Saigon police chief holding his
pistol to a Vietcong guerilla's temple, his finger about to pull
the trigger, has become a symbol of the Vietnam War.
It's hardly relevant that the previously unpublished Abu Ghraib
photos taken in 2003 -- about two dozen of them -- are merely
variations on familiar themes. It also doesn't matter that at
least some of the perpetrators -- absent higher-ranking officers
-- have already been hauled before US military courts. Just as
their predecessors, these new pictures have the power to
generate a dynamic of their own -- making them the perfect
propaganda tool for ideological adversaries.
Egging on the faithful
Muslims, particularly in Pakistan and Malaysia, are still
incensed about the publishing of the Prophet Muhammad
caricatures in European newspapers. Last Friday at least 10
people died in the Libyan city of Benghazi when police tried to
stop them from storming the Italian consulate. Italian Reform
Minister Roberto Calderoli had raised their ire by appearing on
television in a T-shirt showing a cartoon of the Prophet
Governments in countries like Iran and Syria have egged on the
faithful even further. Meanwhile, Europeans and Americans
justifiably championed the freedom of the press as a value worth
defending -- against agitators on both sides.
The impact of these new Abu Ghraib photos is only amplified by
the fact that they coincide with the unrest triggered by the
Danish Muhammad cartoons. In the Islamic world, the photos are
seen as proof that the US military campaigns in Afghanistan and
Iraq are little more than thinly veiled colonial expeditions
conducted in the name of democracy.
From the perspective of the Middle East, the freedom and human
rights the Americans profess to be bringing to an oppressed
world are nothing more than a front, Washington's false alibi in
pushing its agenda of globalization. And for many in the Arab
world, they are merely the sinister elements of a slick and even
fraudulent marketing campaign aimed at humiliating Muslims.
The crimes committed by US soldiers in the name of freedom and
human rights, documented in unalterable photographs, appear to
confirm the suspicion that America's true aim is something
entirely different -- that the US is primarily interested in
imposing its own world order and preserving its dominance.
In short, for the United States, the most powerful and
influential global power ever, the images from Abu Ghraib -- and
the ongoing debate over the legality of its prison camp at
Guantanamo -- have produced a moral catastrophe that's likely to
endure for a very long time.
Victorious images quickly overshadowed
If Washington had had its way, entirely different images would
have come to symbolize the US campaign against Iraq's dictator
Saddam Hussein. The image of the toppling of that giant statue
of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, for example -- the ideal symbol of
the dictator's downfall. And then there was the triumphant US
President George W. Bush's televised appearance on the aircraft
carrier "Abraham Lincoln," a banner emblazoned with the words
"Mission Accomplished" proudly and telegenically hovering in the
But even as the president was announcing an end to hostilities
in Iraq, a bitter and brutal Iraqi insurgency was just getting
under way -- a resistance that brought together former officers
in Saddam's army with foreign al-Qaida fighters. The victorious
images were quickly overshadowed. Even the former dictator's
trial comes across as a farce these days, despite all efforts to
convey the impression of law and order.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis can likely
already be penciled into the loss column -- the inability to
provide such basic necessities as electricity and drinking water
for everyone represents a major strike against the US military.
The daily suicide bombings and kidnappings mostly hit ordinary
Iraqis. For many of them, life is now more difficult than it was
under Saddam. The American military, too, is suffering. Losses
mount almost daily; the death toll had reached 2,272 by last
And now the Americans have also lost the battle of images.
Part II: The Moral Decline of "God's Own Country"
By Der Spiegel
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has
distanced himself from Washington, saying that the new Abu
Ghraib photos are evidence of events "unworthy of a civilized
society." Indeed, the new photos from Abu Ghraib are so horrific
that the administration in Baghdad has opted not to reprint them
in government-affiliated media. Outrage over the images seems to
be developing in slow motion in Iraq and other Arab countries,
almost as though they merely prove what Muslims already expect
from America. The anger over the images reflected in the
headlines of newspapers in the Middle East was still less
vehement by the weekend than the still-raging furor over the
Danish Muhammad cartoons.
Australia -- whose government is considered even more loyal to
Bush than British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his cabinet --
was the source of the new images last Wednesday. Despite the
fact that Australian Prime Minister John Howard has sent 460
troops to Iraq, the country has a number of press outlets often
strongly critical of the government. The television network SBS,
which published the images, is among them.
Reporter Olivia Rousset had researched a story about Abu Ghraib
for the network's investigative program called "Dateline." As
part of her reporting, she traveled to New York, where she met
with two soldiers who had worked at Abu Ghraib and their
attorneys. A DVD, produced by the US Army's Criminal
Investigation Command and showing dozens of new images of
prisoner abuse, eventually found its way into the reporter's
Reprehensible level of brutality
Back in Sydney, Rousset discussed the DVD with her producer,
Mike Carey, with fellow journalists and with the network's
lawyers. The images clearly weren't fakes. The disk given to
Rousset by her contact contained files that linked the pictures
to a computer owned by Charles Graner, already in prison in the
United States for his role in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse
Was showing these photos to the world the right thing to do?
They depict a new, even more reprehensible level of brutality,
including photos of dead prisoners and extreme abuse. In one
image, a prisoner's tongue appears to have been cut out
(although the event is so far unproven).
The network decided to broadcast all but the very worst of the
images, and the images quickly circled the globe.
They appeared to be a part of unpublished documents that had
already come to light during an investigation by the US
military, but were then filed away. American media reportedly
also had access to the material, but declined to publish it,
either on the advice of the Pentagon or for reasons of
self-censorship. Immediately after the SBS report, though,
Salon.com, which received a similar DVD at virtually the same
time SBS did,
decided to publish 18 of the new photos.
US government officials reacted to the newly published photos
with provocative indifference. According to a Pentagon
spokesman, the images were regrettable but old news. The White
House, for its part, expressed outrage over the decision to
release the photos in what it called the current "heated mood."
This official US indifference is most likely a pretense. Ever
since the Washington Post revealed that terrorism
suspects have apparently been interrogated in special CIA
prisons in Eastern Europe, the US Justice Department has been
searching for whoever leaked the story and threatening
journalists with coercive detention. The journalists, says Gary
Wasserman, a professor at Washington's Georgetown University,
could even end up facing stiffer penalties than the uniformed
torturers. Nevertheless, CIA Director Porter Goss insists on
continuing the program, saying that "we are at risk of losing a
key battle -- the battle to protect our classified information."
Good news has become a rarity
At CIA headquarters in Langley,
Virginia, a special task force nicknamed "Leak Chasers" has been
assembled to scan the media for leaked information. Last
Wednesday, Republican politicians announced that they were
considering new legislation that would strengthen prohibitions
against publicly disclosing information deemed a threat to
But the reality is that the White House, the Pentagon and the
intelligence agencies are at a loss. Good news has become a
rarity, bad news is beginning to pile up and the Bush
administration's approval ratings have plunged to all-time lows.
The cumulative effect of the recent spate of bad news is
devastating -- even for a government so unwilling to admit
While many in the Muslim world rub their hands in glee, the West
watches the moral decline of "God's own country" with painful
astonishment. And it's a decline led by a president who, more
than most of his predecessors, invokes his born-again
Christianity and his desire to bring good into the world and to
punish evil. Instead, the Bush Administration has become the
picture of incompetence. The bad news continues to mount and
America is growing impatient.
Take the embarrassing story of Vice President Richard Cheney
accidentally discharging a load of birdshot into a 78-year-old
attorney instead a flock of quails. While his victim was rushed
to the emergency room, Cheney apparently felt it unnecessary to
notify the authorities -- or the media. He only submitted to
police questioning 10 hours after the accident providing a
growing number of government critics with yet more evidence of
this government's arrogance.
Although Cheney's negligent hunting accident is unlikely to have
legal repercussions, another affair is more ominous and could
even lead to impeachment proceedings. A federal prosecutor has
accused Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby of committing perjury
and obstruction of justice over the outing of CIA agent Valerie
Plame, whose husband accused the Bush administration of using
false information to bolster its propaganda campaign leading up
to the Iraq war. Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, has now
told a special investigator, who was appointed by the president,
that he acted on behalf of his superiors.
And then there is the issue of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has
been accused of attempting to bribe influential Republicans with
ties to the White House. Abramoff has already filed a guilty
plea, although he has declined to identify those who accepted
his bribes. Bush has claimed that he doesn't recall the man.
Abramoff, however, says that he knows the president, and that
Bush has even asked about his children. A photo showing the two
men together has now surfaced calling Bush's honesty into
Bush's standing abroad couldn't be worse
In yet another setback for the Bush administration, a
congressional investigation into government shortcomings during
Hurricane Katrina reached devastating conclusions about the
administration and officials at other levels of government.
According to the report, Bush's response to catastrophic
flooding in New Orleans came far too late and was indecisive,
while his Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, was
a complete failure.
Finally, the White House has come under fire over allegations of
illegal wire-tapping without court approval, a practice that was
secretly authorized by the president following the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and remains in place today. Big
Brother has been busy, at least according to the Washington
Post, which reports that the government has already investigated
325,000 people as possible terrorism suspects in its secret
program. The Democrats, seemingly paralyzed for so long, view
the violation of fundamental civil rights stemming from the
illegal wire-tapping program as so serious that they are
considering filing impeachment charges against Bush in an
attempt to drive him out of office.
That's unlikely to happen, and Bush will probably survive his
second term. But a majority of Americans no longer trust the
country's leader and commander-in-chief. In fact, 55 percent of
Americans now believe that sending troops to Iraq was a mistake.
While Bush's reputation suffers at home, his standing abroad
couldn't be worse. In some countries in the Muslim world, Bush
is viewed as even more dangerous than terrorist leader Osama bin
Laden. Of course, a self-righteous distortion of reality plays
an important role here, especially in the Arab world. In many of
those countries where there has been such a public outcry over
American human rights violations, human rights are
systematically trampled upon.
Unlike Saddam Hussein's thugs and the current al-Qaida
terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Americans haven't
committed thousands of murders or cold-bloodedly beheaded
innocent hostages. But the moral masters of the universe, these
self-proclaimed forces of good so intent on bringing freedom and
democracy to the world, have betrayed their own ideals and lost
their credibility. And their troops aren't the only ones to
Americans don't see themselves as fighting to capture strategic
bases or gain control over new oil wells, but rather as
missionaries out to make the world a better place, one endowed
with freedom and human rights. Gradually, though, it's not just
the Muslim world which no longer believes such claims.
Two names are especially emblematic for America's disgrace:
Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.
Part III: "The
Repertoire of Classic Torture States"
By Der Spiegel
Only very few people are familiar
with the full scope of American prisoner transports in
connection with the so-called war on terror. Vice President
Cheney has seen to it that even many within the US government
remain uninformed, and that only the heads and deputy heads of
the Senate and House intelligence committees are kept in the
loop. In September 2002, then CIA counterterrorism director
Cofer Black told a group of members of Congress that the reason
for this extraordinary level of secrecy was that everything was
"strictly confidential." "All you have to know," he said, "is
that there is a pre-9/11 and a post-9/11 era. The gloves came
off after 9/11." The camp at Guantanamo, a US military base on
the Cuban coast, became the government's preferred detention
center for what it calls "enemy combatants."
It remains unknown as to whether CIA interrogators at Guantanamo
are still permitted to employ six notorious methods to extract
information from prisoners. The "attention slap" involves
hitting the prisoner in the face with the edge of the hand.
"Long time standing" means forcing a prisoner to stand
uninterrupted for up to 40 hours, a practice that prompted
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to remark that his job also
requires that he spend hours on his feet. In another technique,
"waterboarding," the prisoner is repeatedly doused with water
until he believes he is drowning.
"These are all methods in the repertoire of the classic torture
states," says Austrian United Nations Special Rapporteur on
Torture, Manfred Nowak. In a letter published last Wednesday,
Nowak and four of his counterparts sharply denounced the US for
continuing to maintain the prison at Guantanamo.
"Serious, objective, independent fact-finders"
With his bushy moustache and the air of a benevolent uncle,
Nowak, a law professor at the University of Vienna, would
normally be considered a good-natured man. But nowadays he has
trouble containing his rage. The Bush administration dismissed
his report as "useless," accusing him of partisanship because he
turned down an invitation to visit Guantanamo. Nowak, though,
countered that the invitation was useless because he was denied
permission to interview prisoners -- though US Defense Secretary
made it clear that Nowak and his team were welcome to come
inspect empty cells.
"We are serious, objective, independent fact-finders," Nowak
said in response. "We would undermine the UN's fact-finding
capacities if we were to accept an invitation that we are not
accepting from any other state in the world."
Nowak has been in office since December 2004, in a position that
requires him to scrutinize the world's torture chambers. But he
has rarely received such treatment, even in the People's
Republic of China, where he conducted an investigation last
November. His conclusion on the matter of Guantanamo is that the
American government has gradually begun chipping away at the
prohibition on torture.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hasn't been the only one to call
for the closing of Guantanamo. The German chancellor, the
European Parliament and even the British government, America's
loyal ally and frequently derided as a "poodle" to its masters
in Washington, have all called for shutting down the detention
camp. Washington, they say, should either release the 490
prisoners currently being held at Guantanamo or it should allow
them to stand trial before regular courts. Many of them are not
accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies.
"Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity,
were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less
than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being
foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time," writes
the weekly politics magazine National Journal.
The Washington Post is of the opinion that Rumsfeld established
the foundation for the crimes in Abu Ghraib at Guantanamo, when
it "swept aside the Geneva Convention." It's a claim that is
difficult to refute, especially in light of the fact that, from
August to early September 2003, a team from Guantanamo trained
the guards at Abu Ghraib.
No compunctions about torture
No one has claimed that the military leadership at the prison,
or even the Pentagon, approved or even ordered the grisly
excesses. But the atmosphere was clearly such that lower-ranking
soldiers felt no compunctions about implementing "torture-like
interrogation methods." They committed torture with a good
conscience, torturing for freedom, for the superiority of the
West -- at least as they saw it.
The idea that a few bad apples were responsible for the Abu
Ghraib torture scandal has been reflected in the US's legal
treatment of the affair, one in which not a single politician
has been called to account. Six suspects were named in the
torture investigation headed by Major General Antonio Taguba.
None of them had climbed higher than the rank of sergeant on the
military career ladder. Sergeant Charles Graner began serving a
10-year prison sentence for a series of criminal acts against
Iraqi prisoners on January 15, 2005.
On October 20, 2004, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick filed a plea
of guilty on all charges. Frederick, who has since been given a
dishonorable discharge from the military, was sentenced to eight
years in prison. After confessing before a military court on May
19, 2004, Jeremy Sivits was demoted to the rank of private and
sentenced to one year in prison. Armin Cruz, also demoted, was
sentenced to eight months in prison.
The two female soldiers convicted to date came away with even
lighter sentences. Sabrina Harman, declared guilty on six counts
on May 17, 2005, received a six-month prison term. Megan Ambuhl
was fined half a month's pay and demoted to the rank of private.
On September 27, 2005, Lynndie England, whose name was not
mentioned in Taguba's report but gained notoriety as a result of
photos depicting her holding a leash attached to an Iraqi
prisoner, was handed down a three-year prison sentence, much
lighter than the 10-year sentence she had been expected to
$6,000 fine for murder
When Iraqi Major General Abd al-Hamid Mauhush, viewed as a close
associate of Saddam Hussein, was apprehended in November 2003,
the Americans were keenly interested in getting him to talk. He
was considered one of the leaders of the Iraqi insurgency
against the US military. His interrogator, Corporal Lewis
Welshofer, resorted to a number of excesses in an attempt to
extract information from Mauhush. According to a military
prosecutor, the captured Iraqi was treated "worse than a dog."
Welshofer finally stuffed the prisoner into a sleeping bag and
Mauhush died. In January, the US soldier was sentenced to a
$6,000 fine and was restricted to his home, office and church
for a period of two months.
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, head of Abu Ghraib Prison at
the time of the prisoner abuses, was demoted. Karpinski, now a
colonel, sees herself as a "scapegoat" for her superiors,
including then US military commander in Iraq Ricardo Sanchez,
who is expected to retire from the military this summer and
receive a generous government pension.
Those with political responsibility for the affair have fared
even better. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claims that he
offered his resignation twice -- in vain. Instead of being
dismissed, he was appointed to Bush's second-term cabinet.
Far from being held accountable, those who helped pave the legal
way for a policy that essentially deprived prisoners in the war
on terror of all rights and gave the president carte blanche to
issue orders that in some cases violated international law have
even experienced career advances. Former White House counsel
Alberto Gonzales was promoted to Attorney General. Michael
Chertoff, previously the CIA's chief counsel, is now Secretary
of Homeland Security. And Jay Bybee, a lawyer and author of the
notorious memo that declares legal any interrogation method that
does not end in death or lasting physical damage, was even
rewarded with a federal judgeship by President Bush.
Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have since been incorporated into the
vernacular as cautionary examples of what happens when the end
justifies the means. Books have been written about the issue,
and the ever-escalating battle of cultures has even found its
way into films.
The clash of cultures on the big screen
The cinema has turned into a new forum for revenge, for the
uninhibited expression of opposition to the images from Abu
Ghraib. The Turkish film "Valley of the Wolves," for example, is
a pure cinematic slap in the face against Hollywood and Bush
administration propaganda, an angry indictment of America and
the west that's as naïve as it is perfidious.
The technically complex action film simply reverses the
perspective, turning American heroes into thugs, while Muslim
patriots heroically defend their homeland, their culture and
their honor. The "Axis of Evil" no longer lies in the Orient,
but in the West. A mirror is held up to the United States that
projects a cleverly distorted image: good versus evil, the noble
versus the lowly, the honorable versus the underhanded, Islam
versus Christianity and Judaism.
The latest round in the battle over images and cultures begins
with a bloodbath. The location is a village somewhere in
northern Iraq where a wedding is being celebrated, a peaceful
gathering of Turks, Kurds and Arabs. The men dance and the women
look on, while children play in their midst. But then some of
the men, in a burst of enthusiasm not uncommon in the region,
raise their weapons and shoot into the sky.
Part IV: Anti-Americanism on the Silver Screen
By Der Spiegel
This is the signal US soldiers who
have been hiding nearby have been waiting for. "Okay, now
they're terrorists," says an officer, commenting on the
celebratory gunfire. Then his group of Rambo-like warriors
storms the village, threatening the guests and assaulting the
women. When a young boy shyly touches an American soldier's gun,
the soldier shoots the boy, triggering a massacre in which
dozens of wedding guests are killed. The groom is executed with
a gunshot to his head.
The film, which cost €10 million to produce, making it the most
expensive Turkish production of all time, has already brought
record numbers of viewers into cinemas since it was first
released in early February: more than 2 million in Turkey, but
also hundreds of thousands in England, Belgium, the Netherlands,
Austria and Switzerland. In Germany, where "Valley of the
Wolves" is being shown in Turkish with German subtitles, 236,000
people, mainly Turks, saw the film in the first week following
its Feb. 9 premiere. Whenever American villains and sadists die
in the film, enthusiastic audiences applaud.
The protagonist in "Valley of the Wolves," already made popular
in Turkey by the eponymous television series, is intelligence
agent Polat Alemdar, played by popular Turkish actor Necati
Sasmaz. The actor plays a sort of Turkish James Bond, but unlike
the dapper Briton, who often shows complete disregard for rules,
procedures and his superiors, Alemdar is a loyal nationalist
whose only obligation is to his fatherland.
Alemdar's mission is to restore Turkish honor, a sentiment
triggered by a real-life incident. In July 2003, American troops
in northern Iraq detained four Turkish officers and, like
terrorists, took them away with bags placed over their heads.
The "bag affair" dealt a sensitive blow to the Turk's
chronically low self-esteem and to this day is viewed as a
In the film, one of the humiliated officers commits suicide,
shouting "Long live the fatherland!" before taking a pistol to
his head. Intelligence agent Alemdar goes into battle to avenge
the officer's death. "I am a Turk, and I will kill anyone who
places a bag over the head of a Turk," the agent announces on
the screen, to the cheers of many viewers. In the end, Alemdar
plunges a dagger into the heart of the despised American.
Director Serdar Akar cleverly intermingles reality and fiction
in the film. One scene is a re-enactment of the torture and
abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, including a female guard beating a
prisoner and threatening him with a vicious German Shepherd. The
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called it "a hateful cinematic
sermon," while the influential weekly Die Zeit described the
film as a "battle of cultures in cinemascope."
Anil Sahin, managing director of Maxximum Film und Kunst GmbH,
which distributes the film in German theaters, sees these
reviews as excessive. "Finally we have a film that shows the
ugly face of war in Iraq and of America," says Sahin, whose
company touts itself as forming "an effective cultural bridge
between Europe and Turkey."
In fact, "Valley of the Wolves" uses the same approach with
which the American cinema reacted to the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan in the 1980s and intensification of the Cold War. In
films like "The Red Tide" (1983), the Red Army marches through
the United States like some marauding force, challenging the
country and its inhabitants to defend themselves
unconditionally. And in other revenge-oriented Hollywood action
films, the villain is often an ugly Arab.
The "Road to Guantanamo"
Of course, "Valley of the Wolves" is a malicious caricature.
But, like any caricature, its core is very real. This reality is
also denounced in a far more serious film titled "The Road to
Guantanamo," which proved to be an audience favorite when it
premiered at last week's Berlin Film Festival. In a mixture of
interviews, documentary footage and recreated scenes, British
director Michael Winterbottom ("In This World") tells the story
of a handful of British Muslims who were taken to the US
detainee camp in Cuba two years ago and were not released until
March 2004. "The Road to Guantanamo" is a furious indictment of
the United States from the perspective of its victims.
In September 2001, a few days after the attacks on New York and
Washington, four friends -- Ruhel Ahmed, then 19, Asif Iqbal,
also 19, Shafiq Rasul, 23 and Monir Ali, 22, all "completely
ordinary English youth" (to quote Winterbottom), travel from
their homes in the town of Tipton near Birmingham to the land of
their ancestors, Pakistan. Asif is traveling there to meet the
bride his mother has selected for him. The others follow him to
attend the wedding. Only later in his film does Winterbottom
reveal that two of the men have prior records for minor
offences, and all survive on part-time jobs.
But nothing comes of the wedding. At the suggestion of an imam,
the four young men, accompanied by Shafiq's local cousin, travel
to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian assistance, but they're
also seeking adventure. Director Winterbottom sees the journey
to Afghanistan as a "voyage of self-discovery" although, he
adds, "we weren't interested in attempting, from a nonpartisan
standpoints, to examine or prove everything they told us."
Following a week-long odyssey, during which US forces bomb the
Taliban regime, Ruhel, Asif and Shafiq fall into the hands of
Northern Alliance troops on the road to Kandahar, and are
eventually turned over to the Americans. In early 2002, after
countless interrogations, the three Britons are loaded onto a
plane and flown to Guantanamo.
Winterbottom and Assistant Director Mat Whitecross re-enacted
all the torture scenes with actors, filmed with handheld cameras
and interspersed interviews with the real prisoners. As a
result, "Road to Guantanamo" comes across as incredibly
authentic. Winterbottom's images will likely shape our image of
Guantanamo more than the few original photographs from the camp.
The viewer himself is practically held hostage.
Winterbottom's film is completely devoid of any suggestion that
the Taliban were bloody tyrants. The fact that the director shot
numerous scenes in Iran, which meant that the film had to be
approved by the Iranian government -- a regime with an
established, quasi-official policy of torture and murder --
raises some doubts as to its educational intentions.
Blow meets blow in this cinematic battle of images, which
portrays and dangerously emotionalizes the clash of two cultures
-- despite the fact that it is apparently described simply and
objectively. In his film "Hamburger Lektionen" ("Hamburg
Lectures"), which just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival,
director Romuald Karmakar reconstructs two meetings between
Mohammed al-Fasasi, the former imam at Hamburg's Al-Kuds mosque,
and the faithful in January 2000, meetings that were filmed by
an unknown person. Three of the suicide pilots of Sep. 11, 2001
apparently attended this mosque regularly and may have been in
contact with Fasasi.
Karmakar had the meetings in which Fasasi answered the attending
Muslims' questions translated verbatim into German and recited
by actor Manfred Zapatka. The outcome is a nightmarish document
of political indoctrination and systematic recruitment for
Haunting America for decades to come
Both lessons begin quite harmlessly with questions of general
conduct and religious discipline. But then Fasasi begins
appealing to his listeners' feelings of inferiority. Where does
Islam's dignity go, he asks, when Muslims are forced to sweep
the streets in western countries? The West, he later adds, has
robbed Islam of everything, and it's about time to strike back.
Fasasi claims that the West's wealth is based on exploitation of
Islam. Anyone who insults Islam, he says, is an enemy and must
be killed. Non-Muslim women and children lose their
inviolability the minute they hold a weapon in their hands, and
the populations of Western countries must be viewed as enemies,
as are their governments, and therefore destroyed. In essence,
Fasasi is calling for total war without regard for culpability,
one in which the media and educators should play a key role.
Our media-based society, no longer a monopoly of the West, is
hungry for images and produces them nonstop. To ensure that
images do not fade all too quickly, and in fact give off their
own energy, they must document something significant -- and then
The images from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will endure, and they
will haunt America for decades to come. A global power can make
mistakes and give in to folly, but when its moral foundation
begins to crumble, it is constantly forced to deal with the
images of its own humiliation and disgrace.
Anything goes once islands have been created outside the rule of
law. If Guantanamo is elevated to the status of acceptability --
if those in detention are granted neither the presumption of
innocence nor the protections of the Vienna Convention -- isn't
Abu Ghraib simply the logical and foreseeable end of this long
chain? Does it not become the innate product of a new system the
government has inaugurated in its war against terror?
Abu Ghraib represents a substantial moral burden, but the
Pentagon is hesitant to turn over the prison on the outskirts of
Baghdad to the Iraqi government, as Minister of Human Rights
Suher al-Chulabo has demanded. Guantanamo is a scandal, but this
government is unlikely to shutter the camp, because it could
very well be interpreted as a sign of weakness. The camp's
elimination will be up to the next US president.
What remains is cynicism. One of Egypt's leading newspapers
summarized it nicely last Friday with the headline to its lead
story: "Freedom! Democracy! Torture!" Two of the new prisoner
abuse images are on page nine of the paper. Sensational
presentation and whipping the public into a frenzy are no longer
needed. After all, why break down open doors?
Even Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based network, simply broadcast the
images as little more than news. They speak for themselves and,
in their unparalleled drastic nature, cement in place an idea
that has become the core of the Arab world view: The West lies.
It touts human rights, and yet it rolls our sons in blood and
dirt. It complains about the excesses of Saddam Hussein, but it
also forces Iraqi men to masturbate on camera. It expresses
outrage over our primitiveness, and yet it films a man banging
his head against a prison door until blood finally gushes from
Nowhere is the fallout from the images more dramatic, the
resignation greater, than among those in the Islamic world who
had disdained the extremists and had truly believed that the
Islamic world stands a chance of being reformed.
There are those in the Arab world who have welcomed the Iraq war
and America's project of democratizing the Middle East. "The
fall of Saddam established a fundamental moral concept in our
political culture," says Egyptian telephone magnate Naguib
Sawiris: "responsibility." Despite its many shortcomings, says
Shibli Mallat, a Beirut attorney and democratic challenger of
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, the war in Iraq did put an end
to appeasement in dealing with the despots.
But who wants to listen to it anymore?
"The second group of Abu Ghraib images spells the preliminary
end to liberalism in the Arab world, " says Mohammed al-Sayyid
Said of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. The
secular, leftist and moderate wings of all political groups,
Said believes, launched a faint-hearted attempt to take
advantage of the new freedom last fall. But, he adds, "it's
There is some reason to believe that this justification for the
withdrawal is little more than an excuse. President Hosni
Mubarak is an autocratic ruler who brutally suppresses any
opposition. The "Movement for Change," or Kifaya, has
disappeared into oblivion, and the Islamists have benefited.
America has forfeited its aura as a global power. It will be a
long time before the United States will be able once again to
claim moral superiority. America has inadvertently, but
consistently, inflamed the clash of cultures.
The great Winston Churchill once said that America had the habit
of committing every possible mistake to ultimately arrive at the
right decision. The first part of the Churchill quote is proving
to be reality, while the redemptive second part has yet to
By Erich Follath, Siegesmund von Ilsemann, Marion Kraske, Romain
Leick, Georg Mascolo, Mathieu von Rohr, Gerhard Spörl, Martin
Wolf and Bernard Zand
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
© DER SPIEGEL 8/2006
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)