NEWS YOU WON'T FIND ON CNN

An empire in moral crisis

Yep, time to get out of Iraq

By Margo Kingston

05/01/04 "Sydney Morning Herald" G’day. Time magazine this week interviewed Jumpei Yasuda, one of the Japanese hostages set free by Iraqi kidnappers:

“The man who pointed his gun at me told me he was walking on the sidewalk and was arrested by the G.I.s when he wouldn’t answer their questions. He said he was imprisoned for almost a month and regularly beaten up. One day, he said, he was taken to a private room and sexually assaulted. He asked me what I would have done if I were him, and I had no answer.”

I didn’t believe the man’s story. Now I do. I’ve also reversed my opposition to Mark Latham’s promise to bring our soldiers home by Christmas. The photos released by Sixty Minutes in the US changed my mind (also see thememoryhole and albasrah). The photos record tableaus in a US prison in Iraq. In one, a man cloaked in black, his face covered, stands on small box, electric wires attached to his fingers, toes and genitals, after being told that if he falls off he will be electrocuted. In another, several naked men, garbage bags over their heads, are arranged in a human pyramid. One American soldier stands behind them, arms folded, smiling to camera. A female soldier squats behind them, also smiling.

The photos are deeply disturbing, not just for their sadism, but because they are precisely posed. They are ‘artistic’, not torture in action, but torture frozen to capture the moment for the camera. Trophy pics. As Juan Cole wrote:

"There was also apparently coerced male on male sexual activity. The genteel mainstream news reports of this scandal (which have given it less attention than it deserves or than it will get in the Arab press) have not commented on the explicitly sexual message sent by the abusers, which is that Iraq is f**ked."

The decadent American empire now sees itself as the star of its own movie. Remember when it rushed a few troops into Baghdad to show it could win quickly, meaning no one was there to stop the inevitable looting and anarchy when Saddam’s regime collapsed? Remember when George Bush dressed up as a soldier to pronounce “mission accomplished” in May last year? Every non-American is a stage prop for the greater glory of America.

We’re told that those directly involved in recreating the Caligula movie in Baghdad will be court martialled. Yet if you read the very few stories on the matter in the US media, it’s clear that the smiling faces are scapegoats for a US defence force which has lost its way. There was no training for the soldiers on holding prisoners. They were not even given the Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners, and were told to get on with it when they queried prisoner abuse. The US even outsourced interrogation to private contractors!

When I wrote about my change of heart on Latham, a couple of readers accused me of being silly. “Surely you must have considered the possibility that, if psychopaths constitute between 1 and 5% of the male population worldwide, then there must logically be a similar percentage of psychopaths in the volunteer US military,” wrote Mike Lyvers.

Matthew Cleary: "That you now think the troops should leave is akin to thinking jails should be abolished because there are instances of prisoner abuse by guards."

But the photos are the defining visualisation of what’s been becoming clear since Saddam’s statue fell last year. The Americans were unprepared for the task of securing the peace, with defence chiefs failing even to train soldiers on the cultural norms of the Iraqis so they would not needlessly humiliate or insult them. Even worse, the ugly side of being American, the side incapable of empathy with any other culture, let alone respect for it, has eaten alive any chance of nurturing democracy in Iraq.

Recently, a British officer said the US troops saw the Iraqis as “untermenschen”, a term Hitler used to describe Jews, gypsies and other “racially inferior” groups:

"My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They view (the Iraqi people) as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful.”

As one of three nations which invaded Iraq, Australia is responsible for what is happening there. What those pictures show is that it is not possible to “do the job” any more. The war is lost. They longer we stay, the worse it will get, for the world and for the long-suffering Iraqis.

As for the importance of the US alliance, the United States under its present government is a force for evil and perpetual war. Until America elects a leader and an administration which brings out the good side of America and listens to solid, thoughtful advice, we are endangering our security by supporting it.

All the reasons they told us to go to war have fallen apart except the one about giving the Iraqi people freedom and dignity. Now that one is in ruins. What is the job we must do, Mr Howard?

Bring our soldiers home. The longer we stay, the more complicit we are in the war crimes of an empire in moral crisis.

A version of this piece was first published in the Sun Herald today. See Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker for TORTURE AT ABU GHRAIB, a detailed report into systematic US torture at Saddam’s former prison. Yesterday was the first anniversary of Bush's "Mission accomplished" decree. On Friday, American time, he defended his statement with these words: "A year ago I did give the speech from the carrier saying we had achieved an important objective, accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein. As a result, there are no longer torture chambers or mass graves or rape rooms in Iraq." He lied. The US defence force has confirmed that Bush was kept informed of the investigation into the American torture chambers in Iraq - completed in February. Webdiary’s April statistics are at the end of this entry.

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