The uproar and commotion that followed the release of the Abu Ghraib Iraqi prisoner abuse photos hardly comes as a surprise. These images are upsetting and triggered a number of reactions among Americans, among them: anger, disgust, disappointment, remorse and shame.
The fact that the Iraqi prisoners happened to fall into inhumane circumstances in the hands of American soldiers also, with no intention of excusing their despicable actions or behavior, comes as no surprise either.
A combination of a number of intense and varying pressures, both inexcusable and understandable, contributed to the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
What has already been made available to public view depict Iraqi prisoners in the custody of U.S. soldiers abroad in humiliating and degrading conditions, photos that show a disregard for the safety or dignity of the prisoners and an acknowledgement of them as human beings.
What the pictures do not immediately depict are the kinds of conditions and environments that are conducive to such abuses, like the rapid influx of prisoners which according to the Los Angeles Times swelled from 500 to 7,000 in just the few months after this past August. Also according to the Times, many of the soldiers operating the prison were also poorly trained and thus ill-equipped to handle the growing number of detainees, many of whom were emboldened through years of enduring arguably the same abuses under Saddam.
And while guidelines throughout the facility dictated proper conduct and treatment of prisoners under interrogation, the soldiers were also under heavy pressure by intelligence officers to extract information from prisoners who would ‘crack the insurgency.’
While some may argue that two of the soldiers were former prison guards in the U.S. and had the requisite experience for their duties at Abu Ghraib, a fact that ought to have countered their deplorable conduct, it is almost more reason to expect them to have mistreated the prisoners. Although U.S. prison conditions certainly don’t rival those depicted in the pictures of Abu Ghraib; domestically, some American correctional facilities and prisons also exhibit a trend of prisoner abuse and humiliation. Most recently, prior to the public stir concerning the prison conditions in Iraq under U.S. operation, allegations have surfaced in California regarding the mistreatment of juveniles under the supervision of the California Department of the Youth Authority. On the level of state prisons, the news in previous months, and likely years have scattered reports of neglect and inmate abuses by prison guards in California and a handful of probes, panel appointments and proposals aimed at reforming California’s corrupt prison system.
Add to that trend the ugly xenophobic nature of post 9-11 racist attitudes that felt justified to emerge throughout America spread among civilians and likely among any number of soldiers in Iraq likened to previous pejorative perspectives common throughout military actions of the last half-century from the Korean War to Vietnam.
The photos from Abu Ghraib are the dismaying result of and signals to a failure by America to overcome overwhelming obstacles (domestic and abroad) to represent itself as the ideally humane and respectable democratic entity in the global community that the leaders of this nation loudly proclaim to champion.
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