The latest chapter of the Iraq war seems like a tangle between a desert version of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Mad Max.’
This past week began with a wave of shock and awe throughout the world with the surfacing of 1,800 photographs of abuse, rape and sexual torture at Abu Ghriab prison.
A Senate hearing exposed the fact that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other government officials knew months ago that some of the approximately 50,000 Iraqi prisoners were being abused, but failed to respond until the media released the photos. The Red Cross claims that they warned the United States of widespread prisoner abuse that was ‘in some cases, tantamount to torture’ as early as 14 months ago.
In retaliation to the photos, a video was released showing the beheading of American civilian Nicholas Berg in the hands of Islamic militants. I saw the video and I wish I hadn’t. Seeing Berg getting his head cut off and having it held by its hair in front of the camera prompts an exclamation of outrage that words cannot identify.
For NATO, this past week has not helped quell skepticism of the Iraq war. The Los Angeles Times recently published an article discussing the fading likelihood that NATO will be getting further involved in Iraq anytime soon. In late June, there is a meeting scheduled in Istanbul regarding the launching of a NATO operation in Iraq. The Times article reports that now it is likely that the 26-nation alliance is going to wait until after the November presidential elections before considering a collective role in the country.
This will prove to be another huge setback for the United States and a slap in the face for the Bush administration. It’s hard to imagine that we are going to hand over power to the Iraqi people in June without more international presence and support.
U.S. officials have echoed President Bush’s characterization of the prisoner abuse problem as ‘the actions of a few people.’ The actions of a few people can certainly carry a lot of weight and reflect national leadership and morale. Let’s not forget that Bush’s claim of ‘the actions of a few people’ is combined with a whole lot of photos and repeated warnings from the Red Cross.
We went into Iraq with unilateral might, did not find weapons of mass destruction, and now are found to be abusing prisoners. Whatever fundamental moral basis for the invasion and occupation of Iraq seems to have fully evaporated.
The Bush administration isn’t taking war crimes all that seriously. I’ve heard the excuse in the media that Iraqi’s are also committing war crimes. One can’t ignore the fact that the Iraqi’s that are committing these crimes are individual outlaws and are not reporting to a centralized government. Comparing Islamic fundamentalists to the U.S. at this point is like saying that police may be likely to abuse suspected criminals because criminals have participated in deplorable crimes.
In the era of Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib was one of the world’s most notorious prisons, with torture, weekly executions and vile living conditions. American use of this prison was a huge mistake from the get-go.
Rumsfeld has given no indication that he plans to bulldoze Abu Ghraib, and yes, he has the power to do so. The use of the prison begs a level of ignorance to the suffering of the Iraqi people. We took down Saddam’s statues, but left his main torture chamber intact, adding a new chapter of torture and humiliation to the prison’s history.
Not only does President Bush steadfastly support Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld despite the outrageous abuse of prisoners in Iraq, he believes the American people owe Rumsfeld a debt of gratitude.
Rumsfeld’s handling of the situation has cost us big in the eyes of our allies, the Middle East and the rest of the world.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who are serving in Iraq and doing their best to fit the mold of an honest, upstanding American soldier.
As for Rumsfeld, the American public owes him a pink slip. Under Rumsfeld’s military watch, America is seen as more of a bully around the globe than ever. The momentous consequence of our loss of credibility is a vanished opportunity to have NATO get involved with Iraq and help bring us closer to peace.
Kaveh Heravi is a fourth-year criminology, law and society major.