On April 10 last year, I wrote Whose flag? and The human spirit after the fall of Saddam’s statue:
At 12.35 this morning, a marine placed the United States flag over the head of Saddam’s statue in central Baghdad. An Iraqi man climbed onto a US tank and waved the old Iraqi flag. People threw flowers at him. An American marine climbed up the statue and replaced the US flag with an old Iraqi flag, not over Saddam’s head, but hung from his neck.
After removing it, an American tank pulled Saddam down by chain. He didn’t topple; he bent, hanging down from the pedestal. Finally, he split apart, his head and torso on the ground, his feet still firmly planted on the pedestal.
Memories of Umm Qasr, when the Americans thought, wrongly, they had taken the port town very early in this war, and a marine planted the American flag aloft before being told to take it down.
The world knew the war would be won. The world is split asunder on whether the Americans came to conquer or to liberate, on whether the war on Iraq will enhance or worsen world peace, on whether a war of civilisations has begun or is closer to ending, on whether the West will reunite or has split for the long term.
The American and Iraqi people stand face to face, soaked in blood, after decades of bloody proxy plays, uniting in a moment of joy at Saddam’s defeat.
The world will now learn, perhaps over years, not months, how the American and the Iraqi people deal with each other after this moment passes. How the two nations and their peoples negotiate the peace. How the Iraqis, now certain that Saddam is gone, will react to an American occupation. Whether America will replace a man it once called “our bastard” with someone chosen by the people, or by it. Whether it will allow the Iraqi people to decide whether to allow a permanent American base on its soil, or demand a settlement on its terms and pretend that’s the will of the people. Whether it will insist that its companies profit from the peace or allow the Iraqi people to decide where and how its oil wealth will be spent. Whether Iraq is ungovernable and will tear itself apart, or will survive intact.
Hold your breath. Pray food and water are delivered quickly and efficiently. Hope against hope the violent deaths end soon.
This is a day when you dare to hope, and fear hope will be dashed. Although the war is not over, it is a day when healing could begin and hearts could open. Yet energy is drained at a time when the important, patient, constructive, long term work must begin.
I’ve received emails of hope, triumphalism, abuse, threats, bitterness, argument, advice – you name it. The war on Iraq is bloody for the combatants and the innocents, bruising for those who watch, worry, wonder, can’t sleep, weep, despair, and dig to the core of what they believe in, and why. Millions of people around the world in almost every country in the world have experienced an intensity of feeling, energy and debate on one subject – our common future – through the prism of one nation, Iraq. I hope that the world’s scrutiny will bring out the very best in America. Only America at its most noble can achieve the result the world needs out of this nightmare. Peace with dignity. Webdiarist John Nicolay said to me today that the scenes in Baghdad yesterday were “a marvellous affirmation of liberal values – and of the belief that, ultimately, it’s not possible to crush the human spirit entirely.”
I think that test is about to begin. It will be a long, long road, with no certainty of victory. So let all of us who believe in liberal values – pro-war, anti-war, ambivalent, keep Australia out of it, only with the UN – shake hands and do our best to make John’s wish come true.
David Jones writes: “Just maybe? I have been sickened and saddened by the war in Iraq. The pictures today of Iraqis rejoicing in the streets cheering their US liberators gives me cause to question my stand on the high moral ground. Who am I to pass judgment on any of this? To walk a mile in the shoes of the war victims or the victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime is not one I would want to undertake, nor one I will likely ever understand.”
Within days of the fall of Saddam’s statue, we knew that the Coalition of which we are part had not planned for peace, when looting engulfed Baghdad and the Americans chose to guard only the Oil Ministry, not the hospitals or the museums. It�s been downhill ever since. The torture revelations put the full stop after our defeat. The world is more dangerous, and the enemy grows stronger. Our closet ally is dangerously weakened. Yet Bush, Blair and Howard remain in power, as yet refusing to take responsibility for the disaster they have inflicted on the world against the best advice of many in their own nations.
I recommend Abuseat Abu Ghraib, the psychodynamics of occupation and the responsibility of us all by Stephen Soldz. The piece documents the evidence of systemic American torture long before the photos came to light.
Tonight, your recommendations and comments on the torture. I said just after the war that Iraq had become the prism through which the western world would decide its values, and it�s now urgent that we work this question out together and elect leaders who will embody and further them (seeCould we start again please?)
To begin, Chris Wood writes to his federal MP Tony Abbott: “Margo, I thought I’d send on a view from the ‘burbs (I’m sure widely held) – my emails to local member Tony Abbott, who had to go to preferences last time. I’m waiting for a response – don’t like my chances.”
From: Chris Wood, Sent: Friday, 7 May 2004 8:00 AM, To: ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, Subject: TREATMENT OF IRAQI PRISONERS
I refer to my earlier email (below), the front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald and the coverage this issue is rightly receiving around the world. I realise from the transcript of your last interview with Alan Jones (on your website) that you have been distracted by the Pollies Pedal which, amongst other things, is the product of a desire to improve the image of politicians, to have time to respond to me as yet.
How would you explain the front page of today’s SMH? I am not unable to deal with it – the usual about good/evil, errant acts of a few and compare and contrast Saddam etc – but what I have difficulty with is the continued absence of anything that might be regarded as robust criticism or an expression of outrage from our government.
This is an issue of the most fundamental importance – treating all human beings with dignity. Any WW2 or Vietnam vet will tell you humiliation of prisoners is unacceptable in any circumstances. How can we otherwise justify our presence and support for the US now it is clear there are no WMDs and never were at the time of the invasion?
I note Bush’s apology, and hopefully the long awaited departure of Rumsfeld, that does not absolve us.
I look forward to your views. Not all of us vote based on the views pushed by Alan Jones, in fact I suspect an increasingly small minority. A bit more moral courage on the government�s part might actually improve its image.
Yours sincerely, Chris Wood
Chris�s previous email to Abbott:
As a Warringah resident I am rarely moved to write to you – maintaining a family, my professional life as well as participating in our community leaves little time for correspondence, but it is the first of this list of priorities which causes me to contact you in the context of the recent publication of photos showing the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US troops.
One of my 13 year old twins (a student at St Augustine�s) was particularly distressed and angered by what he saw. So am I. I am even more angry as a result of the comments by Alexander Downer yesterday that it was not necessary for the Australian government to register its concern/protest regarding the matter because the US Administration was dealing with it in an appropriate manner. True enough the Bush Administration seems to at least be paying lip service to taking action, but our government’s flaccid response via Mr Downer only increases the perception that we are the lackey of the US.
We are a sovereign nation with a proud history of contribution to the defence of others. It is hard enough to accept that we are even in Iraq (on a false premise) but to see the blind compliance and/or timidity of our representatives on this basic issue of human rights and respect for fellow human beings (no matter how much the occupation is justified by the alleged need to overthrow the barbaric Saddam Hussein regime) is sickening.
We are all compromised as a result and our children right to point to the hypocrisy of our political leaders.
I urge you to press for a robust independent Australian expression of concern over this issue.
Full text of GeneralTaguba�s report into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. (via Tim Gillin)
For a private torture investigation see Tortured souls (via Brian McKinlay):
Stories in Iraq have a tendency towards determining themselves, and the one I’ve been working on has taken on new meaning this second time around. It was last January when I came upon the horrendous story of Sadiq Zoman. In short, he was detained by U.S. soldiers last July from his home in Kirkuk. While in U.S. military custody, he was beaten, tortured with electric shock, whipped, one of his hands was broken, his head was bludgeoned, and he was dropped off comatose to the General Hospital in Tikrit a month later.
For the Human Rights Watch status report on American prisons in Iraqi see 10 Prisons, 9,000 Prisoners (via Scott Burchill)
Tim Gillin: If this CIA interrogation manual is any guide, the Abu Ghraib MPs (and their handlers?) were ‘amateur hour’ incompetents. See also US ships Al Qaeda suspects to Arab states.
UK forces taught torture methods (via Antonia Feitz):
The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by Special Forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.
Pictures of wounded men being shot censored by TV by Robert Fisk (via Antony Loewenstein)
Roy Wilke: A job ad on the Internet, for anyone who wants to go buggerising around in an Iraqi prison: CACI
Cameron Jackson in Kirribilli: I followed the link on your piece about abuse and torture in Iraq to the website “Al Basrah” (http://www.albasrah.net/images/iraqi-pow/iraqi-pow). The web-site was truly disturbing – I don’t know what the provenance of the photos is, but I felt compromised even by looking at them. It caused me to reflect on just what a voyeuristic world we live in. Yesterday, I thought I would return to that site to see what else I could find on it. I was told that access was forbidden. I wondered who had forbidden it and for what reason? Is it my server? Is there some other force at work? If this is some kind of censorship, who is practicing it?
* TORTURE COMMENTARY
The psychology of torture (via Tim Gillin)
Torture as pornography (via Lynette Dumble)
Another Open Letter to the Troops in Iraq:
What these images of the Abu Ghraib humiliation and torture have done in the United States is collide with the “exalted image and the pseudo-event” of the Bush propaganda apparatus, just as the images of the My Lai massacre did in 1969. That collision between the reality and the real image of war startles civilians here in the La-La Land of wide screen TV and suburban SUVs, and it shakes them out of their opiated shopper dream-state.
Digital Cameras Change Perception of War:
The explosive photos of abuse in an Iraqi prison drive home a defining fact of 21st century life – that the pervasiveness of digital photography and the speed of the Internet make it easier to see into dark corners previously out of reach for the mass media.
Does Abu Ghraib have a silver lining?
An Iraqi�s impressions: �What is happening in Iraq? After the Fallujah siege, as insurgency continues and the June deadline for transfer of sovereignty approaches, Caspar Henderson of openDemocracy interviews the civil society researcher Yahia Said over a line between London and Baghdad.� (via Tony Kevin)
Rumsfeld�s last stand:
Divine Providence has hidden ways that are beyond human understanding. Small things suddenly assume the proportion of great things. And now, taking everyone by surprise, a relatively insignificant element in the myriad of blunders that the invasion has visited on that unhappy desert land has brought the entire imperial enterprise in Iraq to teeter on the brink. Corruption, slaughter, and deception all failed to ignite the American domestic imagination. But the revelation that a few Iraqi prisoners might have been tortured by a few inexperienced noncoms from the Appalachian backwoods (where I live), has suddenly brought the careening imperial juggernaut of the world�s sole superpower to a screeching halt.
Will the anti-war movement get Bush re-elected?
How to stay in – without staying the course
For the really big picture, see Black Gold is King (via Darren Urquhart)
These are OUR allies? And all we can say is that Saddam was worse? Something is surely rotten…
The revelations about the US in Iraq – and how all the blame is being placed on the bottom-most ranks in the chain of command – raises some rather worrying questions about what is being done in Australia’s mostly privatised and US-run prison system, as well as the refugee detention camps.
I am altogether unclear as to why anyone should be surprised at the performance of the foot soldiers in America’s Iraqi prisons in view of the behaviour of their political and military masters.
What does Dubya and his mates think goes through the minds of the troops when they are immersed in political leader’s lies about WMD and uranium from Niger, illegal preemptive invasion, wholesale killing of civilians in their shock and awe campaign and deliberate targeting of mosques and residential areas with cluster bombs and tanks?
And as for the sanctimonious clap trap about Americans being less wicked or evil that Iraqis, where is the evidence for such an outrageous notion?
Friday: I am watching live the unraveling of the Bush administration. Consider that Bush says Rumsfeld hid the pictures from him. It�s well known that Powell likes neither of them.
I just heard Bush say he is sorry… the King of Jordan is in town.
The Red Cross in Geneva is now on live. They knew about this long ago. They don�t tell – they need access so they don�t tell (until it got out via the Wall Street Journal). Always remember that each NGO does its own job. Amnesty exposes, but that is not the role of Red Cross. They can�t tender care unless they have access.
The Economist says the picture of the guy with the electrodes could be iconic. They all are.
How incredible. Truly incredible.
Bush only found out about pictures by seeing them on TV. Excuse me? The whole place is collapsing. Rumsfeld should be fired for that alone.
Chris Murphy in Southport, Queensland
�Relatives and friends of Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who appears prominently in the photographs of prisoners in Iraq being abused, are searching for answers.� The New York Times, 7 May 2004
What on earth did these people ever think war would really be about? Crisply ironed uniforms? Discipline? Respect? Law and order? Human rights? Peace?
Just like the executioner in a Texas prison, an army that storms into another country with all guns blazing was never going to make the world a better place.
Those who think that military solutions promote democracy and respect for human rights should get a life. It is obvious to all but the morally blind that George Bush lies through the very pores of his skin whenever he says that “war was the last resort”. The man hasn’t a peaceful cell in his entire evil body.
Is it any wonder, then, that the U.S. Army in Iraq has become an extension and amplification of Bush’s core of violence?
Wars are lost by armies who no longer believe in the justice of their cause. Empires crumble when their armies disperse in confusion. The American Empire – the one dreamt of by Cheney and Rumsfeld and Perle and Wolfowitz – has begun to fall apart before it even began. And the decline could be very, very rapid indeed.
What’s fascinating about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal (S&M-gate?) is the incredible naivete of the pipsqueak war criminals captured on their own digital film. My dictionary defines naivete as “The state or quality of being inexperienced or unsophisticated, especially in being artless, credulous, or uncritical.”
It is as if they can imagine no consequences for their action, no moral or other law greater than their power. They do not even have the courtesy, shame or common sense to attempt to hide their crimes.
Is this just the “no rules, no guilt” amorality of the Britney Spears generation? At the same time isn’t this just taking Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war anywhere anytime to its ultimate limit? Did these “troops” (if you can call weekend warders “troops”) simply take the Bush doctrine at face value?
Bush, of course, claims to be a “Born again Christian” but his reworking of Christianity seems to replace the American government for Jesus.
In a sense these misguided “children” (as Seymour Hersh keeps calling these Gen-X war criminals) are the bastard offspring of Bush and “Big Brother”.
During his announcement of a boost to security funding at ASIO headquarters, an ABC reporter asked the PM how long he thought the war on terror would take to be won, whereupon he replied: “I hope it doesn’t last longer than the cold war.”
If we were in any doubt, it’s now plain to see that the PM has no idea about the nature of the security problems we are facing, let alone implement the programs and strategies required to find a workable solution.
It also says something about the state of the world – and why foolish foreign adventures like Iraq are tolerated – when the fundamental root cause of terrorism (ie recruitment) is INJUSTICE. Until we deal with this – and our own pitifully small foreign aid budget (0.25 of GDP) – then the war on terror will be, as Gore Vidal predicted, a never-ending one.
The PM might like to compare it with the “cold war”, but the only thing they both have in common is that these types of conflicts cannot be won militarily. The Soviet Union went broke in a futile effort to outspend the United States military-industrial complex (and underwrite its ideological stalemates). The while the current conflict can only be solved in two ways.
First, if we address the real, every-day concerns of people in the developing world (e.g. safe drinking water, a decent job, basic health care, a place to live etc). Or second, if we are prepared to kill everyone on the planet. The first solution is less expensive and far less bloody then the second, but from the PMs glorification of our military and security capabilities, you’d have to wonder if he wants us all to be destroyed.
Am I being too over-the-top, too-sensational? Let’s consider this, that for every dollar the world spends on foreign aid commitments, almost sixteen dollars are allocated to defence and security budgets to protect the world from threats that are related to the lack of spending on the former. Most of the world’s population is living in conditions that can only be described as unequal, unjust and unfair.
And before anyone mentions Osama bin Laden, and that no amount of persuasion or generosity will stop his murderous rampages and religiously inspired delusions, they are correct. The world will always have those individuals who wish to cause harm to others, to impose their ideologies and beliefs on others by threat or use of force. This is part of human nature, a dark side, but one that can’t be ignored.
However, a general improvement in living conditions would certainly take the heat out of both the recruitment to and the financial support of terror organisations. The public support for these groups would also diminish over time, as would the funds which allow them to operate and flourish. There would be no safe haven for them, if the West was prepared to be an equal partner (not just a pretend one).
If Osama bin Laden were killed tomorrow, no victory could be declared, as the conditions that allowed his organisation to grow are still as strong as ever, and if our leaders think otherwise, they are kidding themselves.
This is demonstrated by the futility of Israel’s current policy of targeted assassination, as while it makes a good headline, it achieves nothing to rectify the brutality and the pettiness of the occupation (where Hamas has no problems signing-up new suicide bombers). While their actions are indefensible, the conditions under which the Palestinians live cannot be ignored or simply dismissed as having no relationship to the source of the current violence. It’s actually of central and over-riding importance, but to acknowledge it, means we have to smash the very system which has created it – and that’s the issue we should be talking about it.
I could go on and on about this, but the real test will come on Budget night, and the extent to which our foreign aid budget is increased. As there have been no announcements, no media-friendly briefings or favourable press leaks, we can assume that our foreign aid budget is not going to get a 50 or 100 or 1000% increase. If this is the case, then the PM has sold-out this country and its citizens, because if we continue down our current path it will only be a matter of time before a WMD is used to attack a western city. Then what will we do?
At the moment, our options are continually being narrowed towards pre-emption and military intervention, and while I have no problem in having a robust defense, we have to be more pragmatic, and to spend just as much on foreign aid/development projects in those countries that need a helping hand.
It might also help if we actually act on what we believe, where the rule of law, the right to a fair trial, applies to all citizens of this world (regardless of their country of origin). Today, we spent a lot time making up new rules and new laws to undermine the very rights we claim to be protecting, and which so many men, women and children have had to die for in Iraq. We all deserve better.