The prison torture scandal may have moved off U.S. headlines, but in Iraq it remains the symbolic essence of the occupation. The prosecution of a few “bad apples” at Abu Ghraib, designed to deflect blame from the White House and Rumsfeld, did little to appease global outrage. A poll taken by the U.S. occupation authority in mid-May found that 54% of Iraqis believe all U.S. forces behave like the torturers at Abu Ghraib (Star Tribune, 6/16/04).The scandal continues to weigh down Bush’s poll numbers in the U.S., and anger in the military ranks is seething. Sydney Blumenthal, former Clinton advisor, revealed: “One high-level military strategist told me that Rumsfeld is ‘detested’ [in the armed forces], and that if there is a sentiment in the army, it is: ‘support our troops, impeach Rumsfeld’.” (Guardian, 5/13/04)
The Bad Apple Never Falls Far From the Tree
On July 2, four U.S. soldiers were charged with murdering an Iraqi civilian by pushing him off a bridge. Commenting on the incident, the New York Times (7/3/04) reported: “The Army has now opened investigations into the deaths of at least 40 Iraqi detainees, and the new charges announced reflect a widening pattern of prisoner abuse, including death and assault, that took place beyond the confines of the Abu Ghraib prison. “Since the scandal erupted, mounting evidence has emerged confirming what was obvious from the start: the widespread torture in Iraqi prisons is the direct result of Bush administration policy and is only the tip of the iceberg.
Rumsfeld has refused to release thousands of gruesome photos and videos. Leaked memos have emerged “exploring” how Bush could get around the Geneva Conventions. The Red Cross has bitterly complained that its early warnings of prison abuse resulted, not in policy changes, but in U.S. forces impeding their further investigations. Rumsfeld was forced to admit he authorized “secret detentions” of Iraqis. John Ashcroft, Justice Department head, vehemently claims Bush “did not order torture,” but refuses to turn over the documents detailing what interrogation methods Bush and Rumsfeld did authorize.
But overshadowing all the gossip about secret memos, or legalistic wrangling over the definition of torture, is the basic reality that when an imperialist power invades, occupies, and pillages another country, violent repression is inevitable.
United Nations recognition of “sovereign” regimes in Baghdad and Kabul means nothing to the tens of thousands who have faced arbitrary arrest and detention by U.S. forces, most never being charged with a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court, after two and a half years of escalating international outrage, has finally granted the “detainees” at Guantanamo vague legal status and the right to a lawyer.
However, the attempts to concoct legal licenses for Bush’s imperialist adventures have only further undermined their legitimacy. In the court of public opinion, there is no way to paper over the brutal reality of a colonial occupation.