Iraqi prisoner is Hayder Sabbar Abd, 34. Abd is a slight, thin man,
the father of five children and a Shiite Muslim from the southern
city of Nasiriya. He said he served 18 years in the Iraqi military,
for a time in the Republican Guard, Saddam's crack troops. But he
said he deserted several times and was demoted to the regular army,
where he was serving when American troops invaded Iraq last year.
He was captured on June 24, 2003 at a U.S. military checkpoint.
is how he recalls the incident in the picture for the New York Times:
down at another picture. In it, a second female soldier flashed
a toothy thumbs-up and pointed with her other hand at the genitals
of a man wearing nothing but a black hood, his fingers laced on
top of his head. He did not know her name. But the old scars on
the torso left no doubt about the identity of the naked prisoner.
me," he said, and he tapped his own hooded, slightly hunched image...The
curiosity, through much of the ordeal apart from the beatings, was
the camera. It was a detail he mentioned repeatedly as he recalled
being forced against a wall and ordered by the Arabic translator
to masturbate as he looked at one of the female guards.
laughing, and she put her hands on her breasts," Abd said. "Of course,
I couldn't do it. I told them that I couldn't, so they beat me in
the stomach and I fell to the ground. The translator said, 'Do it!
Do it! It's better than being beaten.' I said, 'How can I do it?'
So I put my hand on my penis, just pretending."
humiliating," he said. "We did not think that we would survive.
All of us believed we would be killed and not get out alive."
incident happened last November, when punishment for a prisoner
fight at Abu Ghraib degenerated into torture and humiliation. Abd
says the Americans were not interrogating anyone that November night.
Than a Ghraib Matter
writer, Saadat Hassan Manto, wrote a famous a short-story about
the partition of India. Assets had to be divided up between the
two new countries of India and Pakistan. In the story, bureaucrats
at a mental asylum are busy separating the inmates into Indian and
Pakistani mental patients. Manto makes one bureaucrat protest that
an inmate his asylum has been assigned is of the wrong religion,
and should be packed off across the border!
With that little
twist of genius, Manto captures the tragedy of the partition --
the idiocy of arguments within a nuthouse when the nation itself
had become one gigantic mental asylum.
bureaucrat, we too appear to be missing the sad irony of our fate.
Engrossed in the sub-plot of graphic physical abuse, we have been
deluded into forgetting the bigger atrocity: the daily torture of
the truth. If this succeeds, the magicians would have won. The technique,
called misdirection, is used both by master illusionists and petty
pickpockets. While your attention is riveted upon a little detail,
the greater heist is carried out unnoticed.
I am not saying
that the torture of Iraqi prisoners is no big deal. But I am saying
it cannot be discussed in isolation, without considering the circumstances,
any more than one would charge a thief for assault but argue that
it was ok to break into the house.
in Iraq were made to do grotesque acts. But how to explain the contortions
performed daily by our government officials, senators and congressmen?
The same reason
-- an insane fear.
India, a madness has gripped America after 9-11. Normally sane people
have begun to do insane things:
In the name
of fighting the enemies of freedom, Congress readily signed up to
a Patriot Act which abridges our freedoms. Officials who are supposed
to guard against executive excess vie with each other to defend
it. Privacy is sacred to our government. It says showing flag-draped
coffins of dead soldiers would violate privacy. Not sacred enough,
though, to intrude on the privacy of the living -- the same government
wants to know all about our reading, movie viewing and other habits
on the one hand, and taking away safeguards against arbitrary search
and seizure on the other.
And if you
ask Sen. John Kerry if he would abolish the Patriot Act, what do
you think the ultimate contortionist will say? And after his answer,
will you know whether he said yes or no?
travails in the Age of Bush. She has been languishing in her own
Abu Ghraib, assailed daily with no reprieve in sight. Long after
the denizens of the real Abu Ghraib get their justice, she will
still remain where she is, disfigured every day by the relentless
lies and half-truths of our government and politicians.
If the song
goes, Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to
deceive, the Bush Administration, aided by Democratic mumbling,
bumbling and grumbling, has crafted an entire magic carpet.
First it raised
an alarm about weapons of mass destruction and of imminent danger
to our safety. Nothing there. Then, it was all about liberating
the eagerly waiting Iraqi people. When the welcome committee was
found bearing bombs rather than garlands, the theme became bringing
Democrary to the Middle East, a project given an auspicious start
by closing down a newspaper (not to mention several earlier attempts
to silence Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya broadcasts). Now we were back
to the Old Reliable -- bringing human rights to Saddam's Iraq. Even
on the anniversary of his May 1 Mission Accomplished speech, President
Bush explained that what he had meant by Mission Accomplished was
that the Iraqi people were free of Saddam Hussain's tyranny...
fall into the hands of some worthy successors, the Abu Ghraib photographs
seem to suggest.
travesties of the truth took place and were allowed to pass in plain
daylight will remain an enigma to future historians. If allowed
to go on they will damage us more completely than the mistreatment
of a few prisoners.
Yet they are
likely to continue.
The sad fact
is that we are now a nation driven by images. If there had been
no photograhs from Abu Ghraib, there would have been no outcry.
But the Orwellian corruption of public discourse (to which Democrats
like Kerry, with their vacuous phrases of 'cannot cut and run',
and 'staying the course' have made their own unique contributions)
is no less real, and is surely far more ruinous of our future. (Perhaps
what would really wake us up is a time-lapse photograph to show
our fate in a few decades.)
good can come out of Abu Ghraib. Air America Radio's Randi Rhodes
suggested yesterday that Bush should go to Iraq, to Abu Ghraib,
and apologize to the Iraqi people.
It would be
a grand gesture, more especially if he would also use the occasion
to apologize to other countries which had suffered torture indirectly
from the activities of the notorious School of the Americas.
We need not
hold our breath, however -- the specialty of this administration
is the big lie rather than the grand gesture. This morning, when
Rumsfeld was asked whether he would apologize for Abu Ghraib, he
hemmed and hawed, and said nothing in the end. With its record of
arrogance, an admission of fallibility to this administration would
be as rain to a sandcastle.
Too bad, because
piercing the cloud of insanity which has descended upon us demands
speaking the truth both to ourselves and to those we have mistreated.
The longer we persist in our lies and half-truths, the more difficult
it will be to get back on track.
Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings
can be found here. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
first appeared in Counterpunch May 5, 2004.