Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Not torture: I've waited to comment on the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners for some of the overheated rhetoric to die down. Some of what happened was wrong -- certainly everything detailed in the now-ubiquitous photographs falls under that category -- but it is not torture.
The people who did these things will be punished. At last count, 14 prisoner deaths were being investigated as possible homicides -- if they were indeed murdered in cold blood, those responsible should be punished.
What we need to have here is some perspective -- something woefully lacking as the media here and abroad goes into collective apoplexy.
A report of the mistreatment -- and I'll continue to call it that until evidence of torture surfaces -- details some of the wrongs done to prisoners. My comments on each will be in brackets.
Threatening with a 9 mm pistol. [You're kidding, right? Threatening them with a pistol isn't torture, and I wouldn't even consider it mistreatment -- as long as it is being done to elicit information and not just so someone gets their kicks.]
Pouring cold water on naked detainees. [This would classify as mistreatment, but in the grand scheme of things if someone considers this even worth noting, then you know there's not much there.]
Threatening males with rape. [As long as it's only threats and it is part of an effort to get them to talk, I see nothing wrong with it.]
Beating with a broom handle and a chair. [This is definitely wrong and should be punished.]
Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick. [This too is definitely wrong and should be punished.]
Threatening with military dogs. [As long as it's just threats, I can't imagine anything wrong with it. Threats in general I don't think are wrong in an effort to get a prisoner to talk.]
Attaching wires to extremities, including the penis. [This is wrong, unnecessary and should be punished.]
Accusing prisoners of being homosexual. [Not that there's anything wrong with that. Why isn't the gay-rights lobby in this country up in arms over this. Suddenly it's mistreatment or abuse to accuse someone of being gay? /remove tongue from cheek]
Forcing detainees into compromising positions while naked. [Wrong, abusive and unnecessary. Should be punished.]
Remember, these prisoners aren't Boy Scouts, they're not political prisoners or defenders of freedom and democracy. They're Saddam's henchmen who committed real torture on his behalf over the decades.
A former prisoner who says he appeared in the photographs, Haydar Sabbar Ali, told CNN's Ben Wedeman that he was cursed and beaten and had his clothes cut off with a knife.
"We are Muslims. We don't go naked in front of our families. But there we were, naked in front of American women and men," he said, adding that this treatment went on for about four hours as punishment for beating a fellow prisoner suspected of spying for the Americans.[emphasis added]
The Arab media is howling over the photographs, apparently based on the same logic by which one black man can refer to another as a n*****, but is offended when someone of a different race uses the same term. The Arab media didn't decry Saddam's torture chambers and rape rooms. The Arab media didn't show similar outrage as mass grave after mass grave was uncovered in Iraq.
When Americans abuse an Arab -- that's news. Arabs abusing other Arabs -- sorry, not interested.
The handful of Americans who did this are a disgrace and should be punished. They made the effort to win Iraqi hearts and minds that much harder.
At the same time, the American media needs to take a deep breath and put this all in perspective (I hold out no hope for similar introspection from the foreign press). Media coverage needs to start being more sober as the investigations continue and charges are brought against those responsible.
This isn't torture.
This is mistreatment.