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The photos of Iraqis apparently being mistreated by British and American troops were revolting. The photos of generals and politicians pretending to be outraged and shocked were twice as revolting.

It is not a surpise that a foreign occupying force treats the subject people with brutality. Imperial powers have always behaved like this. The surprise is that they behave like the stereotypical tourist and take photos of themselves doing it!

And the question which is not being asked by the media is how much is going on which is not being photographed.

Have a nice day

Derek McMillan

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The photos of Iraqis apparently being mistreated by British and American troops were revolting. The photos of generals and politicians pretending to be outraged and shocked were twice as revolting.

It is not a surpise that a foreign occupying force treats the subject people with brutality. Imperial powers have always behaved like this. The surprise is that they behave like the stereotypical tourist and take photos of themselves doing it!

I see representatives of the British government were quick to raise doubts about the authenticity of these photographs by pointing out that they appeared in the Daily Mirror, a newspaper opposed to the war. At least Blair responded quickly by issuing a statement condemning the photographs as “shameful”. It took George Bush three days before he commented on the photographs inside Abu Ghraib prison.

I see the American defence is inadequate training. Does that mean Americans need to be trained out of torturing people? Of course, in reality, soldiers are trained to see the enemy as sub-human. For example, here are a few comments from soldiers trained to fight in Vietnam.

Philip Caputo volunteered for the United States Marines after hearing a speech by President John F. Kennedy on the dangers of communism. After serving a year in Vietnam he was court-martialled for the murder of two Vietnamese civilians. He was found not guilty but received a reprimand for making false statements to his senior officers. In his book, A Rumour of War, Caputo attempts to explain how the Vietnam War turned some US soldiers into people who could commit atrocities.

The war was mostly a matter of enduring weeks of expectant waiting and, at random intervals, of conducting vicious manhunts through jungles and swamps where snipers harassed us constantly and booby traps cut us down one by one... At times, the comradeship that was the war's only redeeeming quality caused some of the worst crimes - acts of retribution for friends who had been killed. Some men could not withstand the stress of guerrilla-fighting: the hair-

trigger alertness constantly demanded of them, the feeling that the enemy was everywhere, the inability to distinguish civilians from combatants created emotional pressures which built to such a point that a trivial provocation could make these men explode and the blind destructiveness of a mortar shell... I felt sorry for those children (soldiers arriving in Vietnam for the first time) knowing that they would all grow old in the land of endless dying. I pitied them, knowing that out of every ten, one would die, two would be maimed for life, another two would be less seriously wounded and sent out to fight again, and all the rest would be wounded in other, more hidden ways.

Steve volunteered for the United States Army at 16. After serving two terms in Vietnam he suffered a mental breakdown. While recuperating at home he had a fit and in the process nearly murdered his mother. Since then he has lived on his own in a tent in the forests of the Washington Olympic Peninsula. It has been estimated that over a thousand Vietnam Veterans unable to adapt to normal society live like this in these remote forests. He was interviewed about his experiences for the BBC Television Documentary, Haunted Heroes.

I went through an army training course. On this course were Japanese and Chinese American military wearing communist uniforms with red stars and carrying communist built weapons. They would capture you and they beat you, took your clothes off and hit you with rifle butts... They hung me up with my wrists for over an hour. Then they cut me down and tied my hands behind my back... Three men came in - you have to remember that this was after a week of going without food, you've been beat up ten or fifteen times, you've had no sleep and they have been constantly hammering at you trying to find out where your unit's at. These three men brought out guns and fired blanks at me. Only at the time I did not know they were blanks... being forced to stand in certain positions, being kicked, slapped, questioned the whole time having to crawl through garbage and human faeces... Chinese music and North Vietnam music being played all the time. Ho Chi Minh's speeches would come on. So by the time I finished four of these camps... When I got to go into action. When I went to Vietnam. The only thing that was going through my mind was exactly what was planned. That was to kill communists. I became a machine. A very effective machine. I was very good at what I did. I survived.

There was a point when I think I enjoyed killing. I came through that. Then there was a time when I did not want to kill anything again... I cracked under pressure after twenty-two months. They put me in a straight jacket. They kept me doped up and after twenty-four hours I was back in the United States.

Part of it is the guilt. It's having to leave wounded comrades which had nothing to do with what I grew up with. John Wayne, Audie Murphy, none of them left their comrades. They all got medals... They never left comrades to be hacked up into small pieces.

I would like to live a productive life. I would like to go to sleep at night without waking up in a cold sweat. I would like to have a loving relationship that does not involve fear, that does not involve all the things that has been a gift from the government. They failed to turn me back to the person I used to be. They failed to turn me back to the guy from down the block.

Jeff Needle was a Vietnam Veteran who protested against the war. When he returned to the United States he published and distributed a booklet called Please Read This.

A very sad thing happened while we were there - to everyone. It happened slowly and gradually so no one noticed when it happened. We began slowly with each death and every casualty until there were so many deaths and so many wounded, we started to treat death and loss of limbs with callousness, and it happens because the human mind can't hold that much suffering and survive.

Finally, the words of John Kerry. On 22nd April, 1971, Kerry gave evidence to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Several months ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in South-East Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day to day basis with a full awareness of officers at all levels of command.

They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut-off ears, cutoff heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cutoff limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam...

I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn't know it yet but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and trade in violence.


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I was not reassured that in a broadcast on an American-controlled Arabic language TV station today Mr. Bush said he hoped the people of Iraq would know "that in a democracy, everything is not perfect; that mistakes are made."

Bush thinks ppl can torture "by mistake" or perhaps the mistake was taking the pictures? No such photographs have come out of Guantanamo Bay as yet and the Commandant of Guantanamo has gone over to Iraq presumably to confiscate the cameras from his snap-happy subordinates.

Have a nice day

Derek McMillan


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I think it is either naive or cynical to express surprise when young men commit brutal acts during something as immensely brutal as the current occupation of Iraq and its associated continuing and intensifying conflict.

Such a view suggests a model of a "civilised war" which is both unhistorical and misconceived.

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These aren't isolated incidents, perpetrated by individual soldiers acting alone, either. There seems to be plenty of evidence that the CIA were involved right from the start.

I remember reading reports in the Swedish newspapers a few years ago from the centre for the treatment of victims of torture in Denmark (one of the very few in the world). The centre noted that methods of torturing people had started to become uniform all over the world (at least by regimes which had Western backing). Previously, a torturer in, say, Chile, would use a different method from a torturer in Algeria, but this had changed. Their speculation was that this reflected US military aid, in particular training in what used to be called the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, where generations of Latin American military officers have been trained in 'interrogation techniques'.

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George Bush avoided making a direct apology on Arab TV. However, his spokesman Scott McClellan (the son of Barr McClellan, the lawyer who has just published a book claiming that LBJ was the man behind the assassination of JFK) said “sorry half a dozen times”. Political commentators are speculating that the torture story could undermine Bush’s election hopes. However, the story has received little media courage in the United States and few seemed concerned about the torture allegations.

The Bush press offensive is attempting to give the impression that it was just a case of interrogations that got out of hand. However, as Hayder Sabbar Abd (one of the naked prisoners in the photographs) has pointed out, he was never interrogated or charged with a crime. It would seem this was just the way the US soldiers treated Iraqis that were rounded up from the streets of Baghdad.

It has to be remembered that these photographs were taken last November. At this time few Shia Muslims had taken part in protests against the US occupation. It is indeed the treatment of Shia Muslims that had led to the current insurgency. The US are making the same mistakes as they did in Vietnam.

The treatment was an attempt to humiliate the prisoners (I suspect it was also done to humiliate the female soldiers). The taking of those photographs was part of this process (they knew that the prisoners would find it particularly humiliating that their actions had been recorded).

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I read four US on-line newspapers regularly. Three of them could be see as fairly 'liberal' (New York Times, Washington Post and the LA Times), but the fourth, The Chicago Tribune, is definitely conservative. Even the 'liberal' three have plenty of conservative commentators.

There seems to be a lot being written about the abuse of prisoners in those newspapers, and the criticism of the Bush administration is quite scathing. Max Boot, for example, an extremely conservative commentator in the LA Times, has got a lot to say about the mess the US has got itself into, even though he's criticising the Bush administration for not being brutal enough:


Richard Cohen in The Washington Post is also scathing about the failure of anyone in the Bush Administration to take any responsibility for what has happened:


Even the conservative Chicago Tribune has a lot of criticism for Bush's TV appearances:


It may be that these newspapers are unrepresentative, but I think there's evidence that at least some US media are reporting what has happened.

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It may be that these newspapers are unrepresentative, but I think there's evidence that at least some US media are reporting what has happened.

My comments were based on a BBC report on the day the Daily Mirror published the British Army photographs. The reporter said that so far the American newspapers had not published stories about the torture pictures (he said the only place he had seen it was in a Baltimore newspaper. Things have obviously changed since then.

People in the US do not seem to be well informed about these issues. A study by the University of Maryland shows that 57% of Bush’s supporters believe that “before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaida”. Moreover 65% believe that “experts” have confirmed that Iraq had WMD.

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It is of course true that in any war there are many examples of soldiers badly treating prisoners. The difference is that in those wars this information only came out many years later and did not make the headlines. As the invasion of Iraq was very unpopular with some people, opposition newspapers have been willing to run the story.

The main issue now is why the soldiers behaved in this way. Initially, the United States government argued that it was due to a “lack of training”. The problem for Bush is that it is likely to emerge over the next few weeks that these soldiers were actually trained to behave in this way. According to David Leigh in yesterday’s Guardian, the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners 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.

The United States soldiers are using a technique known as R21. Sexual humiliation and degradation plays an important role in the R21 technique. So also does the role of female guards. Prisoners are kept naked all the time. They are forced to carry out sexual acts with other male prisoners in front of the women. Their degradation is increased by being photographed while carrying out these activities. The idea is that this humiliation (plus sleep deprivation) will breakdown the resistance of the prisoner and will result in them giving the information required. However, in most cases in Iraq, the prisoners do not have any information to give, and are never interrogated. It has just become an opportunity for soldiers to express their dislike of the Iraqi people.

These techniques have been used in Guantanamo Bay. It is interesting that Major General Geoffrey Miller, the new US commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, has come from Guantanamo Bay. He will now try to impose the discipline needed to make sure that details are not revealed about R21. However, he is too late, the world now knows why the US government announced it no longer considered the Geneva Convention applied to its soldiers.

David Leigh points out that British soldiers have also been taught to use the R21 technique. This is supported by evidence from soldiers who have undergone this training. One former British officer told Leigh that two of his colleagues could not cope and had breakdowns.

Three months ago the Red Cross warned the British government about what its soldiers were up to in Iraq. Blair had to wait until he got his orders from Bush before he could do anything about it. The revelations in the Daily Mirror has led to the government admitting that it was involved in investigating several cases of British soldiers torturing Iraqi civilians. This was the result of a British soldier trying to get his Iraq photographs developed at Bartlam’s in Tamworth, Staffordshire. The description provided by Kelly Tilford, the woman who took the photographs to the police, makes it clear that this is an example of British soldiers using the R21 technique (the photographs show male prisoners being forced to have sex with each other).

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Interesting story in the Guardian yesterday about the publication of the photographs in the USA and the Middle East.

The main headline in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph on Friday was "Treated like a dog", accompanied by pictures of US servicewoman Lynndie England dragging an Iraqi prisoner on a lead.

On the same day, the main headline in al-Hayat, one of the two leading pan-Arab newspapers, talked instead about battles in Najaf and Karbala. The dog-lead picture got just four-and-a bit columns - less space than in either the Mail or the Telegraph.

Meanwhile, the front page of Asharq al-Awsat, the other leading Arabic daily, showed an Iraqi boy sitting anxiously on a hospital bed, next to his grandfather who had been injured in an explosion. They decided not to put the dog-lead picture on the front because it had been published in the Washington Post the day before, managing editor Ali Ibrahim said.

Both papers place themselves at the serious end of the Arab market, and faced with one of the most sensational stories to hit the Middle East, have kept their cool. "Some Arab papers put big headlines like 'Scandal', but that's not our way," Ibrahim said. "You can't avoid the story. It happened, so we reported it. But we didn't inflame it."

Arab coverage has ranged from "disciplined anger" in the more important papers to outright sensationalism in others, according to one regular reader of the Arab press. Some of the Gulf newspapers avoided mentioning the torture story for several days - a common occurrence when they are unsure of how to handle a sensitive issue.

Part of the reluctance to over-play the story, according to one professional monitor of the Arab media who asked not to be identified, is that the events in Abu Ghraib have not only damaged the US but have hit moderates in the Arab world, too.

"If it was just torture people would understand, but it's the perversions in the pictures that appear to confirm what some people, such as Bin Laden, say about the immorality of the west," she said.

This aspect was treated with relish in the Egyptian opposition paper, al-Wafd, which published photographs - including rape scenes that were probably fakes grabbed from the internet - with no indication of their provenance.

"Some of their pictures were just cheap pornography," said Hisham Kassem, publisher of the weekly Cairo Times.

Much of the coverage has been "nationalist, inflammatory, misinforming and shameless", according to Kassem. "They talk about American monstrosities as if their own governments have never practised anything similar. It's nothing in comparison to what's happening in Arab prisons."

Meanwhile, the emergence of photographic evidence of torture of Iraqi prisoners caused hand-wringing in the American media. CBS did not actually broadcast the international scoop for two weeks, following a personal request by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and only ran it once they knew the New Yorker magazine was going to.

"It's hard to just make those kinds of decisions," said Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes. "It's not natural for us; the natural thing is to put it on the air. But the circumstances were quite unusual."

Meanwhile some newspapers, including USA Today, one of only three national newspapers, and Murdoch's New York Post, refused to print them. "If there's a handful of US soldiers who've mistreated prisoners, I don't think that should be allowed to reflect poorly on the 140,000 men and women over there who are risking their lives and doing a good job," said Col Allan, the New York Post's editor-in-chief.

Those who did publish were extremely cautious. The New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, Newsday, the Washington Post and the New York Daily News all showed at least one picture at the very beginning of the scandal. The Washington Post was the boldest, publishing a picture of a hooded Iraqi prisoner on a box with wires on its front page and shots of soldiers standing over a pile of naked prisoners inside. The next day, the front page showed a shot of a soldier looking at a mound of clothed prisoners.

On Thursday, it had an international scoop with its exclusive pictures of Lynndie England and ran a number of photos, including the dog-lead image.

The New York Times ran fewer pictures and kept them off the front page. Bill Keller, executive editor, said the newspaper had initially held off, only because it "could not, in the time available, ascertain their authenticity."

Unlike its fellow New York tabloid , the Daily News did publish a torture image: the photo of the hooded man with his hands attached to electrical wires. "If we want to be more than mere propaganda sheets," said the newspaper's editorial director, Martin Dunn, "then surely there is a duty to show them." It was on page 22.


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  • 2 weeks later...
There's a good article in the current New Scientist about the torture policy: Abuse of Iraqis 'well thought through':


All of which suggests the question "How can a war on terrorism be won when we have descended so clearly into savagery?"

The deliberate flouting of international convention makes it hard to distinguish who the actual terrorists are.

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There is an excellent article by Susan Sontag about this in today’s Guardian.

In the article Sontag looks at the relationship between images and words in reporting political events.

For a long time - at least six decades - photographs have laid down the tracks of how important conflicts are judged and remembered. The memory museum is now mostly a visual one. Photographs have an insuperable power to determine what people recall of events, and it now seems likely that the defining association of people everywhere with the rotten war that the Americans launched preemptively in Iraq last year will be photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoners in the most infamous of Saddam Hussein's prisons, Abu Ghraib.

The slogans and phrases fielded by the Bush administration and its defenders have been chiefly aimed at limiting a public relations disaster - the dissemination of the photographs - rather than dealing with the complex crimes of leadership, policies and authority revealed by the pictures. There was, first of all, the displacement of the reality on to the photographs themselves. The administration's initial response was to say that the president was shocked and disgusted by the photographs - as if the fault or horror lay in the images, not in what they depict. There was also the avoidance of the word torture. The prisoners had possibly been the objects of "abuse", eventually of "humiliation" - that was the most to be admitted. "My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture," secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld said at a press conference. "And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word." Words alter, words add, words subtract. It was the strenuous avoidance of the word "genocide" while the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda was being carried out 10 years ago that meant the American government had no intention of doing anything. To call what took place in Abu Ghraib - and, almost certainly, in other prisons in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and in Guantanamo - by its true name, torture, would likely entail a public investigation, trials, court martials, dishonourable discharges, resignation of senior military figures and responsible cabinet officials, and substantial reparations to the victims. Such a response to our misrule in Iraq would contradict everything this administration has invited the American public to believe about the virtue of American intentions and America's right to unilateral action on the world stage in defence of its interests and its security.

Sontag goes on to look at the history of this issue:

Considered in this light, the photographs are us. That is, they are representative of distinctive policies and of the fundamental corruptions of colonial rule. The Belgians in the Congo, the French in Algeria, committed identical atrocities and practised torture and sexual humiliation on despised, recalcitrant natives. Add to this corruption, the mystifying, near-total unpreparedness of the American rulers of Iraq to deal with the complex realities of an Iraq after its "liberation" - that is, conquest. And add to that the overarching, distinctive doctrines of the Bush administration, namely that the United States has embarked on an endless war (against a protean enemy called "terrorism"), and that those detained in this war are "unlawful combatants" - a policy enunciated by Rumsfeld as early as January 2002 - and therefore "do not have any rights" under the Geneva convention, and you have a perfect recipe for the cruelties and crimes committed against the thousands incarcerated without charges and access to lawyers in American-run prisons that have been set up as part of the response to the attack of September 11 2001. Endless war produces the option of endless detention, which is subject to no judicial review.

So, then, the real issue is not the photographs but what the photographs reveal to have happened to "suspects" in American custody? No: the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken - with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives. German soldiers in the second world war took photographs of the atrocities they were committing in Poland and Russia, but snapshots in which the executioners placed themselves among their victims are exceedingly rare. (See a book just published, Photographing the Holocaust by Janina Struk.) If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs - collected in a book entitled Without Sanctuary - of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880s and 1930s, which show smalltown Americans, no doubt most of them church-going, respectable citizens, grinning, beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib.

If there is a difference, it is a difference created by the increasing ubiquity of photographic actions. The lynching pictures were in the nature of photographs as trophies - taken by a photographer, in order to be collected, stored in albums; displayed. The pictures taken by American soldiers in Abu Ghraib reflect a shift in the use made of pictures - less objects to be saved than evanescent messages to be disseminated, circulated. A digital camera is a common possession of most soldiers. Where once photographing war was the province of photojournalists, now the soldiers themselves are all photographers - recording their war, their fun, their observations of what they find picturesque, their atrocities - and swapping images among themselves, and emailing them around the globe

Sontag then goes on to look at what these photographs say about America today:

You ask yourself how someone can grin at the sufferings and humiliation of another human being - drag a naked Iraqi man along the floor with a leash? set guard dogs at the genitals and legs of cowering, naked prisoners? rape and sodomise prisoners? force shackled hooded prisoners to masturbate or commit sexual acts with each other? beat prisoners to death? - and feel naive in asking the questions, since the answer is, self-evidently: people do these things to other people. Not just in Nazi concentration camps and in Abu Ghraib when it was run by Saddam Hussein. Americans, too, do them when they have permission. When they are told or made to feel that those over whom they have absolute power deserve to be mistreated, humiliated, tormented. They do them when they are led to believe that the people they are torturing belong to an inferior, despicable race or religion. For the meaning of these pictures is not just that these acts were performed, but that their perpetrators had no sense that there was anything wrong in what the pictures show. Even more appalling, since the pictures were meant to be circulated and seen by many people, it was all fun. And this idea of fun is, alas, more and more - contrary to what Mr Bush is telling the world - part of "the true nature and heart of America".


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