Saturday, May 01, 2004

Iraqi torture and double standards

As I mentioned earlier, it's almost impossible to know what to say about the recent revelations of torture of Iraqi prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. In order for anything written about this to make any sense, you absolutely need to see the pictures, as disturbing as they are. You can find them here -- take your time, really burn them into your memory -- the humiliation, the obvious sexual assaults, the glee on the faces of the American personnel as they inflict this abuse, the laughter and thumbs up gestures. So, where to begin?

First, appreciate that the Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib were not necessarily captured on the field of battle. There's nothing to suggest that they were combatants; in many cases, they were simply part of a massive round-up of civilians by the U.S. military when the Americans decided it was time to kick some butt and show some strength. In short, many of these prisoners were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That should be enough to give you serious pause. But it gets worse.

While these pictures have provoked worldwide outrage and disgust, the reaction in the United States is much more subdued. In some cases, it's almost defensive. In this online article, we have two family members of some of the servicepeople identified in those pictures, and their absolutely jaw-dropping justifications:

The Baltimore Sun's Friday editions identified two other soldiers facing court-martial. The newspaper cited unidentified Army officials in naming Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26. His wife, who also spoke to the newspaper, defended her husband.

"We really don't know how those prisoners are behaving," said Zeenithia Davis, who is in the Navy in Mississippi. "There's a line between heinous war crimes and maintaining discipline."

A Sun reporter on Thursday showed a photo of one of the nude prisoner scenes to Terrie England, who recognized her daughter, reservist Lynndie R. England, 21, standing in the foreground with her boyfriend.

The alleged abuses of prisoners were "stupid, kid things pranks," Terrie England said. "And what the (Iraqis) do to our men and women are just? The rules of the Geneva Convention, does that apply to everybody or just us?"

Let's compare and contrast, shall we, with a story we're thoroughly familiar with -- that of Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Lynch, an actual soldier was injured in Iraq when her vehicle overturned in an accident. She was taken, by Iraqis, to an Iraqi hospital, and cared for by Iraqi medical personnel, who risked their lives to return her to her unit. In short, she was treated, by Iraqis, with the utmost respect, even though she was an official military combatant. In exchange, American military personnel are now humiliating, sexually assaulting and torturing, in many cases, innocent Iraqi civilians.

And yet, given the staggering difference in the above accounts, try to believe that anyone can know this and still say something as unspeakably stupid as, "And what the (Iraqis) do to our men and women are just? The rules of the Geneva Convention, does that apply to everybody or just us?"

The mind reels. It absolutely reels.

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