Iraq: Horror without end

The invasion of Iraq stands exposed for what it always was: an act of naked aggression leading to the forcible occupation of a country by foreign troops against the will of the people. Naturally, such a state of affairs can only be sustained by the massive, uncontrolled and unlimited use of force. We can now see the results of this on the front pages of today’s newspapers. The United States military has been compelled to open criminal investigation into acts of abuse, humiliation and torture against Iraqi prisoners, committed by US soldiers and officers as photographs of horrific incidents were aired for the first time on US network television.

Nobody believes any more the lies that were invented to justify the criminal war in Iraq. Nobody believes in the weapons of mass destruction. They are not even mentioned any more. There are no nuclear weapons in Iraq, no chemical or bacteriological weapons either. The only ones that the Iraqis ever had were the ones sold to them in the past by American companies with the full knowledge and support of Rumsfeld, Reagan and George Bush Senior. The alleged link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein has also been exploded. Al Qaeda had no bases in Iraq before the invasion, though they have now – thanks to George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

Having been deprived of all their old excuses, Bush and Blair have had to fall back upon the argument that this was a war to liberate the Iraqi people – to overthrow an unpopular and tyrannical regime and bestow all the blessings of civilization and democracy on the people of Iraq. Now this last excuse has been comprehensively demolished. The invasion of Iraq stands exposed for what it always was: an act of naked aggression against what was supposed to be a sovereign state, leading to the forcible occupation of a country by foreign troops against the will of the people.


Naturally, such a state of affairs can only be sustained by the massive, uncontrolled and unlimited use of force. We can now see the results of this on the front pages of today’s newspapers. The United States military has been compelled to open a criminal investigation into acts of abuse, humiliation and torture against Iraqi prisoners, committed by US soldiers and officers as photographs of horrific incidents were aired for the first time on US network television.

CBS broadcast the pictures, apparently taken last November and December inside the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad where Allied forces were holding hundreds of prisoners captured after the invasion of Iraq. One showed Iraqis naked - except for hoods - stacked into a human pyramid, with American military personnel clearly enjoying the spectacle.

In March, US officials revealed that six soldiers faced courts martial for "possible violations" of the rights of Iraqi prisoners they had been guarding. But, at the time, they displayed considerable "discretion" as to the precise details. Following the publication of the photographs, they now admit that the affair has become even more far-reaching.

As usual, the military only admit what cannot be denied. This is only the tip of a vast and extremely ugly iceberg. But the official propaganda machine is now fighting a desperate rearguard action to cover up the tracks as much as possible. They speak of "alleged" offences and "mock torture" of prisoners. This is nonsense. The self-evident truth is that tens of thousands of young Iraqis are being rounded up by the occupying forces without the pretence of a trial, proof of guilt or anything else. They are held at the mercy of their captors who beat, torture and humiliate them.

It has been admitted that the prisoners are interrogated by the CIA, and that the latter has reached a deal with the prison authorities (i.e. the US army) that they must be "softened up" ready for interrogation. Those who are in charge of these hell-holes boast that they can break a prisoner in a matter of days. The exact means whereby one breaks the will of a human being, shattering his or her nervous system, self-confidence and morale, are well known. They are called torture.

We have seen this kind of thing many times before: in wartime Europe under the Nazis, in the occupied West Bank under the Israeli jackboot, in Northern Ireland subjected to the tender mercies of the British Special Forces, in Algeria under French colonial rule. It is the normal conduct of a brutal occupying power that seeks to perpetuate its control by a policy of murder and terror. It is state terrorism.

The pictures from inside the prison graphically show how Iraqi prisoners are treated by their "civilized" guards. One picture depicts an Iraqi prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands. He was reportedly left on the box for a long period and told that he faced electrocution if he fell off. Another shows prisoners kneeling on each other, naked except for hoods covering their heads, to form a human pyramid. Another shows naked prisoners being forced to pretend to have sex with one another. Many of the photographs show the American guards smiling and flashing thumbs-up signs. An insult written in English is scrawled on one prisoner's skin.

The conduct of these representatives of Christian western Civilization is absolutely typical of imperialism of every period. Under the hypocritical pretext of "liberating the Iraqi people from tyranny", they impose a far worse tyranny than any that the people of that long-suffering country have ever had to bear. In their "liberating" fervour, they have reduced towns and cities to rubble, killed thousands of innocent women and children and almost extinguished what was an ancient and proud civilization.

These are the modern barbarians. They respect no civilization, religion or culture other than their own. They are puffed up with the arrogance of imperial power and hold all other countries – not excluding those of their closest allies – with ill-concealed contempt. They consider it their God-given right ("manifest destiny" they used to call it) to interfere in the affairs of any country they choose. They even have a name for this imperialist arrogance. It is called the "Bush doctrine".

What is particularly abhorrent about all this is that they bombed, invaded and occupied Iraq on the grounds that they were bringing sweetness and light ("Democracy") to the people of that country. Now we see the reality of this promise.

Underlying the ideology of every imperialism is the notion of national (and racial) superiority. The occupying forces regard the Iraqis as inferior beings. This sense of superiority can be variously expressed. In an extreme form it is seen in the abuse of defenceless prisoners. Their captors do not even regard them as human beings, so why bother to respect their human dignity. Racism is, after all, only a by-product of imperialism, and fascism is only the distilled essence of imperialism.

Bullies are always cowards and a person in uniform who tortures and humiliates defenceless prisoners disgraces the uniform he or she wears and the nation to which they belong. Having displayed their bravery in tormenting defenceless people, these heroes are now falling over themselves to avoid the consequences of their actions. Some of the arguments they use to avoid punishment would be comical if the circumstances were not so grim.

One of the six, Sergeant Chip Frederick, who plans to plead innocent, asserted on CBS that he and his colleagues had had "no proper guidance from commanders" on how to treat the prisoners. Nor, he said, had they been given access to provisions of the Geneva Convention on the proper treatment of prisoners. This is frankly laughable. What normal American man or woman would treat a dog in the way these prisoners were treated? Do we need to have studied the Geneva Convention to know that such treatment constitutes barbarism?

In addition to the criminal charges against the six - all military police belonging to the 800th Brigade - investigators have recommended disciplinary action against seven US officers who helped run the prison, including Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th Brigade. This charming lady and seven other officers implicated in the case face: …being relieved of their commands.

Yes, dear reader, you have read these lines correctly. These vicious scoundrels, having committed the most heinous crimes, are faced with losing their commands. They are not threatened with trial, courts martial or imprisonment, not even with summary dismissal from the army with loss of all rights. No, such treatment would be far too harsh for civilized American gentlemen – and ladies, of course, we must not forget the ladies, who evidently played a prominent role in this amusing sport.

What will happen? A handful of sadistic officers will receive a little slap on the wrist. The President and his merry men will profess horror. And then… and then, nothing. The present revelations are acutely embarrassing for Washington, which has emphasised repeatedly its record of liberating the Iraqi people from the inhumane repression of Saddam Hussein. Yes, the Iraqi people suffered terribly under Saddam Hussein – but they did not suffer a fraction of the horrors that are now being daily inflicted on them by their "civilized" guests from overseas.

Of course, it is quite wrong to demonise any people. It is wrong to lump the entire people of the USA together as if they were "one reactionary mass". It is wrong to think that all Americans are like George Bush. Not all American soldiers think or behave like these thugs in uniform. Let us recall that the present investigation began when a US soldier from the prison reported the abuse and turned over the photographs, which also found their way to CBS. This soldier had a conscience and he showed great personal courage. He is not alone.

The army is a reflection of society. In the ranks of any army there are hardened thugs, murderers and psychopaths. They are the tools of reaction and fascism. But they are a small minority. On the other extreme there is a small minority who are open to revolutionary ideas. In the middle there is the big majority who are neither one thing or the other, but whose mood and opinions are moulded by circumstances and can go one way or another.

It is probable that the Coalition forces can succeed in dominating the present round of fighting by a mixture of force and trickery. Contrary to what I expected, the Americans have announced that they will pull back from Fallujah. This in itself is a defeat for the US. The original intention was to make an example of Fallujah, to crush it into the dust, just as the ancient kings of Assyria used to do to rebellious cities in that part of the world. But their hand has been stayed by the ferocity of the resistance and above all by the political consequences of such actions.

Instead of brute force, they are obliged to resort to manoeuvring, tricks and deceit. They will probably abandon the idea of a direct assault on Fallujah – which would produce many casualties on both sides – in favour of a different tactic. They will try to isolate Fallujah and Najaf, the twin centres of the revolt, gradually picking off the insurgents and resisting the temptation to launch an all-out attack. At the same time they will redouble their diplomatic intrigues to get outside help.

The Americans have asked the UN secretary-general's envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, to select an interim government of technocrats to carry Iraq through the next seven months, until a general election in January, when a "truly representative" government can take charge. In practice this is a gigantic fraud. Behind the scenes, power will be in the hands of American advisers and above all with American generals. The Americans will tactfully allow the Iraqis the outward show of power, to avoid the accusation of being stooges. But nobody will believe this farce.

Washington is angling for a new UN Security Council resolution that they hope will secure the involvement of other countries, on the well-known principle that misery likes company. Indians and Pakistanis will be invited to participate in the dirty work, and perhaps eventually the French might be bribed into joining the Coalition and spread the military burden. Whatever happens, that, however, will continue to be carried mainly by the Americans themselves. President Bush will have no alternative but to send more troops.

Speaking in Denmark yesterday, Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, conceded the US military had faced "tough" weeks in Iraq. When casualties were rising, he said, "this causes people to stop and think and reflect, What are we doing?" Powell was speaking hours after 10 more US soldiers were killed in Iraq, eight of them in a car bombing near Baghdad. At least 126 US servicemen died in Iraq in April 2004, making it the bloodiest month of the conflict by far.

The prolongation of the war (and Washington now has no alternative but to continue) at a certain stage must have an effect in the morale of the Coalition troops and the people back home who are anxiously watching the progress of the war. It seems that many Americans back the sending of more troops. The reason is that they think this will bring the war to a speedy conclusion. That is wrong. This war will not end any time soon. With ebbs and flows, it can drag on for years, with a steadily increasing cost in blood and treasure. This is a drain that even a wealthy and powerful country like the USA cannot tolerate indefinitely.


The mood in the USA is already changing. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, for the first time less than half of Americans - 47 per cent - now believe it was the right decision to invade Iraq. Support has slumped from over 70 per cent when the war began to 63 per cent in December and just 58 per cent last month.

That finding coincides with a no less alarming survey of the mood within Iraq itself. The basic message of a new CNN-USA Today poll is that ordinary Iraqis are glad that Saddam Hussein has gone but feel less secure than when he was in power. They no longer regard US forces as liberators, but as heavy-handed occupiers. By a 56-37 majority, Iraqis would prefer US and British troops to leave their country at once. Over two-thirds believe that, during military operations, US forces are "not trying at all" to protect ordinary civilians from being killed or wounded.

Opinion polls, however, do not determine the policies of governments, above all on fundamental questions. It is not even clear that a change of President will suffice to get the troops out. The war will grind on its merciless, blood-soaked way. More "excesses" will follow, as night follows day. People will be brutalised and lose all notion of right and wrong. They will become indifferent to suffering and death.

All the original plans of US imperialism are now in ruins. As we reported yesterday the Americans are facing a ferocious insurgency on two fronts that threatens to spread throughout the country. The only response of Bush is to pour in yet more American troops: yet more poor, working class black kids will be sent into the meat grinder; yet more American and Iraqi lives will be shattered. And for what?

The mass media will continue to conceal the truth about the war, its savagery and its senselessness. It will continue to produce sanitised and censored reports to soothe the nerves of the folks back home. But, as they say, "truth will out". Sooner or later the American public will learn the truth about the war in Iraq, just as they learned the truth about the war in Vietnam. When that happens, expect a political earthquake in the USA. And the longer the earthquake is postponed, the more violent it will be.