The Torture of Basra – Britain's Abu Ghraib

Recent revelations about British troops using torture on Iraqi prisoners have finally put an end to the myth that the British army is somehow better than the American. All occupying armies are using these methods. The Labour movement must demand the unconditional withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.

The truth will out. When photographs were released exposing the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners by the US military at Abu Ghraib prison, the propaganda machine here went into overtime to question the authenticity of pictures showing British troops engaged in the same appalling acts.

From the beginning there has been an attempt by the British media to contrast the ‘civilised’ behaviour of the British military with certain criticisms of US methods. However, the latest scandal surrounding the publication of 22 photographs by the court martial of three British soldiers in Osnabruck – revealing yet more grotesque and abhorrent scenes of sexual humiliation, and violent beatings of prisoners – has demolished the lie that there is some moral superiority on the part of the British military forces over their US counterparts.

The images of naked Iraqi prisoners forced to simulate sex acts, soldiers punching and kicking bound detainees, and one of a prisoner tied to the raised tines of a fork lift truck, bear a striking resemblance to those from Abu Ghraib. This is no accident. These are not the acts of one or two sick individuals, but a systematic policy of torture, and that torture is not just the method of US imperialism, but is being used by all the forces of occupation.

The response of Blair to these revelations was truly nauseating. After a pseudo-apology – consisting of the usual excuse that these are the actions of a ‘few bad apples’ – he joined Tory leader, Michael Howard, in genuflecting to the wonderful ‘courage and honour’ of the British military forces in Iraq.

According to Blair “the difference between tyranny and democracy is not that bad things do not happen... but that people are held to account.” What democracy is he describing? The farce of elections at gunpoint in Iraq? Or British democracy, where the majority opposed the war, and now demand the troops are withdrawn, but are blithely ignored?

The difference between democracy and tyranny, it seems – at least in Blair’s terms – is that in a democracy one or two low ranking individuals are prosecuted, so that something is seen to be done, the better to cover up the fact that their actions were part and parcel of a general policy.

The excuse “I was only following orders” always raises hairs on the back of the neck. There is no excuse for such inhuman behaviour. Yet it is not enough to prosecute one or two practitioners of abuse. These are not the isolated actions of a few “bad apples”. Undoubtedly the most sadistic elements have been given free reign to exercise their personal perversions, but, in reality, what we have seen in Iraq is systematic torture.

Now that the myths and legends of weapons of mass destruction have evaporated, we are left with the claim that this was a war to overthrow a tyrannical regime and bestow all the blessings of civilization and democracy on the people of Iraq.

That Saddam was a tyrant is beyond doubt. However, the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners by the imperialist forces of occupation has demolished the lie that this was a war for the human rights of the Iraqi people.

The pictures from inside Camp Bread Basket graphically show how Iraqi prisoners are treated by their “civilized” guards. They illustrate precisely the way imperialism views the Iraqi people. Underlying the ideology of every imperialism is the notion of their own national and racial superiority. The occupying forces regard the Iraqis as inferior beings. They do not even regard them as human, so why bother to respect their human dignity?

The British army, like all armies, is a reflection of society as a whole. Within the ranks of any army there are thugs and psychopaths prepared to carry out any atrocity asked of them. This section is usually a small minority. At the other extreme there is another minority that is open to revolutionary ideas and is prepared to speak out. In between there is the big majority whose mood and opinions are moulded by experience.

These latest atrocities will have a profound impact, not least on the morale of the troops, and public opinion in the west. The formation of Military Families Against the War is one illustration of the mounting discontent felt by a section of troops.

Already one British soldier has called for a mass refusal to serve in Iraq. Lance Corporal George Solomou, from the London regiment of the Territorial Army (TA reservists are being increasingly deployed), said: “I am not going to Iraq, point-blank. I am a conscientious objector to this war... I would rather spend a year in prison than a minute in Iraq as part of an illegal war.”

His objections to the war are highly revealing, “I believe the occupation of Iraq to be illegal. They have tried everything – weapons of mass destruction, the connection to al-Qaeda – none of it was true. Now the fundamental bedrocks of democracy are being trampled by this war, with the American treatment of prisoners. Added to that, the Iraqis can see oil tanker after oil tanker coming out of Iraq while they haven’t even got electricity. This war is a turning point in history and is about America setting itself on a course to control the world’s petroleum.” Mr Solomou claims that many other soldiers agree with him.

Imperialism has given nothing to the people of Iraq but misery, destruction and torture. These latest revelations will serve to strengthen the resolve of the Iraqi people to continue their struggle until the US and British forces are made to leave.

The only way to end the torture of the Iraqi people is not simply the prosecution of one or two individuals, but the expulsion of imperialism from their country. The labour movement must demand the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq!

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