Abu Ghraib: It Goes With the Territory


Ed Kinane
Some months ago at a national anti-war rally, I saw this sign addressed to Iraq: “WHY IS OUR OIL UNDER YOUR SAND?!” The words drip with irony. They sum up the arrogance of our leaders in Washington.

The cover art of the May 10 New Yorker magazine features an oil derrick. Blood gushes out of its top. This stark graphic depicts a swap – the swap our gas guzzling, SUV-loving nation, and its corporation-cozy government make with the devil: blood for oil.

Bush, Inc. has done a splendid job of enriching its corporate buddies. But, thanks to Abu Ghraib, it’s now less cocksure. It faces Congressional interrogation and a less docile media. Mutiny is in the air. High level resignations should be next...and then regime change in November.

Abu Ghraib is appalling. For many here, those photos may become the image of the invasion. But we must pull our heads out of the sand. Abu Ghraib isn’t isolated; it’s not a rare aberration. The photos depict a only small part of the horror inflicted on the people of Iraq.

Something in human nature leads human beings to resist occupation. Wouldn’t many here resist vigorously, even violently, if the US were occupied by some alien force – a force that detained our men, abused our women, killed our children, violated our homes, shelled our holy places, destroyed our infrastructure, poisoned our soil, air and water with depleted uranium; a force bent on controlling our economy and extracting our resources?

And that force would seek to crush any such resistance by any means necessary. For the invader torture goes with the job. He needs intelligence to pacify the population. And it’s not an easy job when he can’t speak the language and he’s clueless about the culture...or the structure of the resistance
These days abuse and torture, tools of occupation from time immemorial, are honed skills. Private companies of mercenaries - delicately called “civilian contractors” - recruit former soldiers on the Internet and market their expertise to the US military.

This work, however, isn’t entirely outsourced. It’s part of US Army training curricula. The Army’s School of the Americas [as it was formerly called] at Ft. Benning, GA, for example, runs interrogation courses. During the eighties and nineties its students studied “torture manuals” written by senior Army officers. Drawn from techniques used in Viet Nam two decades earlier, the manuals flouted US and international law. Kept classified, they were used for years without a murmur from the Army or the Pentagon.

Like invasion and occupation, the torture is illegal, immoral, lethal and cowardly. It reflects the invader’s disregard for the Geneva Conventions. It reflects Bush, Inc.’s contempt for international treaties and international law.

The de-humanizing of prisoners inside Abu Ghraib is at one with the invasion and occupation. It fits with the occupation’s failure to restore Iraq’s security and basic services – a deadly betrayal of the Iraqi people. It’s part and parcel of the killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians this past year.

And it’s heedless of longterm consequences. In 2001 the World Trade Center – a pre-eminent symbol of US financial interests – crumbled. Almost as tangibly, thanks to Abu Ghraib, in 2004 much of whatever goodwill the world has had toward the US likewise crumbled.

Abu Ghraib’s silver lining is that it helps explain that pseudo-mystery of why many hate the US and its empire. It’s a painful lesson. Maybe now we won’t be so easily duped into handing over more of our civil liberties to Washington. Maybe now we’ll work to have our tax dollars go to human need, not corporate greed.
What Iraq’s liberators have been doing to Iraqi detainees is vile. Also vile is what military service has done to our soldiers. Surely, prior to enlisting, many had honor and idealism. How many will return home proud of what they’ve done to Iraq? Our troops there have outstayed whatever welcome they may have had. They must withdraw.

Every Tuesday afternoon a few Central New Yorkers stand for 45 minutes at certain busy intersections. We hold signs facing rush hour traffic. These say things like, “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS – BRING THEM HOME.” They just as well might say, “SAVE OUR SOULS – BRING THE TROOPS HOME.”

But ending the war doesn’t end our responsibility. The US must provide the funds so Iraq’s own capable people can rebuild their country. The bill for years of crippling sanctions, for “shock and awe,” for attacking Iraq with toxic and radioactive weaponry and contaminating its environment, is past due. These reparations should not be taken from Iraq’s oil revenue. They should be taken from the Pentagon budget.

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In 2003, Ed worked in Iraq with the human rights organization Voices in the Wilderness. Locally he’s on the Peace Newsletter editorial committee.