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War Crimes. Un-American? Hardly

torture does not ... only corrupt those directly involved in the terrible contact between two bodies, one that has all the power and the other that has all the pain. Torture also corrupts the whole social fabric because it prescribes a silencing of what has been happening between those two bodies - Ariel Dorfman

Anthony McIntyre • 9 May 2004

It has not been a comfortable week for the US administration. While torture may not be anathema to everybody, fortunately it remains sufficiently repulsive to large swathes of humankind to have provoked the type of outrage that has been raining down on the US government since evidence emerged of gross maltreatment being meted out to Iraqi prisoners. Torture assumes many forms. It does not always come in the application of electric shocks as in Buenos Aires or in the swinging of baseball bats familiar to West Belfast. As often as not it is psychological, as any denizen of H-Block 4 will readily testify. The photographs we have so far seen of US soldier Lynndie England abusing Iraqi prisoners suggest little in the way of physical violence. But her psychological brutality, expressing a relationship of dominance and control, was just as damaging to the US projected image of itself as anything that could have emerged from old fashioned torture techniques. Tugging a naked man along with a lead as if he were a dog combined with wilful abuse suggestive of S&M sexual activity sans consent was torture refined and made insidious; 'stealth torture' as Professor Darius Rejali terms it. And the effect, as Robert Fisk put it, is that 'no sadistic movie could outdo the damage of this image ... today, Lynndie smashes to pieces our entire morality with just one tug on the leash.' Lynndie England, US soldier, exudes the thuggery of some Nazi concentration camp guard-fiend from a bygone era and who was supposedly exorcised at the Nuremburg trials - ironically by the Americans.

A report commissioned by senior US military personnel and drafted by Major General Antonio Taguba proved damning. It found that between October and December of 2003 there were ‘numerous instances of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses’ at Abu Ghraib, where the regime of Saddam Hussein ran with the baton of torture before passing it on the Americans. Taguba’s report stated that US military forces and civilian contractors were responsible for:

breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; sodomising a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has publicly made no attempt to justify what took place in Iraqi prisons. Obviously the case for legalising what many wrongly consider to be medieval practices made by torture-advocate Professor Alan M. Dershowitz is still a mite too controversial to be approved by government. Better that it float around the universities for a while longer before being launched onto a US public which mistakenly believes that US troops are in Iraq to end torture. With little space to deny or defend, Rumsfeld was forced onto the back foot, referring to 'acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman.' He went on to breast beat:

So to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was inconsistent with the values of our nation. It was inconsistent with the teachings of the military, to the men and women of the armed forces. And it was certainly fundamentally un-American.

But what is so fundamentally un-American about this type of activity? Many countries with experience of the US military would testify that what happened in Abu Ghraib is consistent - even mild by comparison - with previous American behaviour and is not a deviation from it. Drawing on some elementary research by Mickey Z at Counterpunch brings this to light.

The February 5, 1901 edition of the New York World unflatteringly illustrated the U.S. response to a guerrilla war in the Philippines.

Our soldiers here and there resort to terrible measures with the natives. Captains and lieutenants are sometimes judges, sheriffs and executioners. 'I don't want any more prisoners sent into Manila' was the verbal order from the Governor-General three months ago. It is now the custom to avenge the death of an American soldier by burning to the ground all the houses, and killing right and left the natives who are only suspects.

Not much difference when Korea is looked at either. Between July 26-29, 1950 at No Gun Ri in the South Asian country, 300 terrified peasants, in the main women and children, took refuge near a bridge after their village had been destroyed by US bombs. Decades later American military veterans told the story of what followed. They claimed that Captain Melbourne C. Chandler:

after speaking to superior officers by radio, ordered machine-gunners from his heavy weapons company to set up near the bridge tunnel openings and open fire. His orders, ‘the hell with all those people. Let's get rid of all of them.

A 16 year old survivor, Park Hee-sook, said ‘I can still hear the moans of women dying in a pool of blood. Children cried and clung to their dead mothers." Chun Choon Ja, 12 years old at the time, said the U.S. troops, ‘dug into positions over hundreds of yards of hilly terrain’ where they could fire on the defenceless peasants. ‘The American soldiers played with our lives like boys playing with flies.’

Last month the Blade newspaper of Toledo, Ohio won a Pulitzer Prize for its expose on war crimes carried out in Vietnam's Quang Ngai province - evidence of which was suppressed for 35 years. Blade reporters detailed how the Tiger Force unit butchered hundreds of civilians over a seven-month period in 1967. Neither age nor sex proved a barrier to the murderers. In addition the unit routinely tortured prisoners before ending their lives. Not too long ago Danny Morrison gave a brief but powerful account of what the Blade uncovered.

for seven months the platoon of 45 paratroopers slaughtered unarmed farmers and their wives and children, and tortured and mutilated victims. One sergeant, William Doyle, who killed so many civilians he lost count, took the scalp off a young nurse to decorate his rifle. Private Sam Ybarra slit the throat of a prisoner with a hunting knife before scalping him. He later shot dead a 15-year-old boy because he wanted the teenager's tennis shoes. When these didn't fit he cut off the teenager's ears and placed them in a ration bag. Other soldiers wore severed ears around their necks as souvenirs. A baby was decapitated for the necklace he wore. A 13-year-old girl's throat was slashed after she was sexually assaulted. Twenty-two paratroopers raped then executed a Vietnamese peasant. A medic pumped swamp water into the heart of a prisoner before he was fatally shot.

Twenty two classified US army archives obtained by the Blade showed that the military top brass knew about the atrocities but made no effort to call a halt. US military authorities found that 18 soldiers serving with the Tiger Unit were guilty of war crimes. Despite such findings making their way to the Pentagon and the Nixon White House, no military personnel appeared in court.

Stories of the unit's atrocities are still being told in the villages where the soldiers of Tiger Unit wreaked their sadism. It is something many of us have bamboozled ourselves into believing occurred on the eastern front during the second world war and in which US troops intervened in order to halt. Vile as it seems to agree with a Nazi, Hermann Goering was not wide off the mark in stating, ‘the victors will always be the judges, the accused the vanquished.’ Something accepted by his fellow mass killer, US General Curtis LeMay, commander of the 1945 Tokyo fire bombing operation that killed 672,000 Japanese civilians: ‘I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.’

The biggest surprise about the torture at Abu Ghraib is that anyone is surprised. When it comes to the US and war crimes there is little new under the sun. What would be new would be the Iraqis trying the US war criminals of Abu Ghraib.







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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

10 May 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


War Crimes
Anthony McIntyre


Address given by IRSP Ard Comhairle Terry Harkin to Fringe Meeting of the Scottish Socialist Party
Terry Harkin


A Guiding Light Falls on Ramallah
Sam Bahour


An Occupation That Creates Children Willing To Die
Leah Tsemel


Dave Hann,
co-author "No Retreat"
Connolly Books

AFA Ireland


7 May 2004


Sectarianism and the DUP
Sean Fleming


It's A Dirty Job
Brian Mór


Let Them Eat Fake
Anthony McIntyre


The 10 Year Merry-go-round
Michéal O'Donnaigh


Needle in a Haystack
Will Hardiker




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