In conversation last week, a friend mentioned that he wasn’t particularly upset about the recently uncovered instances of torture and humiliation at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. I was surprised, but this was a sentiment I would hear echoed by others over the next few days. “What about what they did to us?” he asked. An eye for an eye is the implication; they’re getting theirs.
Speaking at the Senate hearing at which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld apologized to prisoners last Friday, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) was quick to note, “[T]hose who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security have never apologized. And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never received an apology from anybody.”
But the problem with this non-argument is that it masses together the entire Iraqi–if not Arab–people into one sweeping “they.” We know for a fact that those responsible for the murders of American military contractors in Fallujah were not the men depicted being tortured in the photographs we have all seen. Those pictures were taken last year. We can’t even be sure that the tortured men were guilty of any wrongdoing. The Army’s internal investigation carried out by General Antonio Taguba found that more than sixty per cent of the civilian inmates at Abu Ghraib were deemed not to be a threat to society, and that they should have been released.
Still, even assuming that those photographed were the very persons responsible for the killings in Fallujah, would that justify torture without a trial? After all, the United States has made it its mission to modernize Iraq and turn it into a liberal beacon in the Middle East. If there is any way to accomplish that lofty goal, it is to lead by example and deliver the justice that Saddam Hussein always denied. Any culture can understand a moral high ground, and if that high ground is lost, so is the war.
Looking back, the different rationales offered in support of the war show a slippery descent from this high ground. The first mutterings in support of “regime change” tried to link Hussein to 9/11, but no credible evidence of such a connection ever surfaced. Then, to try to garner some international support for an invasion, the weapons of mass destruction rationale was proffered, and we know how that has turned out. Today you don’t hear the administration mention WMD very often if at all. The watchword now is liberation.
According to the president, “America’s objective in Iraq is limited, and it is firm: We seek an independent, free and secure Iraq.” But when he declares to the world that thanks to the U.S., “Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers,” and this turns out not to be the case, the moral high ground, the “hearts and minds,” and, indeed, the war might be lost. If the invading coalition was ever considered an army of liberation in the Arab world, it will have a hard time hanging on to that title now.
President Bush understands this, noting in one speech that if the Iraqi transfer of sovereignty does not go ahead as planned, “those in Iraq who trade in hatred and conspiracy theories would find a larger audience and gain a stronger hand.” Casting aside any ascriptions to race, the fact of the matter is that the Middle East is not a very educated part of the world. The Arab media are neither fair nor balanced nor even always accurate. Even if the abuse at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident, and even if those responsible are fully prosecuted, the damage has been done. If one last nail was needed to shut the coffin on America’s reputation in the Middle East, this scandal, in all its photographic clarity, was it. For many Arabs, the last plausible rationale for the war is gone.
If this war is a war of liberation and nation building, then, as clichéd as it might sound, the hearts, minds, and cooperation of the liberated are indispensable. Without them, the war is hardly winnable. We have just lost a lot of hearts and minds.
Jerry Brito is editor of Brainwash and a student at George Mason University School of Law. His Web site is jerrybrito.com.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire