Ironic Difference

It’s ironic that at a time when the whole world is disgusted by pictures of Iraqi prisoners being abused by thugs and sluts in American uniforms, an American doctor in Germany reports that Thomas Hamill was reasonably well-treated by his Iraqi kidnappers.

A bullet wound received at the time of Hamill’s capture had been treated surgically, the wound was cleaned on a daily basis, and Hamill had been given antibiotics, the doctor said. Hamill said that while he was moved frequently, he was not beaten or mistreated after his capture.

The significance of the contrasting treatment of prisoners by Iraqi resistance fighters and American military police is this: Pfc. Keith Maupin, still in the hands of his kidnappers, might not fare so well now that his kidnappers know what was going on in Abu Ghraib prison. If they decide to “even the score” on this poor young man, his suffering will be the responsibility of the U.S. Army.

The Army learned of the prisoner abuse last January and since then has moved with all the speed of a dinosaur trapped in a peat bog. So far, six senior officers have been reprimanded and one admonished. Six enlisted people face criminal charges. Naturally, they will dump on the enlisted people. The Army’s first bellowed response was “isolated incident” and “exception.”

It was not either one. One report has already said that the problems of abuse were widespread. Twenty-five Iraqis have died while in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, and two Iraqis were murdered by Americans. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was criticized for a sloppy and poorly disciplined command, is nevertheless right when she says that those enlisted people did not dream this up by themselves. She has, by the way, put forward a novel defense. She accepts “some responsibility” but not blame. She was the commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, of which the offending 372nd Military Police Company was a part.

What American guards did to the Iraqi prisoners shows knowledge of Arab culture, a knowledge you can be sure these young reservists didn’t learn in their rural hometowns. The humiliation these prisoners were forced to endure hurts an Arab more than a whip. This whole business smells of intelligence and CIA. Let’s hope the enlisted people will have sense enough to rat out their superior officers rather than make an idiotic excuse that they hadn’t been trained. Since when do people have to be trained to be decent human beings?

It’s also obvious that these moral morons didn’t fear their superiors, or they would not have taken the pictures. Seymour Hersh, who wrote an excellent piece in The New Yorker, believes that even more disturbing pictures will eventually surface.

What has come to light so far is probably only the tip of the iceberg. The United States is holding about 10,000 Iraqis in various places and keeps outsiders away. There are also what Human Rights Watch calls several legal “black holes” around the world where the United States is holding people without anyone else’s knowledge and without any access by human-rights people, much less lawyers. God only knows how they are being treated.

This is the ugly side of war and of a war state. Intelligence itself is an ugly business. The job of an intelligence case officer is to induce other people to become traitors. Lying and deception and worse habits become a way of life. Then when you have someone officially designated as an enemy completely at your mercy, the intoxication of power sets in. And in time of war, it is so easy to rationalize any tactic, so easy to adopt a racist attitude toward the other side.

The only thing exceptional about this incident is that it has come to public light. What’s going on out there in darkness, you probably don’t want to know. It would probably confuse you as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, to use the juvenile language of the current administration.

At any rate, these guards and the people who directed them have given the United States a black eye in the world from which it will be difficult to recover. They have dishonored the uniform. President Bush’s blather about freedom and democracy will ring hollow. Some people already think of the United States as a rogue nation. At the rate the Bush administration is fouling up, we’ll achieve pariah status pretty soon.

Author: Charley Reese

Charley Reese is a journalist.