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June 2004 • Vol 4, No. 6 •


Abu Ghraib: The Charade

By Amer Jubran

A month has passed since the release of horrifying stories about U.S. occupation soldiers torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq. Although news about prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib and Baghdad Airport in Iraq, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, prisons in the U.S., and the U.S. base in Guantanamo in Cuba has been abundant since the “War on Terrorism” was declared, the news from Abu Ghraib was purposely selected out and amplified.

A closer look at the main parties involved in this, other than the Iraqi prisoners, reveals all U.S. players: U.S. media, U.S. military, U.S. President, U.S. Congress, U.S. military courts, and U.S. soldiers. The succession of news events proceeded with suspicious rapidity, from dramatic news leaks, to expressions of outrage by Bush and Rumsfeld, to top-level military investigations, to Congressional hearings, to U.S. soldiers on trial, and on to the issuing of verdicts. Like a Hollywood blockbuster, the story came and went in a month’s time, setting records as a major instant scandal.

The news about Abu Ghraib was presented to the whole world with none of the resistance or denial typical of the U.S. government. The source of the story was the U.S. corporate media, which has always acted as another branch of the government in times of crisis. It is impossible to imagine Dan Rather of CBS, Tom Brokaw of NBC, and Peter Jennings of ABC as objective news anchors on the lookout for victims of U.S. imperialism. For decades, the widespread and routine abuse of prisoners in U.S. prisons has failed to attract even the attention of small local media.

One example is that of Jaoudat Abouazza, a Palestinian Canadian who was arrested for a minor traffic violation in Cambridge, Massachusetts in May, 2002 and who ended up being accused of terrorism. Abouazza spent 42 days in a Massachusetts county jail where he was beaten, stripped, deprived of sleep, and subjected to medical torture—the forced removal of four teeth against his will. Despite the efforts of a number of activists to bring this to the attention of the media, the story was ignored. There were no questions asked of the sheriff running the jail, no calls for resignation, no expressions of outrage, and no investigations. There are thousands of other examples in the U.S. prison system alone.

So why was the Abu Ghraib story allowed to surface? Why would the U.S. risk such a damaging portrayal of its military and its policies at a time when its occupation of Iraq needed all possible support? What compelled the U.S. to expose itself? Leaks about the prison torture said that the abuses started at the end of the summer 2003. Why did they only come out in 2004? In the past, the U.S. has managed to turn negative outcomes to its advantage. Why not in this case? How could publishing such a disgrace be to its benefit?

Leading up to the war, the Bush administration invented the pretexts of weapons of mass destruction, links between Al Qa’eda and Saddam, and ending Saddam’s oppression of the Iraqis. Hidden motives, of course, were Iraqi oil, profits for defense contractors, the establishment of major bases, political domination of the region, and a general display to the rest of the planet of U.S. military power. As an Egyptian proverb says: “Beat a chained man to frighten the rest who are free.” For the last fourteen years, Iraq has been that chained victim.

The U.S. forecasted no danger in the “cakewalk” of occupying Iraq. It anticipated a huge victory, which would make going to war even under false pretences possible. Worldwide opposition fell on deaf ears. In March 2003 Bush proceeded to the attack. It planned the fall of Baghdad by mid-April. In media propaganda, the fall officially took place April 9, 2003 in Baghdad’s Fardus Square, in the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein.

But April 9 proved to be only the end of the first round. The U.S. discovered a new player in the game. Unlike the Iraqi regime, this player was a real, a capable, and a determined resistance fighting the largest superpower in human history. Bush’s words to the resistance in May of 2003 were “Bring them on.” And on they came.

The Iraqi resistance used tactics of guerrilla warfare to harass and deplete U.S. forces. Over days and months of numerous successes, the resistance grew more confident in its ability and in its knowledge of its enemy. As the first anniversary of April 9th was approaching, the resistance predicted a military move by U.S. forces against Fallujah, the center of resistance, where the U.S. would attempt to deliver a final defeat to the Iraqis and celebrate the April 9th anniversary. Efforts to oppose this offensive began in early April.

The resistance in Iraq decided to exploit a weakness of the U.S. forces by surprising it with a direct confrontation. The strategy worked, and Fallujah managed to hold back the U.S. forces for more than three weeks. The U.S. found itself compelled to negotiate a deal with what it once described as terrorists. The deal focused on a cease-fire in which the U.S. withdrew its forces from around the city of Fallujah. Now, more than sixty days later, the U.S. has still not entered Fallujah. Instead, the reasons declared by the U.S. for going into Fallujah were dropped. The arrest of those who killed four U.S. mercenaries, and the vow to empty the city of weapons, was never accomplished. Nor was the defeat of “foreign fighters” and “Iraqi insurgents.” Nor was the “restoration of order” through a local Iraqi police authority. Fullujah’s heroic standoff astonished the arrogant imperial forces. U.S. soldiers suddenly developed poor morale and appeared confused and ready to defect from the battlefield.

Things became worse when Fallujah then inspired a larger populist armed struggle, which covered most of Iraq. Just as the victory of Fallujah was sinking in, a second victory was beginning in Najaf. U.S. claims that only the “Sunni Triangle” and Saddam loyalists objected to the occupation were revealed as lies. While the resistance intensified, friends of the U.S. bully began to fold: Spain, Honduras, and others withdrew their forces from Iraq and declared that they were no longer part of the “coalition.”

The battle of Fallujah was decisive: it was a complete victory for the Iraqi resistance. At Fallujah, Uncle Sam lost the war in Iraq. It only remains to be seen how much more the U.S. is prepared to lose by staying. The challenges for the U.S. now are in figuring out how to disengage from Iraq without admitting a military defeat, how to continue stealing Iraq’s oil, and how to maintain control in the wider region.

This is where the story of Abu Ghraib fits in. The U.S. deliberately made Abu Ghraib a major story in order to divert attention away from its defeat in Fallujah. The U.S. military can live with the reputation of committing war crimes, but cannot afford to admit a military defeat. Therefore, under a cloud of disgusting pictures from Abu Ghraib, Fallujah was swept under the carpet.

The effect of the pictures is to create the impression a powerful system that is in control, but made one or two small mistakes. The world was meant to get the impression that this system is capable of critical self-assessment, that freedom of the press has been effective in stopping certain excesses, and that swift justice from legislators and top political figures ultimately kept U.S. moral leadership intact. The pictures and the accompanying apologies were meant to show that the U.S. still has the initiative and is still fit to play the role of political caretaker of a new Iraq.

But no matter what the blame taken by U.S. officials, they also knew that the pictures would send a message of humiliation to Iraqis and to potential future victims of the US. The message is: if you resist us, you risk punishment and degradation. A second benefit to the U.S. is that the pictures also portray Iraqis as helpless victims rather than resisters.

The U.S. admission of guilt in Abu Ghraib was an inverted attempt to proclaim moral superiority. While the ignorance of the American public about its government’s greater crimes was carefully protected, the facts of U.S. defeat in Fallujah and Najaf remain, and are known elsewhere. While Uncle Sam is busy attempting to deceive the world, the resistance in Iraq continues unabated. The victory of Fallujah has given it new confidence. The Abu Ghraib pictures have only added fuel to the fire.





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