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Systematic abuse in Iraq mirrors prisons in U.S.
Humiliation of prisoners is feature of every imperialist war
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U.S. prison construction booms, abuse rampant
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 20May 25, 2004

lead article
Systematic abuse in Iraq
mirrors prisons in U.S.
Humiliation of prisoners is feature of every imperialist war
Getty/AFP/Marwan Naamani
Iraqis preparing to go to Friday prayers in Baghdad May 7 protest U.S. military patrol in neighborhood. Routine physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. military has fueled anger against U.S. occupation.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—More details of the systematic humiliation and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military police and intelligence officers in prisons run by the occupation authorities in Iraq are becoming public. U.S. government officials are trying to deal with the worldwide outrage by appearing in congressional hearings and the media and blaming a small number of U.S. troops for the brutal acts.

This abuse mirrors similar practices carried out in jails across the United States. Some of the National Guard personnel now under investigation for the torture of Iraqi inmates got their training as prison guards in the United States, as did some of the “private contractors” involved. This degradation of prisoners has been a feature of every imperialist war—from Algeria to the Congo and from Korea to Vietnam—and has been carried out by capitalist powers acting on their own or under the blue helmets of the United Nations. Washington has carried out most of these assaults abroad under Democratic administrations with liberals heading the Department of Defense and the Pentagon.

Testifying before a May 7 televised hearing by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said that not all the evidence has been made public about abuse of Iraqi war prisoners. “There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist,” Rumsfeld said. “If these were released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse.”

“These events occurred under my watch,” Rumsfeld stated, “apologizing” to the Iraqis mistreated by U.S. military personnel and saying the abuse was “un-American.” He promised to punish “those who have committed wrongdoing,” while alleging that “these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number of the U.S. military.”

A number of Democratic Party politicians—including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, senators Thomas Harkin and Edward Kennedy, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus—used the occasion to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation and to argue that a Democrat in the White House would do a better job than George W. Bush in pursuing Washington’s “war on terrorism.”

“We need a new secretary of defense,” Kennedy told the media here. “My own preference would be Secretary [of State] Colin Powell. He knows how to win a war in Iraq…. The war on terror has been made much more complicated and difficult because of this torture scandal.”

Speaking to graduates of Southern University in New Orleans May 8, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the abuses of Iraqi prisoners “hurt us in our objectives in Iraq” and have done “damage to our country.”

The Bush administration said that Rumsfeld would remain on the job. The U.S. secretary of defense told the media he will not resign because he remains effective in pursuing Washington’s interests worldwide. After a May 10 meeting at the Pentagon with his war council, Bush vigorously defended Rumsfeld’s record. “You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror,” the president told Rumsfeld in an appearance in front of the media with several top officials from his cabinet, including Powell and vice-president Richard Cheney. “You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.”  
Extent of humiliation
Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba testified May 11 before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the exploding Iraqi prison scandal. Taguba, who had been assigned by the military to investigate the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, the center of degrading treatment of inmates by their U.S. captors, had issued a report in March.

“Between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility,” Taguba’s report says, “numerous sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees. This systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force.”

According to the report, the practices included:

“Punching, slapping and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet;

“Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees;

“Forcibly arranging detainees in various explicit positions for photographing;

“Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;

“Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear;

“Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped;

“Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them;

“Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture;

“Writing ‘I am a Rapest’ (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked;

“Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee’s neck and having a female Soldier pose for a picture;

“A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee.” Taguba did not call this by its proper name, rape.

“Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee,” the report continued.

“Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.”

The report adds that the humiliating treatment included breaking chemical lights and pouring phosphoric liquid on prisoners, threatening male inmates with rape, and sodomizing a prisoner with a chemical light and a broom stick.

According to the Taguba report, Sgt. Javal Davis, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company at Abu Ghraib said that military intelligence officers insinuated to the guards that they needed to abuse the inmates. “Loosen this guy up for us,” was a common comment, or “Make sure he gets the treatment.”

Sgt. Mike Sindar from the 870th MP Company that served in Abu Ghraib told Reuters, “It was a common thing to abuse prisoners.” Sindar described how an officer in his unit held a prisoner down while others beat him. He said he saw prisoners with racial taunts written on their hoods such as “camel jockey” and “I tried to kill an American but now I’m in jail.”

Sindar said the faces in the widely circulated photos are only a few of those abusing prisoners. “Beatings happen, yes, all the time,” he said. Sindar was referring to the decision by the military brass to bring criminal charges against six soldiers. Seven officers have received slaps on the wrist, so far, in the form of reprimands.  
Abuse included killings
On May 4, Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, head of the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, acknowledged that of the 35 criminal investigations underway for mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military, 25 have involved deaths.

Rumsfeld and other top ranking Pentagon officials have tried to place the blame for the scandal on a small number of non-commissioned officers. But evidence has emerged that the Pentagon high command had reports at its disposal of torture of Iraqi prisoners as long as a year ago that it either ignored or tried to keep secret.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released a report—first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal May 7—on the “Treatment by the Coalition Forces (CF) of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons in Iraq.” The report, dated February 2004, says that the evidence collected by the ICRC on abuse of inmates in Abu Ghraib, Umm Qasr, and Camp Bucca prisons “suggested that the use of ill-treatment against persons deprived of their liberty went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered as a practice tolerated by the CF.”

The abuse is not unique to the U.S. military. Umm Qasr is a port town in southern Iraq where British occupation forces run the prison camp. The London-based Guardian reported May 7 that a British soldier known only as “Soldier C,” who is a member of the Territorial Army attached to the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, is now being questioned by UK military police about torture of inmates. The British Daily Mirror has published photos of that unit showing British soldiers beating and urinating on Iraqi prisoners. Soldier C has reportedly said that in one instance a corporal placed a sandbag over a prisoner’s head and then poked his fingers into the inmate’s eyes. According to the Guardian, up to 100 British troops in that unit were involved in assaults on Iraqi prisoners.

The ICRC report charges occupation forces with “serious violations” of the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war. These violations date back to before the U.S.-led war to occupy Iraq ended a year ago, the Red Cross report says. The ICRC—which is mandated by international treaties to visit prisoners of war—had often filed official complaints with occupation authorities about the humiliating treatment that in some cases resulted in deaths of prisoners, including one last October about the abuses at Abu Ghraib. These complaints were not made public until now.

The findings of this report contrast sharply with statements by Rumsfeld and other high military officials that they first became aware of problems in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq when a soldier came forward with photographs depicting graphic abuse in January of this year.

According to USA Today, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers personally pressed CBS to delay the broadcast of the damning photos for two weeks in April. The photos were first aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes II program the evening of April 28. Even after Rumsfeld and his senior aides acknowledged receiving the reports of the abusive practices in January, they testified that they did not ask to see the photographs because “they didn’t want to interfere in an ongoing investigation.”  
How interrogation policies were set
Evidence is also emerging that the military high command was responsible for setting policies on interrogation of prisoners that were at the root of the systematic abuse.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller arrived in Iraq last August from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he was warden of Camp Delta. Washington still has some 600 men jailed there, holding them indefinitely without charges. Reports have abounded of systematic violence and humiliation of those prisoners. Miller went to Iraq as the head of a team “experienced in strategic interrogation.”

“He came up there and told me he was going to ‘Gitmoize’ the detention operation,” said Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison, referring to Miller. Most of Miller’s recommendations were implemented, including that prison guards should be subordinate to military and CIA interrogators and should handle prisoners in a way that “sets the conditions for (their) successful interrogation.”

“We’re enormously proud of what we have done at Guantánamo to be able to set that kind of environment where we were focused on getting the maximum amount of intelligence,” Miller said, after he returned to Iraq at the beginning of May having been named to supervise the U.S.-run military prison system there.

The practices authorized by the Pentagon at Camp Delta can be described as “Torture Lite,” according to a recent report in the Taipei Times. “We wanted to find a legal way to jack up the pressure,” one lawyer and drafter of the guidelines told the newspaper. Authorized tactics included sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, and psychological torture.

The Pentagon rationalized the use of these practices as “militarily necessary” in order “to extract information from suspects about possible impending attacks.”  
MPs trained as U.S. prison guards
Methods of torture and human degradation like those used at the Abu Ghraib prison by U.S. military police, CIA agents, and civilian contractors (or mercenaries), have long been a feature of U.S. prisons (see front-page article on U.S. prison construction boom).

Two of the military cops implicated in the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, Charles Graner and Ivan Frederick, were former civilian prison guards in U.S. prisons.

“In Pennsylvania and some other states,” an article in the May 8 New York Times said, “inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison.”

Graner, who appears in one of the photos from Abu Ghraib smiling behind naked Iraqi prisoners forced to lie shackled in a heap, was a guard at Greene County State Correctional Institution, one of Pennsylvania’s top security death row prisons. Two years after Graner arrived there, Greene County was at the center of an abuse scandal in which it was revealed that guards routinely beat and humiliated prisoners.

Lane McCotter, who was assigned by the Justice Department to oversee the reopening under U.S. management of the Abu Ghraib prison has a long record as a brutal jailer in the U.S. McCotter resigned under pressure as the director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997, the Times reports, “after a mentally ill inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.”

This didn’t negatively affect McCotter’s career. He went on to become an executive in the booming business of private imprisonment. During his tenure as the director of Utah-based Management & Training Corp.—which claims to be the nation’s third-largest private prison company—McCotter’s private jail in Santa Fe was criticized by the Department of Justice and the New Mexico Department of Corrections for unsafe conditions and lack of medical care for inmates.  
Abuse a feature of all imperialist wars
While Democratic Party politicians have focused their fire on the Bush administration, and particularly Rumsfeld, around this scandal, they never mention the fact that their party ran the White House during most of the wars over the last half century when reports abounded about similar, or worse, treatment of prisoners of war (POW) by the U.S. military.

Harry Truman, for example, was president during most of the 1950-53 Korean War, when U.S. military officers treated Chinese and Korean POWs as “Oriental cattle who were to be given quite different treatment to a European,” according to a report by a British officer Maj. Dawney Bancroft who was part of the imperialist troops on the scene. On “many occasions,” Bancroft added, “I witnessed U.S. troops openly violating the Geneva Conventions.”

John F. Kennedy and his successor Lyndon Johnson, both Democrats, were presidents during most of the Vietnam War. During that period, the U.S. military built and maintained the infamous “tiger cages” at the Con Son Island Prison. These were deep, dank concrete pits, each holding three to five prisoners. Steel gates covered the top of each one. Prisoners were shackled to the floor of these pits and their guards often beat them mercilessly. Above each cage was a bucket of lime. Wardens would throw down clouds of it onto the chained prisoners as a form of “sanitary torture.” After months of internment, prisoners would often lose use of their legs, develop tuberculosis, or gangrenous feet.

Imperialist governments that have been critical of the conduct of the Bush administration in Iraq—with Paris at the center—each have their own records of brutality and abuse against prisoners during their wars of conquest. The French military, for example, was notorious for such practices in Algeria, a former French colony.

One recent such example was an account by Paul Aussaresses, a French general who detailed in a book how he personally took part in the torture and killing of 24 Algerian prisoners during Algeria’s war of independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. French authorities charged the general in 2001, who was 83 at the time, for acting as “an apologist for war crimes,” because he wrote the book, but he was not accused or punished for the actual crime.
Related articles:
U.S. prison construction booms, abuse rampant
Abu Ghraib: just like U.S. prisons

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