NEW YORK—Now it's official: American troops occupying Iraq have become virtually indistinguishable from the SS. Like the Germans during World War II, they cordon off and bomb civilian villages to retaliate for guerilla attacks on their convoys. Like the blackshirts who terrorized Europe, America's victims disappear into hellish prisons ruled by sadists and murderers. The U.S. military is short just one item to achieve moral parity with the Nazis: gas chambers.
"Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees" by soldiers, freelance mercenaries and professional torturers under the command of CIA intelligence officers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, according to an internal government report. The detainees, about 60 percent of them assumed to be innocent by the Americans themselves, were routinely beaten, sodomized "with a chemical light or broomstick," urinated upon, tied to electrified wires and threatened with death, stripped and forced to perform homosexual sex acts on each other and U.S. troops. Don't be fooled by military apologists who insist that these American SS are nothing more than a few bad apples. Seymour Hersh, who has read the army's internal report, quotes Major General Antonio Taguba as saying that U.S.-committed atrocities are "systemic, endemic throughout the command structure ... [The soldier-torturers] were being told what to do and told it was OK."
True, most soldiers probably don't condone torture. But all soldiers have been tarnished by it. George W. Bush's new gulag archipelago, a string of concentration camps, military and INS prisons that span the globe from North Carolina to Iraq to Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to New York City, has been designed to give torturers the veil of secrecy they require to carry out their hideous acts as well as the tacit understanding that they won't be held accountable. The Red Cross, defense lawyers and relatives of the victims, few of whom are charged with a crime, are denied access to the detainees or even the simple confirmation that they're being held by our government.
Some soldiers, like Sergeant Ivan Frederick II, "questioned some of the things I saw," such as "leaving inmates in their cell with no clothes or in female underpants, handcuffing them to the door." But when he discussed these abuses with his superiors, he says they brushed him off: "This is how military intelligence wants it done."
As proven by the classic psychological experiments of the '50s, people put in a position of total power over another human being find it hard to resist abusing their charges. Prison guards mistreat inmates for a simple reason: they can. Wherever one controls another, sadism is inevitable. However, this tragic truism can be mitigated by creating mechanisms to ensure transparency behind bars. Granting prisoners access to attorneys, journalists and other members of the outside world, unannounced inspections by human rights agencies, recognizing their rights under the Geneva Conventions and rigorous prosecutions of criminal guards can never entirely eliminate abuse, but they're essential to prisons run by democratic societies.
We know about Abu Ghraib only because the inbred psychos who forced nude Iraqi men to pile up in pyramids were dumb enough to snap photographs as mementos of their time liberating the nation from Saddam. It's like the Rodney King video: cops beat up blacks every day, but there usually isn't a camera around.
Abu Ghraib, you can bet your bottom dollar, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Our military is structurally corrupt. Beginning in Afghanistan during the weeks after 9/11, civilian command yielded to the amoral gangster mentality of the arrogant intelligence officers of Army Special Forces and the CIA, who stand accused of massacring thousands of captured Taliban prisoners yet have never faced a real investigation. The new tone of lawlessness comes all the way from the White House, directed by a commander-in-chief who starts illegal wars without justification, strips captured prisoners of their rights under the Geneva Convention and whose smirky fingers-crossed response to the prisoner abuse scandal—"I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated ... Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people"—sends a wink and a nudge to our uniformed torturers. Keep it up, boys. Keep those broomsticks busy.
Even our coalition partners are getting the message. British soldiers running a coalition gulag in Basra reported smashing the jaw and teeth of an Iraqi accused of stealing, then dumping the broken body of the accused thief off the back of a moving truck. "They did not know whether he survived," writes The New York Times.
One more Iraqi, it seems, who won't be tossing roses at his liberators.
Ted Rall is the author of Wake Up, You're Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right, released this month.
Copyright 2004 Ted Rall
Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate/Ted Rall
Ted Rall online: www.rall.com