From A World to Win News Service

Iraq: Torture Is the Essence of Empire

Revolutionary Worker #1241, May 23, 2004, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

May 10, 2004. A World to Win News Service. The photos of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners have exposed many things, but what most needs to be revealed is this: the application of torture as systematic U.S./UK government policy flows from the nature of the war itself.

The U.S.'s intention to use torture wherever it saw fit was never a secret at all. The U.S. government plainly said it considered itself above the Geneva Conventions, and declared that the International Criminal Court in The Hague would not be allowed to try American citizens for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have proclaimed all along that human beings have no rights that the U.S. government is bound to respect. Why should people be surprised if suddenly we see pictures that prove they mean what they say?

The sexual humiliation that has come to light so far was part of an overall approach that included outright rape of men and women, beating and raping children as young as 12, shooting people from watchtowers and kicking and beating them to death.

In a report sent to the U.S. government in February and recently released publicly, the Red Cross said, "It is clear that our findings do not allow [us] to conclude that what we are dealing with here in the case of Abu Ghraib was isolated acts of individual members of the coalition forces. What we have described amounts to a pattern, a broad system." A Red Cross spokeswoman recently said, "The photos are certainly shocking but our reports are worse."

This torture system has a two-fold purpose. One is to obtain military intelligence in order to find and kill resistance fighters. It is not true that all war requires torture, as both cynics and some pacifists maintain. As Mao said, one of the greatest strengths of revolutionary armies is that the people give them precious information. Their aims--to liberate the people--require that they rely on the masses. In fact, they have nothing else they can really rely on, and if they were to treat the people the way that reactionaries do they would guarantee their own doom. Reactionary armies have no way but intimidation and torture to get information and cooperation from masses who generally hate them.

As the Iraqi resistance developed, the U.S. made torture more systematic and deliberately expanded the scope of those it is applied to, detaining not only suspected fighters but other people often taken at random through mass detentions, including wholesale sweeps and at motorway checkpoints.

Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commandant at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo, first visited Iraq last August to "Gitmoize the detention operation" and make interrogations "more effective and more efficient." ("Gitmo" is American military slang for Guantánamo.) More recently he was transferred to run detentions and interrogations in Iraq. One result of his visit was that the prison's population was almost tripled. Another was the systemization of the kind of sadism the U.S. government is now trying to blame on a half-dozen GIs.

Miller insisted that that prison guards should become "enablers for interrogation." As one of the guards shown smiling behind a pyramid of naked prisoners explained in an open e-mail, "The job of the MP [military police] is to make it hell so that they would talk." The techniques they applied are described in a once- secret American military "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual" published in 1983. Military intelligence and CIA agents told the guards, "Good job, they're breaking down real fast. They answer every question. They're giving out good information." Rumsfeld himself visited Abu Ghraib last September, and apparently liked what he saw.

The other purpose of torture--not admitted even by people who argue that it is a "necessary evil"--is simply to terrorize the people, to teach them that they must not resist. Some torture apparently took place in locations where not a single American spoke Arabic and no "extraction" of information was intended. Some of these photos were not taken just as "trophy pictures," or simply as part of the humiliation meant to crush those under torture. Lawyers for the soldiers facing discipline say some photos were meant to be shown to other prisoners. They were probably also meant to be displayed to families and neighbors of the prisoners, and--while not to be broadcast by the "homeland" media--to terrify and humiliate the Iraqi people as a whole and show them what they could expect if they failed to obey American orders.

A spokesman for Human Rights Watch said that these prison photos are "a window into the larger picture." What they show is of a piece with everything the U.S. has done in Iraq, from the bombings of cities in the opening of the invasion to today's siege of Falluja, next door to Abu Ghraib. In revenge for the killing of four American mercenaries and disrespect for their corpses--the kind of thing American soldiers have been carrying out on a mass scale in Abu Ghraib and other prison camps--the U.S. has held a whole city hostage and used sniper fire and aircraft to kill many hundreds of people so far. Whether carried out with boot and sticks, tanks and helicopters or hi- tech aircraft and missiles, the violence of oppression has the same purpose: to subdue the people.

These acts are of a piece with Guantánamo and other U.S. concentration camps around the world, including Afghanistan, where, according to UN rapporteur on torture Theo van Boven, the situation is even worse than what has come out about Iraq so far. It may be coincidence that Seymour Hersh, the same journalist who during the Vietnam War first reported the massacre at My Lai (a village whose inhabitants were murdered by U.S. soldiers in 1968), also played an important role in bringing out the truth about Abu Ghraib prison, but the U.S. conduct of the war against Vietnam was no different than its war against Iraq.

And they are of a piece with the policies being carried out in the U.S. since September 11, 2001--in the name of "protecting the homeland" the government has rounded up some 1200 foreign-born people and kept many in isolation for a year without charges, abusing and torturing some of them just as in Iraq. The government is still holding two men in military custody with the claim that anyone the president labels an "enemy combatant" has no rights.

In fact, these crimes are a concentration of American society itself. Such treatment is routine in the prisons and police stations where the oppressed are held, as seen in another famous photo, the police punishment beating of a Black man named Rodney King and the torture by New York City police of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, sodomized with a toilet plunger Abu Ghraib style. The pleasure on the faces of the soldiers in the Abu Ghraib photos--several of whom were prison guards in civilian life--recall similar glee on the faces of lynch mob members who tortured and hung African-Americans and others.

The photos from Abu Ghraib belong in a far broader gallery, an almost infinite exhibition of crimes stretching back for centuries and around the world. These crimes are a basic part of the political and social set-up that defines the U.S. as an imperialist country.

Some people, both mouthpieces for Bush and Blair and their political rivals--in fact, the bulk of the political and economic establishment in both countries--are trying to dissociate the war and the occupation from these horrifying images. They argue that the war can and should be carried out by other means. That is impossible, and many of them know it. Their starting point and real concern is how to continue the occupation.

The most important point is not just that some soldiers have become beasts, or that the beasts in charge sent them to perform these acts. The crimes of this war do not begin and end with torture, but torture is a concentrated expression of that war's aims and very nature: to snatch up a country and declare its people subhuman as part of an offensive to win hegemony over all the world's oppressed nations and to further enslave and dehumanize humanity.

The war itself is the basic issue. This war itself is unjust, and everything the occupiers do reflects that.

Anything that weakens the grip of these murderers is to be welcomed, but no one's resignation or replacement can change the basic nature of this war--not that of secretaries or ministers or even prime ministers or presidents. Even as some politicians are making clucking noises about "abuses," they are in general agreement about planning to send more soldiers.

Last September the Pentagon held a screening of The Battle of Algiers , a 1965 anti-imperialist film exposing the crimes committed by the French in their war against the Algerian independence movement in the late 1950s and early '60s. The French army used torture extensively, along with massacres, and this practice awakened many French people (including soldiers) to actively oppose that war in different ways. In a climactic scene, the French commanding general in Algeria--based on his real-life counterpart--argues that it is hypocrisy to denounce these methods, because, he explains, without them France cannot hope to win. If you want Algeria to remain French, he says, you must accept torture.

The film makes it clear that what happened was exactly the opposite--that France's methods helped bring about its defeat. What people at the Pentagon learned from this film has not been reported. If a few thought they could avoid France's "mistakes," they were wrong, because barbarous acts are a deliberate and inevitable consequence of barbarous aims. But it seems that many military men watched the movie simply to study the techniques of the French interrogators.

They, like the French imperialists, think their defeat is unthinkable.

The more they commit such crimes, the greater will be the concentrated hatred and opposition and potential energy of the world's people against them.